Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Read This: Mary McCarthy - The Group

Joining a book club is one of the best decisions I've made this year. Finding new reading material and discussing books is an absolute joy and this month's book is one I wonder how it's taken me so long to find this book and one that will stay with me long after turning the last page.

The Group Mary McCarthy book review
This Kindle reader thanks Google for this classy cover
Touted as the "original Sex And The City" this book is so much more than that. Following the lives of eight Vassar (an exclusive women-only college) graduates in the 1930s as they leave the progressive idealism of their university behind and embark on adult life, this book isn't just a look at the lives of these eight women but a huge statement from Mary McCarthy about the status of women in American society. At points I had to stop myself reading to remind myself that this was set eighty years ago. Eighty years and in a way so, so little has changed for women.

The book was published in the early 1960s and while we now have 50 Shades, Sex And The City and a whole raft of "chic lit" in the 1960s this book must have been shocking for its honesty, its detail and its non-flinching look at sexual violence, contraception, "self love" (ahem) and mental health. Areas that even in 2015 we can't talk about as openly as we'd like to. As openly as we should be able to.

As someone now witnessing my school and university friends make different choices, take different directions into successful careers, marriage, babies, home ownership or just muddling through and still figuring it out as we go along I read this at a perfect time in my life. I often think this is the key to falling in love with a book; had I read this at school or university I don't think I would have quite grasped the gap between expectation and reality of adult life. Friendships grow apart and we still seem to let men treat us badly despite being strong, educated, confident women.

So much progress has been made since the 1930s but the number of things that haven't changed is really quite depressing. While pre-marital sex might not be quite the taboo it was in the 1930s, casual sex still feels like its something "bad" for a woman to freely admit to partaking in (and, dare we say it, enjoying). Women still struggle in the work place - for equal pay, for promotions, for being taken seriously (females are still massively under-represented on boards and in senior positions in practically every profession). And women are still judged on whether they decide to marry and have children and if they do decide to have children the breast-v-bottle issue is still a matter for public debate rather than an individual choice.

Without going into too much detail - one thing that gladly has changed (although is still not perfect) since the 1930s is contraception - after one particular chapter, you'll be feeling slightly squeamish and forever grateful that (quite possibly because it affects men, too) we now have a rather improved range of options than these women did in the 1930s... In all aspects of life our options are better, our choices less restricted and certain taboos have been lifted but there's still so far to go. Read this book and feel grateful that you're living in 2015 and not 1933 but never feel complacent and never stop pushing for more - more choice, more options and, most importantly, more self respect and that you're so much better than any man who treats you like crap.

Have you read The Group?

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2 comments

  1. Joining a book group was a really great decision for me too! This book sounds fantastic, I'm off to order it now!

    Maria xxx

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  2. I started this book but never managed to get through it. Must pick it up again. I started Girl on the Train this morning and love it so far.

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