“Career woman” is a term that enjoyed a certain vogue across the latter half of the twentieth century. An American idiom much bound to the eighties but coined in the thirties, under the guise of defining what a woman is, the phrase points emphatically to what she is not: “a woman whose career is more important to her than getting married and having children.” An archetype born of its time, the career woman is bound to that era’s signature medium: The movies helped midwife her into Western culture; on film she was made unruly (and almost always white) flesh, fed on drive and solo popcorn dinners, dressed in power colors, and sent into an unreconstructed world, where her success or failure typically depended on her willingness to obey a more natural order. There is, of course, no such thing as a career man.
I once asked my mother, a well-educated, exceedingly competent woman, why she served as someone’s assistant for the majority of her professional life, yet always took a leadership role in volunteer organizations (president of the PTA and director of nearly every church committee on which she’s ever served, for example). Her response was unequivocal: “Your grandmother always told me that I would never be anything other than a secretary.” Mothers—“They fuck you up,” Philip Larkin wrote. “They may not mean to, but they do.”
Female friendships are not commonly found at the center of the literary novel, but this summer welcomes debut novels by two young, talented writers that place female friendships front and center in their narratives—The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe and Friendship by Emily Gould.
Her sister’s water broke this morning and her Cymbalta’s not working and she’s soon to be homeless because those twin nephews are fast on their way but today her ex-lover’s baby mother is going to be at the Flag Day parade [...]