Independent Women in The Bell Jar and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
The women's movement was in full swing in America in the sixties. These were the women who were escaping from their kitchens, burning their bras, and working in careers that were traditionally male-oriented, while at the same time demanding payment equal to men's salaries. In her essay: What Would It Be Like if Women Win, Gloria Steinem has many thoughts on the ways feminism could change this country and what the society would be like if her changes were made. An interesting change she is looking to make involves sexual hypocrisy: "No more sex arranged on the barter system, with women pretending interest, and men never sure whether they are loved for themselves or for the security few women can get any other way" (Steinem, Takin' it to the Streets, 476). This new attitude can be found in much of the literature of the sixties. Specifically, in two of the books we have read, women authors have projected this concept of a "new sexual women" into their characters.
The main character in Sylvia Plath's novel, The Bell Jar, could be the spokesperson for all of Steinem's ideas. Esther Greenwood breaks all of the traditional rules that a female in her time should have been following. Esther is a bold and independent woman. Which makes Buddy Willard, her long time boyfriend, also her enemy.
He is the voice of traditionalism in the novel. In one of Buddy's talks with Esther, he starts spewing quotes from his mother: "'What a man wants is a mate and what a woman wants is infinite security', and 'What a man is is and arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from'" (Plath, 58). All these ramblings from the older generation just make Esther tired. She does not want a man to care for her like that- it bores her. She totally dismisses Buddy and his beliefs when he proposes to her, and she has "an awful impulse to laugh" (Plath, 75). She can just never see herself living that kind of life. In fact, she states explicitly: "[t]hat is one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security" (Plath, 68).
She also scoffs at all of the "acceptable" jobs for women at that time. When her mother tries to convince her to learn shorthand: "I tried to picture myself in some job, briskly jotting down line after line of shorthand...There wasn't one job I felt life doing where you used shorthand" (Plath, The Bell Jar, 100). She wants to choose her own destiny, not let society decide how her life is going to turn out. Esther is looking for security, both financially and personally, independent from men, and...