Study Guide

Babbitt Women and Femininity

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Women and Femininity

She had become so dully habituated to married life that in her full matronliness she was as sexless as an anemic nun. (1.4.1)

Poor Myra. The narrator introduces her by telling us how she appears in the eyes of George F. Babbitt. And the first impression isn't great. To George, Myra is just a nag who he has to put up with because he's married to her. He has no sexual attraction to her and isn't even comfortable talking to her about his deepest thoughts.

"Trouble with women is, they never have sense enough to form regular habits." (7.2.6)

Babbitt is one to talk! The guy can't go one afternoon without smoking a cigar or eating a steak. But the moment he sees his wife open a box of crackers, he's all over her. Babbitt, you see, is a bit of a hypocrite who likes to make excuses by making huge generalizations about women.

It was Mrs. Babbitt who had made this discord in their spiritual harmony, and one of Mrs. Babbitt's virtues was that, except during dinner-parties, when she was transformed into a raging hostess, she took care of the house and didn't bother the males by thinking. (6.3.63)

The narrator is once again (we hope) being tongue-in-cheek when it says that Myra Babbitt is doing the world a favor by not thinking too much. This is more likely a reflection of George Babbitt's sexist worldview.

[The] strange thing is that the longer one knew the women, the less alike they seemed; while the longer one knew the men, the more alike their bold patterns appeared. (8.2.61)

In his excursions through life, George Babbitt makes a funny observation about men and women. The more he gets to know women, the more they seem like individuals. But men just start to seem like they're all the same. This is probably because men usually don't pay attention to much more than women's appearances when they first meet them.

"I could also go into the fact that for our daughters who show an interest in highbrow music and may want to teach it, having an A1 local organization is of great benefit." (21.1.22)

A male member of Babbitt's social club doesn't want to be labeled "highbrow" for saying that he loves classical music. But he also thinks that it might be good to bring an orchestra to town so that men's daughters can enjoy it. Too bad the guy can't admit to his buddies that he likes violins.

"Oh, of course, these women that try to imitate men, and play golf and everything, and ruin their complexions and spoil their hands!" (4.2.16)

Tanis Judique enjoys having George Babbitt around to spend time with her. So she makes sure to act as feminine as possible when he's around in order to keep his interest. One of the best ways to act feminine, apparently, is to criticize women who try to "act like men" by playing golf.

Her knew her financial affairs and advised her about them, while she lamented her feminine ignorance, and praised his masterfulness, and proved to know much more about bonds than he did. (29.2.1)

Tanis is at it again. This time, she's trying to stroke Babbitt's ego by asking him for financial advice and pretending to be totally helpless when it comes to dealing with her money. Eventually, though, she can no longer hide the fact that she actually knows way more than him about certain things like government bonds.

"Sick, rats! I'm not a baby! I guess I ain't going to get sick just because maybe once a week I shoot a highball! That's the trouble with women. They always exaggerate so." (30.3.9)

When Myra presses him about how much he's been drinking, George reacts harshly and tells her that he's a manly man and he can take care of himself. Then he does his usual trick of supporting his point of view by making up a general statement about women. The funny thing is that it's Babbitt who's the biggest exaggerator in the book. As a salesman, the guy practically exaggerates for a living.

"Doggone it, why can't she let me alone? Why can't women ever learn a fellow hates to be bulldozed? And they always take advantage of you by telling how lonely they are." (31.1.12)

Eventually, Babbitt gets fed up with his affair with Tanis. But breaking things off isn't as easy as he'd hoped it would be. Tanis constantly messages him and asks him to come back to her. Again, George deals with his frustration by thinking about the general "trouble with women" and basically lets himself off the hook for being a man who cheats on his wife.

Eunice became maternal, scrambled a terrifying number of eggs for them, kissed Babbitt on the ear, and in the voice of a brooding abbess marveled, "It beats the devil why feminists like me still go on nursing men!" (31.5.23)

Eunice Littlefield is not a girl who'd usually cook dinner for men. But as soon as she's given the opportunity, she falls right into the social role that's been set out for her as a "feminine" woman. She calls herself a feminist, but finds out just how difficult it is to break out of her traditional female role.

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