Study Guide

She's Come Undone Women and Femininity

By Wally Lamb

Women and Femininity

[Ma] is not the type to tell other people their business, men particularly. (1.2)

Ma sets a precedent for the way Dolores will act around men for most of her life. Basically, she lets them control her.

Across the room on the Barcalounger, my mother was having her nervous breakdown. (3.1)

Woman often had "nervous breakdowns" at this time of human history, so it's probably worth considering the fact that the majority of doctors were men.

"I don't have to clean toilets and fold men's undershorts for a living if I don't feel like it. That was my life for thirteen years and look where it got me." (4.19)

You go, Ma. She finally starts to stand up for herself. But Dolores already has the whole men = superior thing ingrained her in her, so this new independent-woman persona of Ma's just irritates her.

"You can be two things if you're a woman, Dolores. Betty Crocker or a floozy. Just remember your place—even if it kills you." (4.27)

This is quite the dichotomy. As we said before, Dolores is irritated by her Ma's new liberated woman act, so Dolores sees her mom firmly in the "floozy" category.

Something snapped, and, suddenly, there was Ruth's whole shoulder, her fat breast. (11.139)

Dolores isn't used to seeing women be so free, and especially not women who aren't her mother, i.e. women she doesn't hate. Ruth has no problem breastfeeding in public, and this free attitude helps Dolores warm up to her.

Sometimes I could figure out what Dr. Shaw was up to and deny him. That felt good: when had men with power over me every made my life better? (17.81)

Dolores starts to reverse the men = superior equation she's had her whole life, and, like most people do when they change their way of thinking, she's a little aggressive about it to begin with.

I drained the cup and turned it on its side, prying with a fork until the wire popped out. I slid off her ceramic breasts. (20.108)

This is a symbolic gesture if we've ever seen one (and we've seen millions): Dolores tears the breasts off her mug, making sure her mug is no longer a sex object. Fight the power, girl.

"I've never loved anyone domestic before," [Dante] said. He nicknamed me "Home Ec." (21.2)

What did Ma say? You can either be Betty Crocker or a floozy. Dolores becomes Betty Crocker in her marriage to Dante.

One afternoon, waiting for [Dante], I spotted an oversized paperback, Our Bodies, Ourselves. (21.23)

Because Dolores is ignorant about sexuality for so long, she has to educate herself about her body using a book. The info is accurate, but the social aspect isn't there.

"You're being inflexible," Dante insisted when I told him I really didn't think I could have the abortion. "This is the nineteen-seventies, not the Dark Ages. Women have fought long and hard for you to exercise this option." (22.7)

Dante's mansplaining is infuriating here. Women fought for the opportunity to choose, not to be told by a man when to have an abortion.