Study Guide

Mrs. Wilding in The Female Man

By Joanna Russ

Mrs. Wilding

Mrs. Wilding worked as a librarian when Laura was young, and she worries that Laura's abnormal lack of femininity is her fault. That's what comes when mothers work outside the home, you see (or something). As she watches Laura struggle to figure herself out, Mama Wilding offers some truly unhelpful advice, like: "being a girl is wonderful, because you can wear pretty clothes and you don't have to do anything," and "there is a mystical fulfillment in marriage and children that nobody who hasn't done it could ever know" (4.11.1).

Interestingly, although Mrs. Wilding seems to be a perfect model of domesticity, the plucky spirit she had as a youngster resurfaces now and again. Sometimes, instead of doing the laundry herself, she takes it to the cleaners and reads Freud with the time she saves.

The fact that Mrs. Wilding steals time for herself to read psychoanalysis is pretty cool, but there's an irony here that shouldn't be missed. Freud was notoriously thick when it came to his work on women's psychology and health, and his writing is full of sexist stereotyping. So although Mrs. Wilding is taking time away from her domestic duties to expand her mind, the stuff she's reading may actually be helping to affirm her subservience to men. Most importantly, it's clear that these lessons are trickling down to her daughter. Laura's belief that she's a victim of penis envy can be traced right back to Mrs. Wilding and her interest in you-know-who.