Study Guide

The Other Boleyn Girl Women and Femininity

By Philippa Gregory

Women and Femininity

"Why do you always have to pretend to be different?"

"Because everyone has to do something."

"What d'you mean?"

"Every woman has to have something which singles her out, which catches the eye, which makes her the center of attention." (2.41-2.44)

This dialogue between Anne—the one who wants to be the center of attention—and Mary tells us a lot about how they view the roles of women in this day, and how each one wants to either conform to those standards or defy them. It also makes us wonder how much of Anne's personality is an act.

"A girl can't rule a country like this, the great lords'd eat her alive." (1.115)

Anne Boleyn on women, ladies and gentleman. Anne's like the type of woman who wouldn't vote for a woman president because she thinks women are hormonal. But Anne will later change her tune when she finds the country in her grasp.

"I am sorry," I said awkwardly. "You know that I have to do what my uncle and my father tell me." (2.218)

As a woman, Mary has no real agency or power: she must do what the men in her family tell her to do. To be fair (or unfair, in this case), George must do the family's bidding, too, but as a man, he has the advantageous position of also being able to tell Mary and Anne what to do if he feels like it.

"She's my wife. She does as well as I do. But she doesn't own anything of her own."

"It's the same for me," I said. "I do as my father does, as my husband does. I dress as is proper for their wife or their daughter. But I don't own anything on my account. In that sense I am as poor as your wife." (2.600)

Mary longs for a country life, mainly because it would take her away from her family. She'd rather be away from the patriarchal Boleyn family and be poor than be close to wealth and be under the control of men.

"There is no freedom for women in this world, fight or not as you like. See where Anne has brought herself." (6.113)

Anne earns a bit of freedom, and she is instantly punished for it. The men in this society don't want to see a woman be too successful, so they do everything they can to keep the ladies down.

"Wolsey, the Archbishop of York himself, says I am a virgin. You can't be more of a virgin than me." (8.41)

This isn't just Anne's wicked dry humor shining through, this is a line showing us how a woman's virginity is a concept created and controlled by men.

"A girl is no good for me, no good at all. But a girl who cannot even be married!" (14.382)

The king, worried he can't marry off Mary, treats his own daughter like a diseased cow. Women are treated as property at this time, and Henry thinks Mary might be damaged goods.

"If women could only have more," I said longingly. "If we could have more in our own right. Being a woman at court is like forever watching a pastrycook at work in the kitchen. All the good things, and you can have nothing." (21.79)

Mary has many modern thoughts about women, and in the second half of the book, she pushes for her ideas to come true for herself.

I was near to delighted laughter because Katherine of Aragon was speaking out for the women of the country, for the good wives who should not be put aside just because their husbands had taken a fancy to another. (23.13)

As Mary becomes a stronger woman, she admires Katherine of Aragon more. Her admiration is a little ironic, though, considering Mary was once one of the "other women," and Henry might have once put Katherine aside for her.

"A girl," Anne said in horror. "A girl. What good is a girl to us?" (38.22)

This might be the most ironic line in the book. Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, whom she finds useless, will grow up to be none other than Queen Elizabeth I, one of the most important and influential royals in British history.