Study Guide

Woman on the Edge of Time Women and Femininity

By Marge Piercy

Women and Femininity

"He is my man," Dolly said shrugging. "What can I do?" (1.129)

Dolly still cares about Geraldo, even though he's awful. You can say she's stupid, and she sort of is, but Mattapoisett shows it's a stupidity caused by the society she's in, not by mental limitations. Dolly's options as a poor woman are limited, both financially and emotionally. If she'd been born in Mattapoisett, she could have been a geneticist.

"You'll do what women do. You'll pay your debt to your family for your blood. May you love your children as much as I love mine." (2.91)

This is advice from Connie's mother; the most Connie can hope for, she suggests, is to love her children. And Connie doesn't even have that, since her daughter is taken away from her. She's left loving Dolly, which is a pretty sad second-best.

Luciente spoke, she moved with the air of brisk unselfconscious authority Connie associated with men. (3.67)

Connie at first mistakes Luciente for a man, not because Luciente looks like a man, but because she acts like one—acting like a man here meaning that she isn't self-conscious and seems sure of herself. Luciente isn't beaten down enough for Connie to recognize her as a woman.

"It was part of women's long revolution. When we were breaking all the old hierarchies. Finally there was that one thing we had to give up too, the only power we ever had, in return for no more power for anyone. The original production: the power to give birth." (5.95)

Luciente explains that women have to give up birth if they're going to be equal. Connie doesn't like that at all; she already lost her daughter, and she's not into the idea that women will lose their innate connection to children.

"Something puzzles me. It seems like everybody is careful not to say what seems really obvious to me—that Jackrabbit and Bolivar have… well, they're both men. It's homosexual. Like that might bother a woman more."

"But why?" Parra looked at her as if she were really crazy. "All coupling, all befriending goes on between biological males, biological females, or both. That's not a useful set of categories. We need to divvy up people by what they're good at and bad at, strengths and weaknesses, gifts and failings." (10.269-270)

The future has gender equality, but it also doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexuality. Parra in fact suggests that equality in terms of sexuality and gender have to go together. Once you stop worrying about whether someone's a man or a woman, why would you care which people want to sleep with each other?

"Birth! Birth! Birth!" Luciente seemed to sing in her ear. "That's all you can dream about! Our dignity comes from work. Everyone raises the kids, haven't you noticed? Romance, sex, birth, children—that's what you fasten on. Yet that isn't women's business anymore. It's everybody's." (12.123)

In Luciente's view, women don't so much lose romance, sex, birth, and children, as everyone else gains them. Guys can be moms too, which means that moms, and children, are more respected and valued by everyone.

… her body seemed a cartoon of femininity, with a tiny waist, enormous sharp breasts that stuck out like the brassieres Connie herself had worn in the fifties—but the woman was not wearing a brassier. Her stomach was flat but her hips and buttocks were oversized and audaciously curved. She looked as if she could hardly walk for the extravagance of her breasts and buttocks, her thighs that collided as she shuffled a few steps. (15.4)

This is the evil, bad, no-good future. In the good future, men and women are just about the same; in the bad one, gender differences are exaggerated to cartoonishness. Instead of women gaining confidence, they are turned into sex dolls who can barely walk. Does the novel see femininity as bad? Or is only the extreme of femininity bad?

"Men and women haven't changed so much," she said… She was surprised by how cheerless that prospect seemed. (15.64)

The novel presents gender roles in the present as fairly awful. In Mattapoisett, on the other hand, things are changed around radically. The novel thinks that for a better future, we need better genders.

"Dolly, it's you who needs Nita. Sure, your mamá takes good care. But you need her with you. Without her, you don't love yourself. You use yourself like a rag to wipe up the streets. You turn your body to money, and the money to the buzzing of death in your head." (16.6)

Connie could be talking about herself here. She needs her own daughter; without her, she self-destructed (and is arguably still self-destructing throughout the novel). Note that Mattapoisett refuses to extend human lifespans because people want kids. The past needs the future as much as (more than?) the other way around.

All Luis' wives came to sound the same, nodding at him, but each one was fancier and had a higher polish. Each one was lighter. Each one spent more money. Carmel had been for hard times. Shirley was for getting set up in business. Adele was for making money in bushels and spending it. (18.117)

Luis's wives are status symbols and ways to advance his career. He doesn't treat them much differently than Geraldo treats Dolly.