Woman’s World – Graham Rawle

woman's world(Counterpoint 2008)

More than five years of work led to the production of Woman’s World, part novel, part art/collage project, part social commentary. Graham Rawle, writer and collage artist, took women’s magazines from the 1960s and constructed a story from the text found within those magazines. What’s revealed in the writing is astounding.

Starting this novel was an uphill battle, and took at least seven or eight tries before gaining any momentum, simply because of how curious and provoking the language is, as well as the layout. 

Mirroring a ransom note, letters and words are assembled haphazardly on the page to form sentences, and you need to suppress the urge to wonder about each story the clippings came from if you want t actually follow the storyline. However, the source articles and essays are just as essential to the story as the plot is. The natural orbiting of the language around physical appearance, style and buying clothes, modern home decor and attending to the needs of men is cringingly condescending and simultaneously empty-sounding and loaded with expectations, pressures and offenses.

Norma Little is our leading lady, and the story starts out with her spending her days at home (changing her outfits several times a day, always noting how to keep makeup and hair just as current as her outfit); but wishes she had a job so that she could be out in the world and looking fabulous. However, when she goes to a job interview, she presents herself as Norma Fontaine, believing that she’ll have a better shot at getting a job.

Norma goes through the story and through her life with the society-fed belief that “To be a woman today is no longer a disability but a challenge to be met with careful preparation and planning” (one of the hundreds of quotes that sum up this book). What’s even more upsetting is that women today are still fed this belief, and it appears in many magazines, on TV shows and in commercials, in movies, as well as on the street every day. Driven by consumerism and the need to sell cosmetics and products, marketing towards women today has led to the idea that armed with the right mascara, the right Greek yogurt and the right blush application for your fact type, you can be an invincible, fearless woman who has it all. And really, this is the challenge facing women today: To be everything.

Graham Rawle’s brilliant novel brings this challenge to light and shows how absurdly we expect to obtain such high status. Of course women should have the right to buy mascara and enjoy their home and their clothes, but they should also have just as much of a right to pursue their other passions. And of course, as every great novel tells us, it’s all about balance.