Meg Wolitzer’s feminist literary novel, The Female Persuasion
(2018), follows what happens when a shy college freshman is swept into a world of feminism, ambition, and power. Critics found The Female Persuasion
an accurate portrayal of the difference between leaders and followers. A New York Times
bestselling author of numerous contemporary and literary novels, Wolitzer has taught creative writing at Princeton University, Skidmore College, and the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Many of her books have been adapted into made-for-television movies.
The book begins in October 2006. Greer Kadetsky has been attending Ryland College, a small college in Southern Connecticut, for about seven weeks. Although she hasn’t been at college long, she is already bored and miserable. She hasn’t made any friends, and she doesn’t enjoy her course. To make matters worse, her boyfriend, Cory, studies at Princeton, and he’s having a great time. She is worried that their relationship won’t survive the new distance between them.
One day, Greer befriends Zee Eisenstat. Zee invites Greer to a frat party, where she meets Darren Tinzler. Darren fancies Greer, but she is not interested; she tells him that she has a boyfriend. Offended, Darren gropes her. Angry and humiliated, Greer leaves the party, vowing never to attend a frat party again.
When Greer tells Zee about the assault, Zee says she should put it behind her. Although Greer tries to forget about it, she can’t help feeling unjustly treated. She hates how men feel entitled to touch women, and she wishes she could do something about it. When she discovers that Darren has assaulted other girls, she reports him to the university.
The university brings Darren in for a hearing. Although he is found guilty of improper conduct, he isn’t punished. Greer petitions for a new hearing, but the other girls don’t back her. They want to move on with their lives. Greer doesn’t want to let it go, but she feels that she doesn’t have any choice—until Zee steps in.
Zee invites Greer to a feminist lecture hosted by Faith Frank. Although Greer doesn’t identify as a feminist, she wonders if Faith could offer tips for handling the campus injustices. When Faith finishes her speech, Greer asks to speak with her about what has been going on, but she misses her chance. She later emails Faith, thanking her for a brilliant, inspiring speech.
A few weeks go by and Greer forgets about Faith. However, one night, Faith emails Greer to offer her a job at her new start-up business. At first, Greer isn’t sure because she doesn’t know what the job involves, but when she finds out that Faith plans to progress feminist issues to help abused women, she jumps at the chance to get involved.
Meanwhile, Zee, who idolizes Faith, asks Greer to put in a good word for her at the office. Greer doesn’t want her best friend working with her. She doesn’t believe that it’s good for their friendship. She tells Zee that she ran Zee’s credentials by Faith but there aren’t any job openings. Although Greer feels guilty, she remembers that Zee originally told her to let go of what happened with Darren.
In the meantime, everything changes for Cory. His mother accidentally kills his brother, Alby, and she can’t cope with the guilt. Cory takes time off from school to look after her, and Greer doesn’t hear from him so much. At the same time, Zee gets a job with an inner-city youth group, where she hopes she can make a difference. Greer feels less guilty now that Zee is doing something that makes her happy.
Working alongside Faith, Greer finds out more about Faith’s background and how she started with feminism. She learns that men took advantage of their professional status over Faith. Faith never wants to be in a place where men have that kind of power over her again. Seeing her younger self in Greer, she invites Greer to take on more responsibility around the office.
As Greer settles into her new job, she discovers unsettling information about Faith. Finding that Faith accepted dirty money to launch her business, Greer quits out of protest. She decides that it is time to tell Zee the truth about why she didn’t get a job at Faith’s office, because she wants to clear her own conscience.
Unsurprisingly, Zee doesn’t take the news well. She feels betrayed and let down. Although Zee stays friends with Greer, it isn’t like it used to be. Meanwhile, Greer’s relationship with Cory deteriorates. She makes fun of him for leaving school to look after his grieving mother; he thinks Greer has changed into a nasty woman. They have a confrontation, but they make peace.
The novel ends by jumping forward a few years. Greer married Cory despite their differences. Greer is now a distinguished feminist, and Cory runs a successful video game business. Zee is still happily working in underprivileged neighborhoods where she feels she can make a difference. Darren’s fate is unknown.