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la litterature, part two: l'autre femme

for my french class, we read the story "l'autre femme" by colette.

this text makes me think about:
- the prescribed role of women in society
- expectations of pretty, feminine appearance
- financial independence and bell hooks, breaking away from patriarchal oppression

a married couple is going out to dinner, man and wife. they arrive and over by the window, the husband sees his ex-wife so he asks the maitre d'hotel to sit them in the middle instead. however, somehow, during the meal conversation, it comes out that yes, his ex-wife is in the restaurant. his current wife didn't even know that he had a previous wife! the husband reveals that the reason for the divorce was that he couldn't make her happy.

the last line of the story is really important:

"elle ne cessa plus de regarder avec un curiosité envieuse la dame en blanc, cette mécontente, cette difficile, cette supérieure..." .... she (the current wife) couldn't stop looking with a envious curiosity at the woman in white (the ex-wife), this discontented, this difficult, this superior...

i think that this is significant because it proves that she is jealous of the other woman because she is able to live without a man and she is happy and capable to live on her own.

my teacher asked us if there were any feminine stereotypes in this text. i think that yes, there are. the story represents a patriarchal society where a woman needs a man and is dependent on her husband. the husband is in control and this is demonstrated in the story when the husband just orders for his wife without even consulting her or considering her opinion. the wife isn't strong. she doesn't stand up for herself. she allows herself to be bossed around. there is a part that details her appearance. she was brunette and a little plumper, but in order to feel more attractive and to look more attractive to her husband, she dyed her hair blonde. there is a line that says something like "she dressed herself as a fair-haired emotional woman", talk about a stereotype of a female. now she is blonde and more innocent and wears a "desguise" to please her man. however, the text does have a feminine twist. the other woman has achieved financial independence and she doesn't need her ex husband. she is at the restaurant by herself and she supports herself. bell hooks says that

"economic self-sufficiency is needed if women are to be liberated" (feminism is for everybody, 49).

according to this statement, since this woman can financially support herself, she is liberated from any ties of dependence to a man. the fact that alice, the current wife, is jealous of the ex wife presents to women that they can do this as well. that is a good thing, it is acceptable, it is possible. the other woman wasn't happy with a man like the husband, which represents the ability of women to choose their husbands and be in control of their situation and they have the right and deserve the right to be happy.