At the age of twenty-three, second-year doctoral student Joanne S. Frye married an emotionally difficult German professor who was a decade her senior. There were frustrations in their marriage early on, but it wasn’t until the arrival of their first child that their relationship was thrown into complete disarray. Since her husband was the one who worked outside of the home, she was expected to keep the house clean and do all of the child rearing and housekeeping.
In theory, she was fine with it at first. But the realities of this division of labor soon manifested themselves: she was expected to give up her office space for the nursery; he was not. She was expected to put domestic labor above her doctoral research; he became furious if anyone interrupted his research. She was expected to be selfless; he complained bitterly if he had to do anything domestic on “his time.”
By the time their second child arrived, the marriage was hanging on by a frayed thread, and it was becoming increasingly obvious to Frye that, for her own well-being and that of her daughters, she could no longer continue in this manner. Making a difficult decision, she left her husband with her two young daughters in tow, choosing to focus on her own needs for once and forge her life as a single mother.
The book is a pensive look back at those difficult years, where she struggled to juggle being a working mother. As the subtitle suggests, feminism plays a huge role throughout the book, but in subtler ways. As an academic with a particular interest in Virginia Woolf, she does raise several academic reflections about the role of feminism in her life. But more often, she raises poignant questions and reflects on how feminism has colored her life choices, especially since she refuses to assume the singular, all-consuming role of Mother; she is constantly juggling her various “selves,” trying to find the balance between being a single mother and a sexual being and an academic and a writer, among other identities.
I think single mothers and working mothers will especially appreciate this book. Frye eloquently writes about her uneasy journey, and her experiences will undoubtedly resonate with readers going through so many of these common struggles.
Biting the Moon: A Memoir of Feminism and Motherhood will be released in late March or early April.