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Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty: The Memoir of a Romantic Feminist Hardcover – April 19, 2016
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"The story makes feminism something that is relatable as opposed to just something that was part of our history ... Alida Brill brilliantly shows us that in this book." —Amy Synoracki, San Francisco Book Review
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In her new book, Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty: The Memoir of a Romantic Feminist, Brill again provides an honest recounting, this time probing the pushes and pulls of a woman trying to compose a meaningful life in the age of the second wave of feminism. “Throughout time women have told their stories in ways both hidden and open,” writes Brill. In this absorbing part memoir, part history, Brill, with wit and self-reflection, lays bare her journey.
Born in 1949, she begins, “I grew up a regular girl in a regular Southern California suburb. My adolescence and then my adulthood were interrupted by chronic illness, which gave me an understanding of fairness and unfairness, and from there, feminism.” As a child she was quite taken with the beautiful actress Grace Kelly. Brill writes the Princess a letter (Brill is only seven years old at the time!) and remarkably, receives a reply. Later, Brill fantasizes about being a princess herself and living a happily-ever-after life. And, as Brill acknowledges, she is stuck with this fantasy for decades.
Brill’s mother, as expected, and Betty Friedan, as unexpected, influenced her early years. Friedan was a beacon for Brill’s mother, who, like many women of her day, lacked education and opportunity. About her mother, she writes, “Until Friedan’s book became my mother’s bible, she was too insecure to express her own feelings about women and work…. My mother especially identified with Friedan as another miserable housewife with a fine mind…. She fantasized they might have been friends (as Brill was to become) under other circumstances. Friedan could have been channelling my mother when she wrote: A baked potato is not as big as the world, and vacuuming the living room - with or without makeup – is not work that takes enough thought or energy to challenge any woman’s full capacity.” Throughout Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty, Brill includes passages from Friedan’s monumental book, The Feminine Mystique. Brill eventually meets Betty who becomes at times her second mother and other times her confidante and friend.
Being a young girl in the 1950s, it is not surprising that Brill played with Barbie. However, consider the twist she gives this decidedly un-feminist toy. “Barbie became my surrogate woman, a subversive undercover agent. I imagined her living an exciting life…. Sometimes she was a doctor, sometimes an actress, a writer, or a fashion designer…. What mattered to me was that Barbie got up, got dressed, went to work, and had led a full life outside the home.” Is this the Barbie you knew?
In the book, Brill shares her stories about loves found and lost and why and how she is able to persevere. I appreciated her wisdom about getting through divorce, quoting from the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, “Keep ahead of all parting, as if it were behind you, as the winter just now passed…only by wintering through it can the heart survive.” Does being both a romantic and a feminist seem like a contradiction? I encourage you to read the book and get to know Alida Brill! I applaud Brill for her honesty and willingness to share her vulnerabilities. She eases the way for the rest of us (men, too) to tell our own stories and accept ourselves as the mysteriously complex human beings we are.
Brill writes of her relationships and marriages, her career as it changes with those relationships, and of meeting and befriending Betty Friedan. She becomes one of Friedan's closest friends and pays tribute to her honestly and lovingly.
Finally, she calls for romantic feminism, for love based on equality and patience--sage advice from a woman who has lived to tell the tale.
I found this memoir full of insights and full of distractions. Distractions? Well, yes. Many of Alida’s recollections set me off on my own memory paths. Much (but not all) of the modern women’s movement passed by regional Tasmania where I spent the first (almost) eighteen years of my life. I’m not aware of my mother ever reading ‘The Feminine Mystique’ by Betty Friedan and it certainly wasn’t discussed in the circles I moved in at the time. My own reaction to what I perceived as deep inequality between men and women was to vow never to marry, never to have children. But that’s a different story, here serving as just one example of distraction.
For me, as a woman just a few years younger than Alida, it’s easy to remember the beauty of and poise of Princess Grace, the world represented by Barbie, the advantages (perceived and actual) of being male. I have no memory of wishing to be a princess, instead I wanted to be a scientist like Marie Curie. But few lives take the paths we imagine for ourselves as children.
I enjoyed reading Alida Brill’s memoir, of reading about the people and events that influenced her, of living a fulfilling life while living with chronic illness, of examining the choices available to her. It’s made me think about feminism, about the continuing battle for equality, about how easy it is to take for granted some hard-won aspects of equality without remembering the battles fought to attain them. This is Alida’s memoir, but it’s also in part a social history of feminism. Because Alida is so honest about her life, able to share vulnerability as well as triumph, it’s also an invitation to examine your own life, in all its complexity.
While I’ve not met Alida in person, I first came to know her as a fellow sufferer of autoimmune disease, as the co-writer (with Doctor Michael Lockshin) of ‘Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and Her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness’.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Schaffner Press, Inc for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Alida Brill's memoir is, quite simply, brilliant.Read more