7 Novels About Women Who Refuse to Fit In

From Electric Lit:

I had a friend—we’ll call her Kinsley—who was as close to me as a sister for nearly 20 years. As we grew older, our values began to differ, but we both agreed that no difference was profound enough to break our friendship. Kinsley married a man she met on a religious website, sending me a text after one month of long-distance dating that read, “This is Christian [not his real name]! We have decided we are in love and getting married!” The following year she began expressing frustration over their inability to conceive naturally; she was ethically opposed to IVF. I was casually dating in New York and contemplating freezing my eggs. 

Then, after 17 years of friendship, Kinsley abruptly ghosted me. The experience left me thinking about relationships that break under the strain of womanhood in all its conflicting forms. I have no doubt that for Kinsley and me, the looming pressures surrounding fertility (and our differing perspectives on motherhood, sex, and reproduction) accelerated our falling out. In her eyes, I was misguided (her word)—a black sheep among women. The last time I felt close to Kinsley was roughly seven years ago at a music festival. There was a torrential downpour and we huddled under a tarp, sharing poutine and drinking beer. When we were in line for poutine round two, we playfully debated the morality of birth control (insofar as that conversation can be playful). Even then, the chasm was widening.

. . . .

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Keiko, a woman working at a convenience store in Tokyo, best understands how to function “normally” within the framework of her job at Smile Mart, where social interactions can be learned by studying a manual. Keiko flourishes at the store and achieves a level of contentment she hasn’t experienced elsewhere; but as she approaches middle age, her lack of ambition and marital status (single, uncoupled) become an increasing affront to her meddling family and coworkers. Keiko contorts herself into a desperate emotional pretzel in an effort to appease her loved ones. The resulting decision is comically aligned with her personality—an unusual arrangement that makes her even more of an aberration, at least by the standards of people who care about such things. 

. . . .

Chemistry by Weike Wang

In Chemistry, we meet another woman with a life that is by all accounts rewarding, yet fails to deliver happiness. The novel’s narrator is working toward her PhD in chemistry—a goal foisted on her by her parents—and her perfectly lovely boyfriend has proposed. But she’s mired in ambivalence about her career and relationship and struggles to untangle her own wants from the wants foisted on her. As the story develops, the narrator reveals aspects of her childhood that led to her present state of indecision. This is a moving, character-driven illustration of what happens when the presence of others looms so large that there’s no room left to develop your own identity. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

1 thought on “7 Novels About Women Who Refuse to Fit In”

  1. I have a hunch about women who don’t fit in – they bother both their families and society in general, because, practically speaking, the dominant goal of women (most women) is to ‘fit in’.
    It is the norm for most women – oh, sure, there may be a time when a woman vividly remembers NOT being largely indistinguishable from other women – in a new school (particularly when changing regions/social levels), when rather abruptly switching from child to woman, middle school and all its horrors (when the cost of not fitting in – worse, not wanting to fit it – leads to violent group action to FORCE compliance with accepted group norms.
    But, mostly, women WANT to fit in. If the women she wants to make her friends favor abortion, SHE favors abortion. Their sexual morality is her sexual morality. Ambitions, college majors, types of men to pursue – all facets of life are modeled on the accepted norms.
    When there is a girl/woman who doesn’t fit in, doesn’t want to fit, or simply can’t fit in – why, that person is an attractive and guilty pleasure. Other women examine that person – fictional or real – in an effort to figure out How She Does It. However is that female resistant to the womenly norms of compliance, pretending, and carving pieces out of her soul in an effort to be accepted and acceptable.
    Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jo, in Little Women. Scarlett, in Gone With the Wind, to just name a few that have captivated women for generations.
    Pressure to conform to group standards is stronger than ever; many are hounded to give in, pretend to agree, and grovel. Those that refuse are vilified.

Comments are closed.