two women lying on beach, sunning, drinkingThe protagonist of Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion, is lying on the beach, surrounded by friends—though friends is perhaps too strong of a word—when her husband walks away. She sits up and looks around, and then this happens:

“It occurred to [her] that whatever arrangements were made, they worked less well for women.”

In contrast to the party atmosphere around her, she is merely, introvertedly, noticing the bodies nearby: the female versions of which seem to be aging, and the male versions of which seem to be locked in a timeless vitality. She thinks about her small daughter. She thinks about pregnancy. As an actor, her career is dependent on her looks. And, of course, the Hollywood circles of which she is a (reluctant) member are deeply attuned to physical appearance.

In another chapter, a male friend (or not-friend; is there a synonym for friend that doesn’t imply actual friendship?) invites her on a short trip, along with some other friends (not-friends?).

She says, “I don’t want to do that.”

He says, “Yes you do.”

The chapter ends there; the reader gets the impression that this type of interaction is not uncommon in her life.

I don’t want to oversimplify the complicated life that Didion depicts. Much of the protagonist’s woe seems due to personality flaws and past traumas that are non-gender-specific. And yet, something pertaining to gender is going on here, and this becomes clearer, the further into the book one progresses.

In your life’s experience, have arrangements worked less well for women?

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