Reading the reviews of the 1991 novel “Mating” by Norman Rush, it turned out that some critics tend to view it as “a feminist manifesto of sorts” (Gaffigan, 2009). Once interviewed about the essence of his controversial characters in “Mating”, Norman Rush, too, admitted to the narrator’s feminist convictions. In his words, the female narrator, a 32 year old doctoral candidate in the subject of nutritional anthropology, “operates with all the strength and vitality” of “the first wave of post-Betty Friedan feminism.” (Osen, n.d.) One of the attitudes that Rush thinks single her out as a feminist is the interrogation of her romantic feeling to a liberal intellectual Nelson Denoon (Osen, n.d.).
THESIS STATEMENT: However, the claim that the narrator in “Mating” is a feminist seems highly dubious. While the woman thinks of herself as a feminist, her mode of pursuing the man she has fallen in love with proves that in reality she is not.
First, a brief overview of the basic of feminism needs to be done. “The Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Group Relations” states that the goal of feminism is equality of men and women (“Feminism”, 2010). It defines feminism in three terms: as a recognition that females are treated in a different way than males, and occupy a subordinate position/have a subordinate role in society; a view that gender roles are socially constructed and thus subject to change; and understanding that women should be autonomous as well as self-reliant. It is this third condition that the narrator of “Mating” does not meet. Besides, the narrator seems to miss the goal of feminism even if she wishes to sound feministic. In the next paragraph, it will be shown how the psychological, romance-based dependency on Nelson Denoon denounces the narrator’s alleged feminism.
The biggest argument against the narrator’s feminism is her pursuance of Denoon to a degree that she risks losing her life. Despite the fact that the narrator seems to be rather self-reflective and equipped with analytical mind, she develops a truly overpowering crush on an ex-professor who she is barely familiar with. Clearly, the idealistic vision of Denoon was powered by her feminist ideals (which becomes especially clear at the end of the story, when he cannot live up to her expectations and the narrator dumps him), but the very fact that a 32 year old American graduate student embarks on a lengthy and exhausting journey through the Kalahara desert only to form a romantic relationship with a man is totally non-feministic (Rush, 1991).
The related fact that the narrator risks her life twice only to submerge her whole life to the man’s utopian fantasies is anti-feministic as well. Also, the fact that a woman is plotting Denoon’s seduction is incompatible with the theory of feminism, which as it has been shown above, insists on women’s independence from men, women’s self-reliance, and their self-respect as the representatives of the equal sex.
Besides, for the biggest part of the book, the narrator focuses almost solely on Denoon, who occupies all her intents and thoughts. The narrator is clearly under the charm of Denoon’s authority and reputation as a world-renowned scholar Denoon clearly commands the whole narrative even though it is told by the narrator. This means that the woman is actually incapable of balancing her mind and directing her thoughts the way that would mean her sensibility, autonomy from the men’s world, and critical perception of men. In fact, the narrator creates a personal utopia of Denoon and places him at the top of the hierarchy. And despite the fact that both characters agree in their conversations that the narrator was not “la femme moyenne sensuelle (…) finding her raison d’etre in the love of a male as close to alpha as she can get”, her actions ironically prove otherwise (Rush, 1991).
Next, the narrator’s sexual obsession with the man of her dreams is another indication of her weakness a female versus male. The woman’s obsession is takes the shape of elaborate vocabulary that she invents to convey the whole spectrum of her unforgettable experiences. For instance, she creates the word “blank sex”, which stands for “everything tangible about your partner (which) is transformed into something that excites and weakens you, seems irreplaceable, his breath, even physical defects (…)” (Rush, 1991).
Moreover, the narrator confesses that sex with the man is literally necessary for her physical survival: “(…)All these things are somehow necessary for your physical survival or salvation” (Rush, 1991). Also, knowing that she is not capable of forever possessing the partner sexually makes the narrator feel “the tonus of despair.” (Rush, 1991). In addition, the musings about her partner’s erectile functions are no less indicative of her sexual dependency on the ex-professor: “He was sexually very available. The number of erections coming to my attention was, for someone his age, outstanding (…)” (Rush, 1991).
Also, the narrator’s attachment to an old (if to compare with herself) man, who is in his fifties, prompts the idea of her dependency on a father figure. The fact that Denoon was a father figure for the narrator and that she indeed had a daughter-to-father feeling towards him is well illustrated by the woman’s affectionate calling him Father William. To illustrate this, the following passage from the novel may be quoted:
“By the way, he said, I am old: I remember when science fiction was called scientification, which is old. He said You could call my autobiography I Remember Kolynos. What Kolynos was I had no idea, although it sounded vaguely classical or like a Greek place name. It was a major toothpaste from the 1940s. I said You are old, Father William, whence forth Father William became part of our idioverse.” (Rush, 1991).
Overall, despite the fact that the female narrator associates herself with feminists and often demonstrates feminist thoughts, her actions resulting from overarching dependency on an older man, a renowned scholar, prove otherwise. The narrator is not a feminist at all, because instead of longing for autonomy and instead of nurturing her self-reliance, she thrusts herself in the utopian world of the man. She submerges her life to the order that this man has created. She is excessively dependent on the sexual relationship with him, on satisfaction she gets from his erections, etc. She is unable to fill her mind with anything but the man whom she strives to win. Besides, she gets attached in a daughter like, subordinate fashion, to this man.
- Feminism. (2010). Encyclopedia of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. Ed. John M. Levine and Michael A. Hogg. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference. 281-284. Retrieved 13 Feb. 2014 from Gale Virtual Reference Library.
- Gaffigan, T. (2009). Mating by Norman Rush. Retrieved 13 Feb. 2014 from
- Osen, D. (n.d.) Interview with Norman Rush. Retrieved 13 Feb. 2014 from
- Rush, N. (1991). Mating. New York: Vintage.