My thoughts about the film The Wife (spoiler alert!)

The new film, The Wife, with Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, brought up a lot of memories of my writing career.

Early on in her studies, Joan Castleman, the character Glenn Close plays in the film, was told she could get nowhere as a female author. It was the year 1958 – the same year I started college as a journalism major. Castleman, already recognized for her writing skills, says she couldn’t live without writing. I too was hell-bent on having a career in writing though I was discouraged as well. My father made it clear I should study to be a teacher – after all that’s what girls in my generation did – or skip college altogether and become a secretary.

Of course, the Castleman character in the movie and I were on totally different paths in our writing. My forte was journalism; hers was fiction.

I persisted and got a job right after graduating from college at a fashion trade magazine, which I quit after three weeks because my male boss verbally abused and harassed me. A few weeks later I got a job as a technical editor and writer in the aerospace industry and there I stayed for the next thirty years. And that is not to say harassment and the unequal treatment of women didn’t exist there. It did. Three years after I hired in I was part of a class action suit against the company for not treating women equally. We won professional status and got a ten-dollar bump in pay per week – nowhere near what the males in our field were paid. However, my salary was continually bumped up by understanding bosses so that when I retired thirty years later I was one of the highest paid employees in my department.

Instead of working out of the home, Joan Castleman, “the wife,” worked for her husband – a professor and so-called literary genius. At least that’s what everyone thought until we get to the real story. Joan Castleman wrote his books and he got the credit. Joan Castleman stayed in the background even when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The crux of Glenn Close’s acting is revealed on her face every step of the way and especially when her professor husband says as he introduces her to other Nobel winners, “my wife is not a writer.” When asked what she does, she says, “I am a king-maker.” Indeed that is true.

However, coming home after seeing this riveting film, my husband and I agreed this was her choice early on. She truly loved her husband and probably at some point liked writing for him. But not so much while he was having affairs and was abusive. You see a little smirk on her face when he doesn’t recognize the name of a character she created for one his (her) books.

I also chose my technical writing life, though I always yearned to be a creative writer. I got my chance after I retired with the publication of two non-fiction books – Blue Collar Women and Leaving the Hall Light On – lots of published poetry, and a new novel just about ready to shop around. I am finally happy with how my writing career turned out. I got the impression at the end of the film, The Wife, that Joan Castleman was not. Such were the lives of so many talented and ambitious women of my generation.

I’d love to hear your career stories.

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