There was a time, not so long ago, when Marilyn French was considered one of the most dangerous women on the planet. Dubbed “The writer with an AK-47″ when her debut novel, The Women’s Room, was first published in 1977, the tough billing obviously appealed to readers: the book, probably the most overtly feminist novel of all time, sold 20m copies worldwide. French dramatised all the frustrations, rage and boredom of her generation of desperate housewives, crystallised in the character of Mira Ward: a submissive, suburban housewife who goes to Harvard post-divorce and discovers both female friendship and feminism.”God, how they attacked me in some quarters,” French says now. “And why? Because I told the truth. They said I was a man hater, and I never defended myself against that, because I do believe that men are to blame for the condition of women.” Still? “Yes. Even men who are not actively keeping women down, but are profiting from women’s position, or who don’t mind things being the way they are – they are responsible too. I don’t hate men. In fact, throughout my life I’ve always said I like men very much. But men are responsible for the situation of women.”
We are sitting in French’s living room, 48 floors above downtown Manhattan. Now 76, and frail after having oesophagal cancer, French is still razor-sharp. Her disposition is disarming though. From everything I had read, I was expecting a tough nut, but on the surface she is a warm, amiable matriarch.