Girls Revolt in the 1950s

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

By Joyce Carol Oates

What could be scarier to the hidebound male sex than assertive, feminist females running in packs and extracting retribution on those males for sexually abusive behavior? Thank goodness the always versatile and inventive Oates set her “Confessions of a Girl Gang” in the 1950s, in an era just before the modern feminist movement built steam and acquired spokeswomen. Because you would think that many of the girls’ complaints would have been diminished or nearly eliminated by now, or by 1993, when the novel published. Yet the sexual abuse, the fact of being relegated to second class status, the presumptions of weakness, all continue to this day. Perhaps that was one of Oates’ points in writing the novel: to illustrate just how limited our progress on equality for women despite the fog of progress.

Five girls, gang names Goldie, Lana, Rita, and Maddy, coalesce around the natural leader, Legs Sadovsky, who sports spiked hair atop a boyish figure. Maddy is like an organization’s secretary, keeping a journal of what transpired when the girls were mere budding adolescents. She’s looking back with some early maturity ensconced in a highly disciplined career and warns us from the beginning that Foxfire, their gang name, went off the tracks. As the tale progresses, we learn that Foxfire revenge escalated from physically harmless, though humiliating, vandalism to kidnapping, from congregating in Legs’ bedroom, to buying a house that serves as their clubhouse and residence, as well as hope for an expanding gang of young girls, who many would regard as runaways. What happens to the girls, and especially Legs, who is generally the focus of Maddy’s attention, when the gang skids into the danger zone? Well, that’s as intriguing as revengeful girl gangs in the 1950s.

Oates writes with a fierceness tempered with introspection that both reflects Legs rebelliousness and Maddy’s admiration and concerns for her and what has transpired. While not one of Oates’s best, still a cut above novels and recommended. w/c

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