"All men are rapists and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.""Anyone determined to find another person or group inferior can always find whole lists of grounds that demonstrate inferiority because we are all inferior to the ideals of humanness we have erected.""Fear is a question. What are you afraid of and why? Our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if we explore them.""Men seem unable to feel equal to women: they must be superior or they are inferior.""Men stumble over pebbles, never over mountains.""Men's need to dominate women may be based in their own sense of marginality or emptiness; we do not know its root, and men are making no effort to discover it.""My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine - everybody drinks water.""Nature is inside art as its content, not outside as its model.""Not many men have both good fortune and good sense.""Nothing is ever simple. What do you do when you discover you like parts of the role you're trying to escape?""Oh, God, why don't I remember that a little chaos is good for the soul?""One thing that makes art different from life is that in art things have a shape... it allows us to fix our emotions on events at the moment they occur, it permits a union of heart and mind and tongue and tear.""To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, is more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons.""Well, love is insanity. The ancient Greeks knew that. It is the taking over of a rational and lucid mind by delusion and self-destruction. You lose yourself, you have no power over yourself, you can't even think straight.""Whatever they may be in public life, whatever their relations with men, in their relations with women, all men are rapists and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, their codes.""When they kept you out it was because you were black; when they let you in, it is because you are black. That's progress?"
French was born in Brooklyn to E. Charles Edwards and Isabel Hazz Edwards. She attended Hofstra University (then Hofstra College) where she also received a master's degree in English in 1964. She married Robert M. French Jr. in 1950; the couple divorced in 1967. She later attended Harvard University, earning a Ph.D in 1972. Years later she became an instructor at Hofstra University.
In her work, French asserted that women's oppression is an intrinsic part of the male-dominated global culture. Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals (1985) is a historical examination of the effects of patriarchy on the world.
French's 1977 novel, The Women's Room, follows the lives of Mira and her friends in 1950s and 1960s America, including Val, a militant radical feminist. The novel portrays the details of the lives of women at this time and also the feminist movement of this era in the United States. At one point in the book the character Val says "all men are rapists". This quote has often been incorrectly attributed to Marilyn French herself. French's first book was a thesis on James Joyce.
French was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1992. This experience was the basis for her book A Season in Hell: A Memoir (1998).
She is mentioned in the 1982 ABBA song, "The Day Before You Came". The lyrics that mentioned French were: "I must have read a while, the latest one by Marilyn French or something in that style".
French died from heart failure at age 79 on May 2, 2009, in Manhattan, New York City.