Monday, July 11, 2011

But Erica Jong, We're Raunchy, Too! The Young Feminists Cry

Yesterday I was thrilled to see an op-ed in the NY Times by Erica Jong, one of my favorite authors, poets, and sex-pots.

My thrill lasted for about 15 seconds.

In "Is Sex Passé?" Ms. Jong begins:

What could be more eternal than sexuality? The fog of longing, the obsession with the loved one’s voice, smell, touch. Sex is discombobulating and distracting, it makes you immune to money, politics and family. And sometimes I think the younger generation wants to give it up.

People always ask me what happened to sex since “Fear of Flying.” While editing an anthology of women’s sexual writing called “Sugar in My Bowl” last year, I was fascinated to see, among younger women, a nostalgia for ’50s-era attitudes toward sexuality. The older writers in my anthology are raunchier than the younger writers. The younger writers are obsessed with motherhood and monogamy.

Umm, what? What younger women are you hanging out with, Erica? (Can I call you Erica?) Even trying to imagine having a "nostalgia for '50s-era attitudes toward sexuality" makes me feel a little nauseated. I think I can say, with complete certainty, that not one woman in my circle of friends would share that sentiment.

But, I told myself, this is Erica Jong, visionary behind the "zipless fuck"—read Fear of Flying if you don't know what I'm referring to, for chrissakes!—so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Undoubtedly plenty of younger writers (along with a large group of older writers, I'll wager) are "obsessed with motherhood and monogamy." Sure. Wait, though: since when are motherhood and monogamy mutually exclusive? Jong herself is an obvious example that they're not. Yet even if these young writers are "obsessed" with motherhood and monogamy, how does that equate a disinterest in sexual passion, or let's get real, even a raunchy attitude toward sex? Aren't monogamous mothers capable of "discombobulating and distracting" sex?

C'mon now! Where is this all going?

While I do have to agree that “Daughters always want to be different from their mothers,” holds an element of truth, when Jong goes on to say, “If their mothers discovered free sex, then they want to rediscover monogamy,” she’s overlooking a huge factor. Not all of our mothers “discovered free sex”! And honestly, even if they did, that might not be an aspect that any of us witnessed about our mothers. Sure, I know my mother had some single years, but during my lifetime, she was a happily married woman. She was also open to talking to me about sex. I guess my point is, it’s not always so black and white. Not always one extreme or the other. Just because Jong was part of the “free sex” movement, I don’t think we can claim that all young women have mothers who were. Plenty of the young women today who yearn for married with children bliss have happily married mothers as role models.

Jong continues to make claims throughout the piece that I find disappointing and even confusing, such as when she discusses how the Internet offers “simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection”—okay, so what? Does she think that in between our daydreams of wearing a “man-distancing sling” and breast-feeding “at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him” we are all getting off to Internet porn? It's not entirely clear, as she uses vague language about "Internet sex" that makes me nervous that she's never, in fact, used the Internet. “Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control,” she writes.

I would argue that the “lure of Internet sex” (if that's what we're calling it) is indeed about control, but not necessarily as a means to avoid the “chaos” of actual sex. Without getting into the dreaded Feminism and Pornography argument (pleasegoddon’tbringmeintothat), I think it’s worth noting that, perhaps young women (and men) are going to the Internet to find sexual pleasure when they don’t have a partner. I mean, DUH. Of course it’s about control! Controlling your orgasms. Does that mean our generation doesn’t care about sex?

No. It just means we have more options.

It’s not that we don’t care about sex. Maybe some young women are all about motherhood and monogamy, and maybe even about wearing a sling to hold their babies to ease with breast feeding. More power to them. That’s fine. Just as many young women are getting off via the Internet, without a care in the world about who’s judging them. Maybe those same women scoping out Internet porn were wearing one of those baby slings earlier in the day. And there are plenty of others who fall somewhere in between. More power to all of us.

Because I think what Erica Jong is forgetting, as she pisses off other feminists, like Courtney at Feministing, is that it’s our feminist foremothers, Jong especially, who have given us this freedom to not have to be so vocal about sex all the time. Jong was the sexual spokeswoman, and thank God for her.

So, I think instead of feeling pissed at Jong and pointing out the obvious, that no, we’re not all prudes any more than all our moms were free loving hippies, we should unite on the strong point in her piece:

The backlash against sex has lasted longer than the sexual revolution itself. Both birth control and abortion are under attack in many states. Women’s health care is considered expendable in budgetary negotiations. And the right wing only wants to champion unborn children. (Those already born are presumed able to fend for themselves.)

Lust for control fuels our current obsession with the deficit, our rejection of passion, our undoing of women’s rights. How far will we go in destroying women’s equality before a new generation of feminists wakes up? This time we hope those feminists will be of both genders and that men will understand how much equality benefits them.

Different though we are, men and women were designed to be allies, to fill out each other’s limitations, to raise children together and give them different models of adulthood. We have often botched attempts to do this, but there is valor in trying to get it right, to heal the world and the rift between the sexes, to pursue the healing of home and by extension the healing of the earth.

If we want to champion women’s rights and equality, I’m all for it. But I don’t think alienating and pissing off younger women is the way to go. (Not to mention that he heterosexist tone of this argument warrants an entirely different blog post.)

Like Courtney wrote at Feministing, “It’s not okay to make vast generalizations about entire generations based on your own daughter and four of your literary friends.” I want to see young and old(er) feminists uniting for women's rights and continuing the fight for equality, not just arguing with one another! Why waste our time talking about which generation of us is more into raunchy sex, when instead we could be pooling our collective brainpower to figure out how to protect women's access to birth control, and how to talk to teenagers about safe sex.

Alright. Time to get that baby off my breast and go prowl the Interwebs. Maybe I'll read some of Jong's poetry afterward, if I'm not too tired.

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