Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Erica Jong can STFU.

Please shoot me if when I get older I write op-ed pieces that whine about how "kids today" are not nearly as cool as I was when I was young. (But shoot me in the leg, so I don't actually die). I LOVED Fear of Flying, I don't even judge Erica Jong for hooking up with Martha Stewart's husband, but the piece she wrote for the New York Times last weekend entitled Is Sex Passe?
-->  -->really annoyed me. It reeked of "I am out of touch, but no one has the balls to tell me."

Erica Jong claims young women don't care enough about sex anymore. Apparently, we're BLOWING it OFF for monogamy and motherhood. So, Erica--- just to prove you wrong....you can blow me. No, seriously. I want it. Me. You. A vacant steam room. Hot cunnilingus. You're almost seventy. I'm thirty. We'll be like the lesbian Harold & Maude. Are you in or are you out?

In all seriousness, I'll take you through the article and go over some of the points that bugged me the most. I'm assuming at thirty, I still fit the label "young woman" since Jong references her daughter as one and she's in her mid-thirties.

*Of her recent anthology, Jong writes: "The older writers in my anthology are raunchier than the younger writers. The younger writers are obsessed with motherhood and monogamy. It makes sense. Daughters always want to be different from their mothers. If their mothers discovered free sex, then they want to rediscover monogamy."

Counterpoint: Maybe her young writers happen to be frigid prudes? No really-- the mother/daughter dichotomy is a valid point, but what would that mean for the smaller portion of young women in the US that are children of immigrants? My mom certainly was not discovering free sex in the 70s in Iran. Nor were the mothers of my friends from foreign countries (as far as I know). That said, my mom actually encouraged me to have pre-marital sex and I did. (Best advice ever, mom). So, would that mean there's a faction of women who still like a hot beef injection, just because their mothers weren't getting it regular?

*Jong claims young women want control in a chaotic world which is why they're shying away from sex and gravitating towards motherhood.

Counterpoint: I can't speak for my fellow peers on this one, but I'm a definite control freak and that's why motherhood scares the living bejeezus out of me. I can't think of anything more chaotic than having kids. And that's because in the 21st century, women are way more vocal about the hardships of motherhood. Thanks, ladies. Your honesty has left me terrified.

*Jong claims that sex is less interesting now, because the internet has made it less forbidden. "Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. 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."

Counterpoint: Raise your hand if you know a woman in your peer group that prefers cyber-sex to actual sex. What was that? You don't know any female that's had cyber-sex? Me neither! In all the years of talking with my girlfriends about subjects ranging from vaginal itch to butt sex I've never heard anyone say "I had the most amazing virtual fuck last night." I'm pretty sure the only people having cyber-sex are men who wrongly assume there's a woman on the other end of that computer and that creepy lonely lady from the movie Catfish.

*Jong writes "Punishing the sexual woman is a hoary, antique meme found from 'Jane Eyre' to 'The Scarlet Letter' to 'Sex and the City' where the lustiest woman ended up with breast cancer. Sex for women is dangerous."

Counterpoint: No, she didn't bring up Sex and the City! That show is solely responsible for my slutty years. Jong fails to mention here that the most sexually conservative character on the show (Charlotte) ended up with something WAY worse than breast cancer: an impotent husband and a nightmare mother-in-law. And Carrie boned a lot of dudes and she got rewarded with Chris Noth and a huge walk in closet. Um, me thinks sex for women is awesome.

*Jong continues: "...better to soul cycle and write cookbooks. Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion? The question lingers in the air, unanswered."

Counterpoint: Where do I begin. I agree with Jong that having your kids in bed with you makes 69ing all the more complex, but I'm confused about this obsession she claims young women have with motherhood. Maybe I'm living in LA and have a different perspective (although Jong is a New Yorker, so it's not like she's referring to women in Middle America), but out of a sampling of 20 female friends I have regular contact with (all living either in SF, LA or NY)--- only 25% are married, only 15% have children. And 80% of those women are over the age of 30. (I know, it's not all that scientific, but it's the best I could do). Jong claims women are longing for the era of Mad Men, but she makes no reference to the fact that women are delaying marriage and motherhood at higher rates than in the 70s to focus on their careers.

If there's one thing that's making us less focused on sex -- maybe it's fact that it we don't use it to get self worth. Many of us get that from our jobs.

And even though I'm not a mom and don't plan on being one for awhile, I have to stand up for the young mamas out there regarding Jong's statement "Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him." So, let me get this straight? In Jong's world-- women have to choose between feeding and holding their babies VS getting laid by their husbands? Let's not forget that fertility problems aside, sex leads to babies, so these mommies know how to do it. Plus, wives always talk about how sexy it is to watch their husbands become fathers. Okay, maybe I've only heard that from the mouths of celebrity moms, but here's hoping men feel the same way.

*Perhaps the best point Jong makes is the following: "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.)....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."

Counterpoint: Jong fails to mention the fact that many of the policy makers attacking institutions like Planned Parenthood came out of the free sex generation and not the generation she's critiquing. I absolutely agree with her point that it is the responsibility of our generation (men and women) to get outraged, fight back, and protest these issues. This is an area where we've failed.

Other things Jong leaves out of her argument:

No mention of sexually transmitted diseases. Her days of "passionate sex" came before sex in a time of HIV and HPV (the latter which can't even be prevented by condoms). With advances in treatments and vaccines for both viruses, perhaps there will be less risk associated with one night fucks and we'll seek out more of them, but then that would go against Jong's argument that the more risk involved, the more sex we'd be having.

Not to mention, the free sex movement was in part a reaction to the advent of birth control and the drudgery of monogamy. Our generation's had the pill all along. Hell, I went on it in high school to clear up my skin. So, we didn't have the urge to go buck wild when it was invented. Also, many of the women in Jong's generation chose monogamy at a young age, realized it sucked, and then went out and had sex with every available and unavailable man they could find. Our generation got to do it the other way around. We had our run a muck stage first, got it out of our system, and then we sought monogamy (which does not necessarily mean we stop having sex). I'm only six years into the longest monogamous relationship I've had, so I'm no expert, but I will say that the more at ease I am with my lovah, the better the sex gets. Way better than any one night stand.

Don't get me wrong, just because Jong is older does not make her irrelevant. I'm not an ageist. I admire her as a writer and as a voice of her generation. I'd shit myself if I was in my sixties with twenty-two books under my belt, while also writing Op-Ed pieces for the Times.
The only place I've ever been published is this blog. But Erica Jong got it very wrong this time. Even she admits that "generalizing about cultural trends is tricky." That's why I will not be publishing an article where I presume to know what it's like to be an infant, just because I was one once.

15 comments:

  1. These ancient feminists piss me off!!

    I am a young married mom from the Midwest and I do not base my femininity on my sexual exploits! I think they are a part of being a woman and I admire sexual freedom and the advances made for women's equality, obviously. But I feel like those girls in the 70s wanted to become MEN in order to be true women. It's all backwards. They view motherhood and children as weaknesses because they aren't masculine things. That is aggravating because I view them as feminine strengths!

    I think our generation just accepts the fact that you can be a mother and a feminist at the same time. You can nurse your children and have sex in the same day. And all of it is beautiful.

    (and yes, it is sexy as hell to see your husband become a father, and my sex life is wonderful, even with a four and two year old in the house!)

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  2. I also agree with your final point, and I think that's part of what's so frustrating. She makes no attempt to understand where WE are coming from, but simply expects every generation after hers to act the same way she did. I hope when I'm "ancient", I remember to take all that into account. :) (ps you are a wonderful writer!)

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  3. Awesome rebuttal! Eloquently argued.

    Funny how my mama (also immigrant) encouraged me to have sex too. I spent new years eve with her during my second year in college, and we got drunk together and I told her that my new year's resolution was to lose my virginity. She said, "Oh god, you still haven't had sex yet? Pathetic."

    Love mamas. Most of the time.

    Ultimately, we take so much from our mothers, which is why motherhood is so terrifying. They are who we learn from most, as women, and we either embrace that, or reject it. I was very lucky to have a protective, forward-thinking mother. Not every daughter is so lucky. We can't choose our families, after all.

    Lately, I've been really envious of sisterhood. I see friends with sisters, and I want it. My brother and I are about as close as it gets, but I wish I had a sister too. Probably because that, too, morphs into a sort of mother-daughter relationship?

    VIVA LA FEMENINA.

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  4. i'm 34 years old, married at 30 and having a baby in 6 weeks and you don't know how many moms (friends & family) ranging from age 30 - 65 have asked me what my plans are with work once the baby is here. when i tell them my plan is to go back to work because i love my job and it's one of the most fulfilling parts of my life they say can you go back part-time? maybe i'll change my tune once the baby is here, but it freaks me out to see successful 30 something friends/acquaintances leave behind careers to stay at home. years later most of these women start to re-evaluate their decisions and realize they've become irrelevant.

    my mom has always worked and at the same time managed to be the most amazing mother, friend and woman i know. if anything having her stay in the work force taught me to be independent, to work hard and to seek out a balanced and fulfilling relationship both in my marriage and in my job. the last thing it did was make me want to work less, get hitched and knocked up.

    so i guess in some ways i do agree with the motherhood statements she makes not from my own experience but from the experience of those around me... because i see myself surrounded by women (jn SF/bay area) that do leave behind careers for motherhood. and i bet you more of them would do it if it was an option and they didn't need the second income.

    moms, feel free to judge me and like i said i have no idea what life willbe once baby arrives, but i do know i value my identity and i want to me more than a wife and mother.

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  5. Wow! Thanks for all the great comments everyone! So many more good points to be made!

    @georgia, I completely agree with you about feminine strengths being rejected and overlooked. I don't get it. Also, extra happy to hear that you are able to balance motherhood and a hot sex life. yay! Makes me feel a little less terrified about having kids :) Thanks for reading and as always, thanks for your thoughtful comments!

    @kayoko, love your mom. The fact that she called you pathetic for being a virgin cracks me up. Amazing. I just think Jong's argument that daughters don't want to be like their mothers is SO simplistic and cliched. Obvi, it depends on what kind of mother you have--- but let's assume she was a good one--- I think many young women actually grow up understanding and valuing their moms more than they did in their adolescence.

    @slim, totally agree with you. I know it's controversial and there will always be that divide between stay at home moms and working moms. I am really happy I grew up in a household where both parents worked. It really helped shape me into a stronger/more independent adult. That's why I was frustrated by Jong's piece, because she doesn't even bother to reference where career falls for our generation of women. To say we are all longing for the era of Mad Men is such a load.

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  6. Slim, I don't judge you at all. I think the problem I have with your comments is that you are judging me as a mom who " got hitched and knocked up" and stays home with my kids...it makes me sad that we can't all just respect each other's life decisions. Especially as mothers.
    I think it may or may not be harder for you than you imagine, to leave your little one at home. I personally think that staying home with children is the most difficult job I've ever done. It's being on call 24/7 and I can see how being a working mom will keep a lady more sane! So, if you love your career, go for it! Just don't disrespect me for my decisions, ya know?

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  7. Slim~

    If your identity is defined by having a career as well as being a wife and mother, then your life would be incomplete without both aspects. Don't let people persuade you into thinking that it can't be done. Balancing the two is difficult of course, but not impossible. Like anything else in life, it takes time, effort, and patience. But if you are determined to have both, then both you shall have. The choice is ultimately yours to make and you are the one who needs to be satisfied with your decision.

    ~Thuc
    Mother and Teacher

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  8. Also, I think what you are saying is necessary for any mom...to not define yourself through motherhood, because children grow up and leave, and then where are you? But not everyone defines themselves through a career. For me, it is music. So, I can have my cake and eat it, too, so to speak.

    Saaara :) I think children are so wonderful because they are terrifying! Haha, it's a wild adventure, but I wouldn't trade having them for anything ever.

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  9. Great debate, moms! I have to say when I worked in the corporate world, my favorite colleagues were the moms. they had such a different perspective on the mundane annoying crap that happened at the office. It just didn't phase them as much. they were able to let certain things roll of their backs, because they had more important things to worry about. And all of them said that being at the office was their break time from being at home. But I think Slim's point is really interesting-- it's also frustrating when your peers assume/expect you to work part time, etc. No one ever asks these same questions of men. The mom colleagues were always envious of men who had stay at home wives. They felt it really gave them a leg up in the corporate world, because they never had to do double duty.

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  10. ^ Totally agreed :) I think it's one of those push-back things. "Your kind" judged me so I'll judge you back! I hope my generation (I'm a wee bit young, at 25) can handle people working and people staying home as equally valid life choices.

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  11. @georgia, i guess from where i stand it's more of a sense of disappointment than judgement, especially when seeing my career driven peers/friends bow out. but i completely agree with you that women need to respect each other's decisions. and believe me i respect these ladies and from watching my sister-in-law first hand realize that they have the toughest job on their hands.

    i've also heard career moms say they are a better mom and wife because they lead a more balanced life. so if people get that balance, self worth and satisfaction from the arts, philanthropy, etc then that is awesome.

    so again, i try my best to understand both sides, but for me personally one less woman in the work force means one more man at the table which continues to mean more c-level male leaders dominating the silicon valley.

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  12. I don't actually think there's necessarily that great a 'divide' between working and stay at home mothers. Often, you're talking about the same person. I always thought of my mom as a working mother, but she actually stayed at home with me until I was about two. I teach one class and stay at home with my 15 month old the rest of the time. I don't define myself as a stay at home mother as I don't plan to do it forever. I know a lot of 'stay at home' people who are, in reality, just unemployed. Why turn it into some weird division?

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  13. Hilarious post! And I agree with Kelsey. I have been a mom for 8 years now -- one who works at home -- and I have not felt any huge divide between working and stay at home mothers. Granted, I'm straddling the line (which in a way makes both jobs harder), but my feeling with all the other mothers has just been that we're all trying to figure out how to manage this thing called parenthood.

    And all Erica's talk about sex -- she's missing the boat, big time. She reads like a woman who is offended by motherhood as an institution... even though she is a mother. There was another article this past year -- I can't find it now -- by a woman writer who was FURIOUS at the way women of her generation use photographs of their kids as their avatars on Facebook.

    Really? REALLY. How empty is your life if THAT'S what you're choosing to be pissed about?

    I'm going off-topic. Great GREAT post, Saaara!

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  14. Slim, Kelsey, and Jen ~ Agree with everything y'all said!

    Slim, I hope your labor and delivery goes very well! <3

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  15. @Jen, thanks for reading. yay, makes me happy you liked the post. I remember reading about the whole facebook profile picture thing. Seriously, who cares. Although, I'm still not a fan of pictures of couples. Or puppies. And also, I feel like the reason Erica Jong's daughter wants to be nothing like her is because she wasn't held enough as a child.

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