Thursday, August 4, 2011

She just doesn’t get it

I forget how I stumbled upon thoughts and commentary on Erica Jong’s supposedly-provocative piece in the NYT op-ed section “Is Sex Passé” (July 10 2011. Link here: 

Clearly, she touched a chord somewhere, because there has been whole host of defensive blogging and discussions of whether co-sleeping can co-exist with passionate sex, etc. I don’t really want to go down that road—it’s already been rehashed enough in my view. (Sleeping with your kids can obviously be limiting to your ability to have sex in your bed at night: whether that is a prohibitive thing to passion is a more subjective discussion). 

While Jong makes a few valid points, they are mostly banal. She makes some requisite political commentary to spice things up but her major arguments are that sex is wonderful and under-appreciated by the current generation of women. Sex is “discombobulating and distracting, it makes you immune to money, politics and family.” (Really, Erica?!?) Her article itself seems extraordinarily naïve and passé: a sort of paean to a particular generation’s view of the supposedly redemptive powers of sexuality. Mostly just a 60's nostalgia piece.

Where she betrays herself, to my mind, is halfway through her piece, where she refers to “[o]ur current orgy of multiple maternity” –where “our” really means “their” or “your.” (I will note for reference purposes that Ms. Jong has been married several times but has only one child, by her second marriage). Forgive my language-teacher tendencies here, but I want to dissect this. By multiple maternity, I must assume that she means having more than one child, rather than multiple births per se. I find it interesting that she employs the word orgy, which she might find an attractive concept in other scenarios (Ms. Jong is well known as an advocate for women’s sexuality), but here she is definitely using in the usual pejorative sense of gross excess. Then there is the use of “current”—suggesting that we’re dealing with a temporary fad that, like silly bands, will be gone soon if it isn’t already.
So that’s what you think of having more than one child?   It’s a fad and a disgusting spectacle?  You lost me right there; no need to go further!

But what Jong doesn't get is much bigger than this. When I had my first child, it was a revelation.  My love for my child forced a huge paradigm shift –while before I had seen romantic love as the be-all and end-all of things (even if I’m not sure I would have admitted it), when Cecilia was born, I started to see the love for one’s children as more fundamental in some ways. And, pace Jong, there is a lot of good to this. The disinterested love for one’s child, a child who (while cute), is completely unhelpful and pretty minimal in the communications arena can help you see your love for your spouse in a different—and good—way. I have a  friend who has been married for many years; she loves her husband very much, but she said to me once, “I hope one day to look at my husband with the same tenderness with which I look at my kids.” And that is a good thing. It may not be about sex, so Erica Jong may not be interested in it, but for most of us, a happy marriage and a good life are about a lot more.