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.

1 comment:

  1. It certainly took long enough! Another hard-hitting response (maybe a little softer than the letter to Amy Chua) that touches a lot of major points.

    As a younger person, it's difficult for me to speak about cultures of previous generations with total confidence. I think it's obvious that women who grew up in the 50-60s, 70-80s and 90-00s were presented radically different ideas of how to control their sexual urges.

    Erica Jong probably laid in her bed at night (alone) and re-read de Beauvoir over and over. Though she imagined a world of sexual freedom and the liberation of women, she secretly wanted a stable, traditional lifestyle. She condemns this lifestyle even more now that she discovered she is incapable of sustaining it. It probably did not take long for her to find out men aren't typically thrilled with women who speak so openly about sexual freedom. I'm not sure I near to even defend this point.

    The 70 and 80s are a bit confusing to me. Behind the blow, there was a slow conversion between what is acceptable for women to do -- and what is forbidden. Now, the radical change in women's behavior (and mens), happened in the late 1980s. When AIDS became a serious issue, it revolutionized sexual education -- and definitely helped deflate superfluous sexual activity (at least among the middle/upper-classes).

    While promiscuous activity may be down from what it once was, I assure you, Erica Jong, no one dresses more scandalously than the women of my generation (women who grew up in the 1990s, 2000s). The media has played a part in doing this, but I think it is largely compensating for their lack of activity.

    I'm neither old enough, nor wise enough, to draw any significant conclusions about sex. Feminists will be feminists, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it is strange how we can easily tell which women have chips on their shoulders; it is almost as if we know they desperately want a normal life, but they simply are either too ugly (definitely feel like a jerk saying that) or flat out too annoying to ever obtain it.