Wednesday, April 05, 2006

ERICA JONG - AUTHENTIC FEMINIST


Off topic but to the point...

Flying high Her erotic, taboo-busting bestseller, Fear of Flying, was a sensation 30 years ago. But what does Erica Jong think of it now? Sharon KrumThursday July 17, 2003The Guardian
The woman who gave us the Zipless Fuck is going to be a grandmother. "A friend of mine said, when the baby arrives, he's going to start calling me the Zipless Granny." Erica Jong doubles over with laughter, and frankly, she is right to. Anyone harbouring visions of Jong sitting in a rocking chair, knitting baby booties, should get over it. At 61, she is still as lusty and provocative as the woman who penned the phrase three decades ago. Only today she doesn't regard the resultant notoriety as a millstone.

"I used to worry they would put zipless fuck on my tombstone," confesses Jong, who still has that thick, blonde mane, throaty laugh and throws four-letter words around like confetti. "I don't any more though. I know it's rare for a book to touch so many lives, and I am really humbled by it."
The book, of course, was Fear of Flying, and it has just been reissued to celebrate its 30th anniversary. For those too young in 1973 to either read it or remember the frenzy, just know it was the Harry Potter of its time. Except, Fear of Flying's obsessive readers were not children, but women stuck in mundane marriages, having lacklustre sex, shocked that their lives had become reduced to the sink and the see-saw.
Fear of Flying, with its talk-dirty-to-me dialogue and sexually unsatisfied wife as protagonist, was their salvation. "I know that psychiatrists were recommending the book to female patients. There were so many women then who couldn't fantasise or masturbate because they were so uptight, and here was a book that said, go ahead," says Jong.
Fear Of Flying tells the story of Isadora Wing, a 29-year-old writer five years into her second marriage to psychiatrist Dr Bennett Wing. Like all women who came of age in the 50s, Isadora was raised to believe that marriage was just like a Doris Day movie. "Nobody bothered to tell you what marriage was really about," says Isadora when she discovers the American fantasy of marriage is a crock. "You weren't even provided, like European girls, with a philosophy of cynicism and practicality.
"Even if you loved your husband, there came that inevitable year when fucking him turned as bland as Velveeta cheese: filling, fattening even, but no thrill to the tastebuds, no bittersweet edge, no danger."
As Isadora's marriage unravels, she escapes into the arms of a British psychoanalyst and, as they travel through Europe, she mentally revisits past relationships, lovers and the sexual fantasies that sustained her when the aforementioned bombed in bed. Her ultimate was the now infamous Zipless Fuck, a phrase Jong had no idea would enter the popular lexicon. "The fantasy was to have sex that was just totally wild and dreamlike. Nothing real or messy, " she says.
As Jong wrote in Fear of Flying: "The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was a platonic ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff. Tongues intertwined and turned liquid. Your whole soul flowed out through your tongue and into the mouth of your lover." Jong's honesty about the tedium of marriage, coupled with her frank dialogue, turned the book into a phenomenon. "To women who grew up in the 50s and had an uneasy relationship to sexual revolution in the 60s," says feminist author Phyllis Chesler, "Erica brought them to a personal reckoning with identity, including their sexuality. For them this was life altering."
Jong was born in New York City into a neurotic Jewish family straight from central casting. She began writing as a child, studied 18th-century literature, and published her first book of poetry, the erotic Fruits and Vegetables, in 1971. Though she claims she has been a feminist since her teens - "I watched my mother, a great painter, sidelined because she was a woman. Her anger powered my feminism" - she began her first novel in the male voice. "I didn't think anyone would be interested in a woman's point of view."
When her publisher read her male novel, he kindly suggested she shelve it. "He said, 'Why don't you write a book in that fierce female voice of your poems?' And that freed me." Jong had read John Updike's Couples, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, and wondered why women weren't writing about their emotional and sexual lives with the same candour. Jong resolved to march readers into a woman's brain and her bedroom, then give them a front-row seat. Listen to Isadora on her husband: "He soared and glided when he screwed. He made marvellous dipping and corkscrewing motions. He stayed hard forever."
No surprise then when Fear of Flying was published, reaction was volcanic. Despite inroads made by the women's movement, in 1973, nice girls still didn't write about sex, let alone call it fucking. Social commentators blamed the blonde, mini-skirted Jong for encouraging promiscuity. But for mainstream feminists this was Christmas; a book that celebrated the sexually liberated female. And ordinary women from every social class, "many of whom never read novels", says Jong, clamoured for a copy. "They would say to me, this is my life. How did you get inside my head?"
But some critics got their knickers in an almighty twist. "Erica paid a terrible price when the book came out," says feminist Chesler. "She was a woman writing about sex and admitting she enjoyed it. She had to be punished. You can bet Roth was not treated this way." In America, though the New York Times called it a whiny, feminist novel, Updike raved - "[Chaucer's] Wife of Bath, were she young and gorgeous, neurotic and Jewish, urban and contemporary, might have written like this." And Miller gushed: "This book will make literary history... because of it, women are going to find their own voice and give us great sagas of sex, life, joy and adventure."
"But when it came out in London, I got hateful reviews," Jong says, proceeding to recite one by Paul Theroux. "Erica Jong's witless heroine looms like a mammoth pudenda." Martin Amis dismissed Isadora's journey as "horrible and embarrassing", adding "for all her laborious sensitivity to experience, Miss Jong's skin is light years thick when it comes to creativity."
"When I read that shit from Amis oh," she screams. "Reviews used to get to me, but they don't bother me any more. To hell with them. I'm still here." Indeed she is, and 30 years after turning the culture on its head, Jong is still annoying people, which she loves. "I took it as my life's work to write about the inner lives of women, and to do it properly that means the emotional and sexual. And when you do that in a culture that is still so puritanical, people are going to give you shit. I don't mind."
What she does mind are young women today who refuse to call themselves feminists and insist the women's movement is obsolete. "They think equal pay and women talking dirty on Sex and the City means we've won, we don't need to fight any more," says Jong, rolling her eyes. A committed feminist, she lectures widely on women's rights, and yet has been branded a traitor to the cause by militants because she supports pornography. Her avowed love and need for men hasn't helped her feminist cred either, not that she cares. Jong has married four times, and calls current husband, lawyer Ken Burrows, "my soulmate".
But Jong knows the feminist revolution is hardly over. "I understand a woman writing about sex 30 years ago was shocking. What bothers me is that nothing seems to have changed." People are still unhappy with their sex lives. As she wrote recently: "Perhaps the problem is not in our marriages but in our expectations. Everything we see on television, in the movies, tells us that passion is the norm in life so we feel deprived when we don't get it. How come Sarah Jessica Parker gets it and we don't? How come Demi Moore gets it and we don't? And our glossy mags would do well to stop teasing us with the impossible while pretending to be helping us."
"The truth is that ziplessness has always been a platonic ideal rather than a daily reality. Yes, wild passionate sex exists. It can even exist in marriage. But it is occasional, not daily."
Jong says feminists can only pack up and go home when women can write erotica and our culture will consider it literary, not dirty. And that hasn't happened yet. "I was amazed when Sappho's Leap came out [Jong's book which was published in the US earlier this year] and I am still getting bullshit about writing about sex."
Recently Jong spoke to a female English literature class studying Fear of Flying. It upset her that the students identified with Isadora so much. "They told me they still feel the conflict between motherhood and a career, and that women in touch with their sexuality are still sluts. I was devastated. How can anyone think the women's movement is irrelevant when you hear that?" she shrieks tearing at her hair. "It just tells me we still have a lot of work to do creating a society where women's sexuality can be powerful and we aren't afraid of it."

38 Comments:

Blogger KidKawartha said...

durrati-
Good post subject. I'm going to keep my ignorant mouth shut, because I've really never read a lot of feminist writer's work. I'll be the first to confess that I have great difficulty with most women writers- not with quality or respect, it's just the emotional pace lags behind my over-active mind. That being said, Barbara Kingsolver is one of my all-time favorite writers.
P.S. durrati, check e-mail.

7:44 PM  
Blogger durrati said...

I read Germain Greer, Gloria Steinhem and Jong, (Fear of Flying when it came out as did my girl friend thank the gods) and so got the wrong polemics I suppose; for these were women who liked men but had a dispute with the culture at large. I mean it's not like a memo was sent out in like 2000 B.C. and the men said "let's have a meeting....

7:53 PM  
Blogger durrati said...

And thanks for the Barbara Kingsolver tip, i'm not familiar but will investigate...so much culture, so little time...

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Angela Carter said...

Pornographers are the enemies of women only because our contemporary ideology of pornography does not encompass the possibility of change, as if we were the slaves of history and not its makers. Pornography is a satire on human pretensions.

4:40 AM  
Anonymous Molly Irvin said...

"I used to go on college campuses 25 years ago and announce I was a feminist, and people thought it meant I believed in free love and was available for a quick hop in the sack. ... Now I go on college campuses and say I'm a
feminist, and half of them think it means I'm a lesbian. How'd we get from there to here without passing "Go"?

4:54 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

Thanks, Molls,

Always love your stuff...

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Pat Robertson said...

Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

4:56 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

Thanks Rev. Wingnut, for a contrary viewpoint!

4:57 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn French said...

"All men are rapists and that's all they are"

4:59 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

Thanks Marilyn, now I know who they've been reading...

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Robin Morgan said...

"I claim that rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman, out of her own genuine affection and desire."

5:01 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

You really like being in the driver's seat, heh, Robin?

5:04 AM  
Anonymous Germaine Greer said...

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever.

5:09 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

Thanks Germaine,

Give me that old time religion!

5:10 AM  
Anonymous Erica Jong said...

Show me a woman who doesn't feel guilty and I'll show you a man.

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Kate Millet said...

The concept of romantic love affords a means of emotional manipulation which the male is free to exploit, since love is the only circumstance in which the female is (ideologically) pardoned for sexual activity.

5:16 AM  
Anonymous Susan Sontag said...

Victims suggest innocence. And innocence, by the inexorable logic that governs all relational terms, suggests guilt.

5:23 AM  
Anonymous Bella Abzug said...

All of the men on my staff can type.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Jane Austen said...

Those who do not complain are never pitied.

5:50 AM  
Anonymous Margaret Mead said...

• Women want mediocre men, and men are working to become as mediocre as possible.

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Grandma Moses said...

Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous Toni Morrison said...

• There is really nothing more to say -- except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

6:05 AM  
Anonymous Lillian Hellman said...

I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Kate Hepburn said...

• Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Lena Horne said...

• It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it.

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Virginia Wolfe said...

Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Edith Wharton said...

Most wrong-doing works, on the whole, less mischief than its useless confession.

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Alice Walker said...

• Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

6:33 AM  
Anonymous Queen Victoria said...

The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Betty Davis said...

• Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch. Maybe that's why Miss Crawford always plays ladies.

6:59 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

Thank you ladies for a spiritrd discussion!

7:00 AM  
Anonymous jackie_o said...

Good God, durrati, you must be more careful. You've managed to arouse the dead.
Isadora Duncan....are you out there darling? I'd like your opinion.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Isadora said...

Dearest Jackie_O, as well you know we are not dead the interesting never die! Drinks tonite on a veranda somewhere? In resonse I would say "Virtuous people are simply those who have not been tempted sufficiently, because they live in a vegetative state, or because their purposes are so concentrated in one direction that they have not had the leisure to glance around them."

See you tonite doll!

3:47 PM  
Blogger durrati said...

Well, Jacq, if I can Channel one....

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Gloria Steinem said...

As Alice Walker made clear, womanist and womanism were not intended to define more narrowly or to criticize existing terms, but to shed light on women's experience by increasing the number and richness of words describing it."

6:21 AM  
Anonymous Alice Walker said...

Thank you , Gloria and I would add,

"Womanist literally includes man within it, just as an embryo is enclosed by a woman's body; it's a matter of whether or not a man can deal with that.

6:22 AM  
Anonymous jackie_o said...

This is getting spooky. How does this person claiming to speak for Isadora know that I am a doll?

7:39 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

Everybody knows yer a doll, Jacq.... :)

4:13 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home