Wonder women sex, power and the quest for perfection by Debora L Spar
Debora Spar, the current president of Barnard College, depicts the life of women through-out the history and the current state of women in her wonderfully written book, ‘Wonder women: sex, power and the quest for perfection’
Prior to the Renaissance, the very notion of courtship made little sense. In most parts of the world, across time, religion and political regime, women were viewed essentially as property - commodities for their fathers to barter away and their husbands to use. Spread of Augustinian Christianity across Western Europe quietly redefined the role women played and the freedoms they might enjoy. Because Christian societies increasingly say women as wives and mothers rather than property, and because they placed such importance on procreative sex, the areas of the former Roman Empire slowly began to cede greater rights to women. Lust in all its forms was forcefully condemned. And women’s lust, seen as it was as the vestige of Eve’s original sin, was particularly suspected. As a result, women living during the long centuries of the middle Ages were free to love, but only chastely, following the dictates of their husbands, their Church and their God.
During the Victorian era, it was a time when men’s foremost responsibility in the sexual realm was to control their own passions and when women were expected only to suffer quietly and bear children. History records these sentiments most famously in Queen Victoria’s wedding night advice to her daughter. “Lie back” she is said to have counseled the young princess “and think of England”... The bargain, then, for Victorian women was straightforward and rather sweet: sex in exchange for a lifetime commitment of love.
This connection between love and lust - between sexual intimacy and long-term attachment - because a hallmark of social relations in the twentieth century, shaping most American's basic conception of what it meant to want and woo and marry.
Smart, confident, attractive and bold - are hitting their teenage years with more expectations piled upon them than any magic wand could ever dispel. to excel at school, at sports, in theater, be original, be a leader, but stay popular, start an NGO and a blog, Have sex but don't get pregnant and never go beyond those size 4 jeans. You supposed to do all these things and no go insane.
One quarter of American girls are depressed, twice as many girls as boys attempt suicide. It is important to be hot than smarter. By the time they hit puberty, their self confidence is starting to plummet.
Free to be by Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote: "We want fantasy without illusion; stories of excitement without cruelty or violence... a literature of human diversity that celebrates choice and does not exclude any child from its pleasures because of race or sex.."
The question, however, is whether this freedom has come at a cost. Clearly, women today can engage in acts that would have made their mothers blush. They can enjoy their bodies without shame and have sex largely without fear of pregnancy. They face none of the stigmas that paralyzed women in the past and suffer, accordingly from far fewer inhibitions. In exchanging simply sex for sex, women are truly playing the same game as men and often; it appears, with the same relish and abandon. “Just like tasting ice cream flavors” one website promises, “sampling sex with a new guy is what being young and single is all about”.
Yet unless women actually enjoy casual sex as much as men do, and unless they are equally content with no-name, no-commitment relationships, they are equally content with no-name, no-commitment relationships, they still, in retro respect, may have struck a deal that works against their own best interests, Because, crude though, it may sound, women arguably had more leverage over men whom they had the ability and inclination to deny them sex. Presumably, women had greater resources when dating still involved a little bit of financial foreplay. So, what then, have young women gained in their pursuit of liberty? And was it worth the price?
There is no single book or film can truly be said to capture the sexual revolution in its essence. Still, two books emerged during this period that seems to have both bracketed the revolution and fomented it - two books that told women what was now theirs to claim.
The first, Helen Gurley Brown’s ‘Sex and the single Girl’, was published in 1962, right at the revolutions outset and one year before Betty Friedan’s far more serious ‘The Feminine Mystique’. Rather than bemoaning the status of women, brown embraced her readers with a perky self-confidence, offering makeup tips, wardrobe advice, and recipes. In between she also urged them to have sex - frequently on their terms and way before they were married. “I think marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life. During your best years you don’t need a husband. You do need a man of course every step of the way, and they are often cheaper emotionally and a lot more fun by the dozen. Sex is a wonderful delicious and even, if necessary, employed against men”, she said.. This was sex as women’s power for the very first time in print; sex that was truly revolutionary in its impact.
The second monumental voice of the sexual revolution was ‘Fear of Flying’ a novel that would eventually sell more than 18 million copies and captures the voice, or at least the guilty dreams, of an entire generation. In ‘Fear’, he fictional Isadora Wing famously describes her fantasy of the zipless fuck, an encounter that is both explicitly sexual and wholly impersonal. This particular fuck, author Erica Jong wrote, “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”. From the perspective of 40 years, it is interesting to note that Wing is actually describing something not all different from the yearnings voice by her Victorian ancestors. Because it’s kissing, after all, and romance, and garments blown round like flowers. No, what really defined the zipless fuck and made Isadora’s fantasy so radical was that the relationship was shot and the man essentially anonymous. The unnamed soldier makes love to the young widow in the speeding train and then parts silently from her. Sex isn’t just about sex to Isadora, it’s about freedom. About passion, About choice, And it has nothing to do necessarily with either romance or commitment.
In the 70s, girls wanted assurance from their lover before indulging in sexual affairs and the Meat Loaf’s song, Paradise by Dashboard light portraits those lives succulently:
Do you love me ? Will you love me forever?
Do you need me? Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy For the rest of my life?
Will you take me away? And will you make me your wife?
- Meat Loaf, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,”, 1977
Today kids as young as 12 and 13 are regularly reported to be attending “rainbow parties (at which girls wearing different shades of lipstick take turns performing oral sex on boys) or engaging more directly in sexual behaviors that include oral sex. The old base system - a kiss for first breast for second, groping for third and intercourse for home- has rendered utterly obsolete, replaced by a shifting game whose rules are not quite clear.
Meanwhile, the dating culture that persisted from around the turn of the 20th century to its waning years seems almost to have disappeared, replaced - for better or worse - by “hooking up”. Young men in high school and college no longer ask young women out on dates. Couple doesn’t go out or go steady”. Instead, boy meets girl at a party or frat house or bar and takes her home (college apartment) for sex. Hook-up can be a kiss on the lips o full-on sex. The most useful is the depiction presented in Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler’s Hookup Handbook is the following:
Girl A sort of known Boy B (may be were in the same Psych 101 class, have mutual friends)
Girl A goes to the bar with her friends, and boy B goes out to the same bar with his friends.
Girl A stands in one corner on the bar, downs cosmopolitans, screams the words to ‘like a Prayer’ at the top of her lungs and pretends to ignore boy B.
Boy B stands in another corner of the bar and chugs beer with his friends
When girl A finally gets enough courage (drunk enough!), she approaches boy B and says, “Hey, what’s going on?”
When boy B finally realizes that girl A is the best he’s going to do tonight, he answers, “Nothing’”
The two proceed to make out at the bar and then go back to his place and ‘hook up’.
The hooking-up culture, by comparison, seems perfectly content to let boys be boys - esp. if they are well-muscled and tousle-haired and drive nice car. Men are hot’ rather than oppressive in hookup-land; desirable than despicable. In practice, though, it also means that women are no longer in a position to ask for anything but sex in exchange for sex - not marriage, not a date, not even a phone call the next morning. Women are as free as men to have sex simply for pleasure. No need to maintain a relationship in their busy academic life.
Rihanna’s famous song, “Rude boy’ calls for casual sex:
Come here, rude boy, boy; can you get it up?
Come here rude boy, boy; is you big enough?
Take it, take it baby, baby
Take it, take it; love me, love me
Ultimately, the crux of the matter is whether women truly enjoy the freedom that comes from uncommitted sex. And it is not clear that they do. Instead, as Stepp reports in ‘Unhooked’, many of the women who embrace he hookup culture for some period of time, later come to regret it. Rather than feeling empowered by their conquests, they feel abandoned by the men they thought might be their boyfriends. Rather than whisking blithely from one affair to the next, they are waiting for call for last night's encounter to call them back. Because, the hookup is so clearly not about commitment, though, he rarely does. And the women are left, longing for something they swore they did n’t want.
Girl meets boy; girl loses boy; girl gets boy back and lives happily ever after; the lines of this familiar plot gets twisted into an infinity of permutations. Think of the past five happy movies that you have seen or indeed of any of the great movies that end happily (e.g. When Harry met Sally). Now think of five sad movies (e.g. love story, Titanic or West side stories) They all involve broken marriages or widowed marriages or tragic individuals who never marry at all. This correlation apparently runs straight back to Shakespeare. Virtually all of his comedies end with marriage and all of his tragedies end with the death of lovers who were foiled either in romances or in marriage.
Marriage has never been easy. if it were, as Katharine Hepburn once remarked, they wouldn’t make you sign a contract. It has never been easy; presumably, to bind oneself to one person forever; to share finances, meals, children, old stories and germs till death do you part. That’s why we still sign contracts, why marriage remains a legal state as well as personal one. Because, unlike wedding and sex, marriage is hard. It is hard to organize a life with one person, day after day, for decades. Hard to be a good husband or a good wife.
Today, women and men are grappling with an evolving kaleidoscope of desires and expectation, many of which are wholly contradictory. One place to start might be with the raft of self-help books devoted to these issues. Heirs to the Good Wife’s guide, books such as Maintain a Keeper and becoming the women of his dreams litter the shelves of American bookstores and features prominently on bestseller list. In ‘The Proper Care and Feeding of husbands, for example, Dr. laura Schlessinger perkily tells her readers to “forgive their husbands for being men”. Women, Schlessinger scolds, are unhappy because they are self-centered; because they are focusing on what ‘their men can do for them, and not to what they can do for their men”. The simple remedy, therefore, is to treat husbands better to “roll-over in bed, close your eyes, give him a big hug and remember that without him, you are only a sorry excuse for a person”.
Similarly, in ‘The Surrendered Wife’, author Laura Doyle advises her readers to relinquish any effort to control their husbands and to focus instead on becoming vulnerable, trusting, respectful, and grateful. Remember she writes, to” respect the man you married by listening to him. Give up control to have more power,, Abandon the myth of equality. Say yes to sex. let him solve your problems”
Schlessinger is explicit in her accusations, claiming that women’s unhappiness is a ‘result of the women's movement, with its condemnation of just about everything makes as evil, stupid and oppressive”.
So what, then are we to do? Is there any way of redressing the domestic contradictions that feminism has wrought?
One obvious possibility be to give up on men, at least in the form husband's.
A second option would be to give up children. This quietly is an option that many successful women have adopted.
the 3rd option is return to the home.
At first step, let me suggest that the quest for perfection simply must end. Clearly, as humans, we have a desire to be better. But women of the post feminist years have taken this quest to the brink, truly of madness.
Remember emotional song of Britney Spears where the girl is looking back the real love after the long tiring hook-up affairs:
I must confess that my loneliness
Is killing me now
Don't you know I still believe
That you will be here and give me a sign
Hit me, baby, one more time
Is killing me now
Don't you know I still believe
That you will be here and give me a sign
Hit me, baby, one more time