Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Writing about sex is always a risky venture. Inevitably more questions than answers arise. Naomi Wolf tries to figure out what makes "women" out of young girls, and I think her explanation is unsatisfactory. I don't fault her, however, because every book on sex is ultimately unsatisfactory. Concluding with the idea that women should think about how they think sex instead of how they do sex is reasonable, but will that eradicate the problems faced by the 13-year-old girls in her own examples? A lot of books have tried to drain the Virgin/Whore swamp, and failed. I'm afraid Wolf's does too.

I think the book suffers because Wolf knew it would piss a lot of people off, including fellow feminists and liberals. Much of it is defensive and a bit stilted as a result, but there are fine passages of memoir.

There is value in Wolf's book. I think her suggestion that we look to the past for solutions is wise. She describes how the sexual revolution and the "discovery" of the clitoris have been happening periodically for milennia, and that inevitably there is a recession following brief periods of liberation into recurring dark ages of repression. She writes that "Tiresias was right," that woman are more carnal than men. And men fear women's sexuality as they fear any mysterious place they can't go. But through examples of past approaches to sex and womanhood--from the ancient Chinese Taoists to the Native Americans of the southwest desert--Wolf shows that there are healthier, more sensible attitudes about sex which avoid destructively privileging one sex over the other.

Following the Summer of Love and the sexual revolution and Feminism, we still have young women (and men, frankly) who are cast adrift between puberty and young adulthood with only the debased cues of mass media available to teach them how to behave and think about sex and relationships. By writing about what befell her own peers and their generation, Wolf bravely shares her own confused path. The book, unfortunately, is as confused as its topic.


Nora said...

Ok, more recommendations! This all comes about because I am just getting around to these archives and always have books on my mind.

I thought Jane Smiley's "Ten Days in the Hills" had some of the best sex writing in a novel I've ever read. It's usually pretty terrible, but I think she did it well.

Nyarlathotep said...

I've never read Smiley, and never expected to vow to read her because someone gave her sex writing props!

But, sold.