Friday, December 30, 2005

The Gender War and Why I Write Under My Own Name

Happy Donna’s Birthday Eve! My Christmas was fun, and not too outrageously consumeristic, although I was suffering from a nasty and lingering flu that I am just now getting over. My hubbie did an encore of last year’s very favorite gift, a fine panettone imported from Milano (a specialty of Pasticceria Massimo, sold by my local gourmet Italian deli, A.G. Ferrari). I’ve figured out that the secret is the quality of the candied fruit, although the airy, orange-scented bread is key as well. We still have two slices left for my birthday breakfast tomorrow. I also got some interesting books, including Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide from my brother-in-law, who always gets me something thought-provoking to read.

I must admit the first chapter is rather depressing because Dowd goes on and on about how the feminist revolution has basically failed. Thirty years later, men still make more money, marry younger, less-accomplished women and feel threatened by women who strive for any sort of equality. Women are apparently abandoning every worthy feminist goal in droves, insisting men pay for dates, “trapping” husbands so they can retreat to the world of babies and clever accessorizing. Yes, reading these words made me feel rather blue and hopeless, dyed-in-the-wool feminist that I am, but then I got to thinking that I don’t really know anyone who fits this picture exactly. Many of my women friends are home now with their babies or grade-schoolers. Few make more money than their husbands, although some do. So in that respect, the revolution has not (yet) succeeded. But for heaven’s sake, think of where we started a mere generation ago! Can anyone argue that amazing progress hasn’t been made? The agricultural revolution was probably thousands of years in the making. The middle class was rising for centuries. Shouldn’t something as huge as a gender revolution take some time to work its way through the fabric of human society?

Besides, back to my real-world friends (versus Dowd’s anecdotal examples), the couples are equals in one important respect: education. I see no evidence at all that the men want dumber wives. The majority of my girlfriends are Ivy League graduates with graduate degrees from Stanford and Cal Tech and not one is a sad old maid. When I was in grade school, Princeton was closed to women. When I went there, ten years after the first female students were admitted, the ratio was two male students to every woman. And now, it’s 50-50.

Quickly enough the depression began to lift. In fact, in spite of real and often troubling differences in the way the sexes relate, I truly believe we all want the same thing deep down. We want to find a special person who will value us and really listen to us and care about us. And when you find this person, any notion of gender difference slips away and you are just two lucky human souls who have the most precious thing in the world. My insistence that men and women are alike where it matters is probably helped by the fact I have two sons (and an almost-perfect husband). But hey, the world needs a little more optimism now and then!

Speaking of how things have changed for the Baby Boom generation, I was at a Hanukah/Boxing Day party on Monday (medicated and discreetly coughing into my sleeve) and I actually had a conversation with a man I didn’t know. He was a P.R. person, which is why the encounter happened at all. I’ve always been the type to blend into the wall paper at parties and my skills have only gotten better (or worse) since my single days. Anyway, I was making an effort to be upbeat and positive about myself, so I told this friendly stranger I was a writer and mentioned my soon-to-be-forthcoming story in Best American Erotica 2006. After some more talk on the subject, my temporary companion said something along the lines of, “Well, I hope you don’t get type-cast as an erotica writer.” He was, by his own admission, no expert on the writing scene, but I must confess I felt a touch of panic. Am I indeed “destroying” my chances of being taken seriously as a writer by "putting out" all these sexy stories?

Can you believe I would still be bothered by this question? (And, if you don’t think we’ve made any progress in the gender revolution, consider how much chance for public sexual expression any woman had before feminism.) Again, it took but a few moments for my deep-rooted beliefs to reassert themselves. If writing erotica is something to be ashamed about, then it follows that sex itself is something to be embarrassed about, especially for a serious, intelligent person. However, the very reason I write erotica is that I’m trying to make the point that sex is worthy of serious, intelligent attention. It has long been a pet peeve of mine that smart women and sex are seen as mutually exclusive categories in our culture.

The trauma dates back to high school (doesn’t everything?) when I overhead a cute blond telling his friend “Donna George is pretty cute. I’d go out with her if she wasn’t so smart.” Be smart or have a date--it was a choice I did not want to have to make. (By the time I got to college, with that favorable two-to-one ratio, I didn’t have to.) But, guys, before you start feeling smug, smart men and sex are seldom seen in good company either. When is the last time you saw a movie with a brainy, sexy man? No, sorry, smart guys, you’re all hopelessly nerdy and incompetent with women (or hot guys, depending on your preference), forget about anyone ever thinking you’re sexy. Except me. Without exception, I’ve found a direct correlation between smarts and skill in the sack. The most important sex organ is the brain and all that…but why don’t we seem to believe it, at least as reflected in popular culture?

I don’t write under a pseudonym and I’m well aware I have this luxury in part because I live in a relatively open-minded community and my sexual imagination runs to the vanilla (a high quality French vanilla, I hope). But it does take a bit of courage to step forward and say, in a public forum, “Ordinary housewife/moms have sexual feelings and thoughts. And not only that, they have the power to move and arouse you with their words.”

Mine is just one small voice in the void, but it will only make a difference if I use it.

1 comment:

Martha said...

Hi, Donna--yes, yes, yes. Thanks for this post for all kinds of reasons. We have so far to go...but we've come so far. The incremental. And confusing, sometimes. But it's there.

Congratulations on BAE 2006! Can't wait to read the rest of your story.