How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘feminism’

“Please Sir, I Want More”: The Desire For Erotic Fulfillment

Is that all there is? If that’s all there is,
my friend, then let’s start dancing, let’s
break out the booze, if that’s all there is.
—Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is”

In the classic scene from Dickens’s masterpiece Oliver Twist, Oliver is emboldened by hunger and proclaims to the headmaster, “Please, sir, I want more!” Women, too, are emboldened by hunger; and they also feel that they want more. Unfortunately, their hunger is more diffuse than hunger for gruel, and many are not exactly sure what it is they want more of.

Until several generations ago, the lives of most women were quite circumscribed. Their options were limited and most of the outcomes of their lives were determined by the choice of a husband, a choice which, as often as not, was practically made for them. The expectations of mother, father, and husband were reinforced by the dictates of religion and by well-established custom.

While such women may or may not have been happy with their restricted horizons, most of them seem to have been resigned to it. They had minimal aspirations; and when they did aspire to life beyond the conventional one, they received little, if any, support. There were early feminists and later suffragettes, but most women lived quietly within the confines of Kinder, Kirche, Kūche—children, church, kitchen.

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first wave of feminism, which brought the vote and other legal reforms, saw the beginning of women working for pay outside the home. The second wave, which washed over the country in the 1960s, created a generation of women who not only had the Pill but were led to expect that their lives would blossom beyond the confines of “the feminine mystique.” Betty Friedan posited that prior to the 1960s, an idealized image of femininity, which she called the feminine mystique, permeated society. According to Friedan, this ideal image served to confine most women to the narrow roles of housewife and mother, limiting their ability to realize their full human potential and ultimately causing them to feel unfulfilled and unhappy. It was “the problem that has no name,” as women did not recognize “the feminine mystique” as the source of their discontent.

While Friedan was ahead of her time, she was more eloquent in describing “the problem that has no name” than prescribing what to do about it. Many young women, and some not so young ones, were left with a pervasive but vague sense of discontent. They did not want to be confined only to Kinder, Kirche, Kūche; but neither were they quite self-confident enough to pay their own bills and make their own way for the next forty years, let alone dream of being astronauts. They wanted to be “equal.” However, they thought more in terms of equal opportunities than they did of equal responsibilities. As we enter into the 21st century, there is a growing number of women who seek lovers simply for their own personal erotic fulfillment, independent of the bonds of marriage and the financial support it may provide. Arguably, these women represents the front line of the third wave of the feminist
movement.

“All She Really Needs Is…”

The human spirit sublimates
the impulses it thwarts:
a healthy sex life mitigates
the lust for other sports.
-Piet Hein, Grooks

There is an old husband’s tale about what old husbands tend to call “those women libbers,” and the essence of it is that “they’re all frustrated old maids and all they really need is a good fuck.” Albeit misguided, an old husband’s tale, like an old wives’ tale, may have some germ of truth to it.

A full and rewarding sex life is not only good for your complexion; it is also good for your disposition. The contented body predisposes one toward calmness and serenity. Good lovemaking can generate a kind of peaceful euphoria that carries over into other areas of life, creating feelings of placidity and benevolence. Conversely, a bad sex life, or no sex life at all, predisposes either man or woman to a dour, pessimistic, judgmental view of the world. If you are not having fun, there is nothing more infuriating than to watch other people having fun. If you don’t deserve it, neither do they.

Cover of "Healthy Sex (DK Healthcare)"

Cover of Healthy Sex (DK Healthcare)

Whether or not men and women in such a plight are consciously aware of being frustrated, they are more likely than others to view the world with a jaundiced eye. It is not the absence of orgasms that does it. Orgasms are easy to produce or, if necessary, buy. Orgasms are not the point. If orgasms were all that women wanted, vibrator manufactures could not keep up with the demand. Feeling good or feeling bad relates more to the sense of having this vital and revitalizing human experience or of being denied it.

The absence of physical love erodes the soul and dulls enthusiasm. Your skin gets skin hungry, your dreams are troubled, your temper is sharpened, and your body feels malnourished. You may not have a lean and hungry look, but you will have a hungry one, and you will be more dangerous. Dangerous in the sense that you will feel alienated and isolated from the people around you, and your zest for life may be greatly diminished.

Among other things, making love well, with satisfaction and pleasure, dissipates irritation and petulance. It induces a sense of centeredness and benevolence that is difficult to duplicate. The afterglow is like that of a good meal, but more so; like that of a hot bath, but more so; like that of a massage, but more so; like that of a bottle of wine, but more so, and without the hangover. The afterglow is not only difficult to duplicate, it is difficult to do without—especially if you are among the privileged few who know what you are missing.

And so the old husband’s tale may be true after all. Sometimes, a satisfactory sexual interlude does render you less acrimonious. Without resolving basic discontents, it does make you more placid and therefore more patient and reasonable.

Women on Top: The Decline of the Double Standard

Liberated sex means an end to the double standard about who can enjoy sex and who can’t, and how much, or who can initiate sex, and who can’t . . . It means an end to “nice girls don’t” and “real men must.”
—Charlotte Holt Clinebell, Meet Me in the Middle

In Victorian mentality, although marriage vows were considered sacred, they were considerably more sacred for wives than they were for husbands. Adultery for him was more or less expected as a regrettable but understandable consequence of the male sex drive; adultery for her was an unpardonable sin. The major issue of her adultery was the possibility of pregnancy and the resultant suspicion that any child born might not be the husband’s.

With the emergence of recognition of female sexuality and with the birth control revolution, it has become increasingly acceptable for women as well as men to be sexually involved with someone other than their mates. However, it still falls outside the range of acceptable behavior for many people; and like most sexual behavior, it is less acceptable for women than for men.

Married men often had mistresses while remaining attached to the women who were the mothers of their children. The wife-mother, loved as she may have been, fulfilled other kinds of needs than did the girlfriend, who was perhaps also loved but in a more erotic sense. It now became possible to think the unthinkable: if married men could have lovers, maybe married women could have lovers as well.

The sexual revolution of the sixties introduced the second wave of feminism which raised consciousness concerning the unfairness and chauvinism of the double standard in sex as well as in other things. Well, if men could have sex without marriage, they had to have it with someone. Given the new sexuality, why couldn’t that someone be a good girl as well as a hooker? If men did not have to give up all other women when they married, maybe women did not have to give up all other men. Maybe a married woman could have a lover or lovers without necessarily destroying her marriage or her life.

Many wives thought about such things late into the night, but they kept their opinions to themselves. Their fantasies were furtive. They existed in a kind of pluralistic ignorance: each one looked at herself in her bedroom mirror and believed that she alone felt this way, and that, if anyone else guessed the scandalous nature of her thoughts and fantasies, they would be shocked. The outspokenness of the second wave of feminism that washed through the 1960s swept women into consciousness-raising groups where they began to talk. One thing they talked about was the sexual poverty of many of their lives. For every wife who actually strayed, there were many others who thought about it and many others who were tempted and vulnerable.

Cover of "Sexual Politics"

Cover of Sexual Politics

Men and women still tried to divide the good women from the not-so good ones, but sexuality per se did not seem to be such an absolute standard anymore. Instead, there evolved a standard of judgment whereby the good woman came to be defined as one who had sex selectively and for the “right” reasons whereas the not-so-good one had sex promiscuously and for the wrong reasons. It was a distinction very hard to perceive from the outside. Kate Millett, the feminist-activist who wrote Sexual Politics, summarizes this way of thinking accurately when she observes, “Love is the only circumstance in which the female is ideologically pardoned for sexual activity.”

I hope the method of my madness is becoming clearer with each post.  My previous posts have been setting the stage and background for my future posts that will explore women’s ever evolving pursuit of sexual equality and fulfillment and happiness.  More to  come, so to speak.

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