Feminist Author Erica Jong Writes About Women’s Sexuality

She says she’s not an activist. But she does let two male authors have it when they rant that feminists castrate men.

The Washington Star, January 2, 1974: The lines on Erica Jong’s brow were deepened by the frustration of having just been on a television show with two men whose views of women she considers primitive beyond discussion. “I warned them not to put me on with George Gilder and Dotson Rader, or the whole thing would be a media freak show,” she sighed.

Gilder, author of “Sexual Suicide,” had, she said, spent the whole time telling her how “those strident women’s libbers (of which he assumed she was one) are castrating men,” while Rader, also a writer, was blaming Mrs. Jong in particular and women in general for causing wars. “He believes men are killing each other to prove their phallic power to women,” said Mrs. Jong incredulously.

Finally, she said, she had blurted out: “Stop horsing around. Don’t put me on a pedestal, don’t make me the Virgin Mary. Don’t put us down.” And with that, the TV station’s phone switchboard had lit up with calls from irate watchers, shocked by Mrs. Jong’s blasphemy and inelegant language. “Who is she?” she heard the studio people muttering as she hurriedly left the building.

ERICA JONG, 31, is a poet who has just published her first novel, “Fear of Flying,” which, says novelist John Updike, reviewing it in The New Yorker, “feels like a winner. It has class and sass, brightness and bite.”

“Fear of Flying” is about marriage and infidelity, a woman’s fantasies and sexuality, her search for identity. She says it is “about the conflict of being a woman in a culture that doesn’t credit the female experience. We’ve never been allowed to believe our way of life is a valid way of looking at reality.”

On the surface, it seems to be more an autobiography than a novel. Like her heroine, Isadora Wing, Erica John is married to a Chinese child psychiatrist, she comes from a “family of yellers,” her mother is a frustrated artist, she has a succession of lovers and psychoanalysts; she is blonde and sunny with a turned-up nose, and she has a fear of flying.

“Everyone in the novel is me in some sense,” said Mrs. Jong, “but it’s fiction.” Her parents, she said, are not physically recognizable, and her husband, though physically recognizable, is “not really the husband in the book.”

But bits of her family and herself are all in the book, “frozen in moments of time.” Mrs. John said the book is “the story of a woman bearing witness to her own life, using her own feeling as a key to the world.”

WHILE MRS. JONG has “always been a feminist if that means you want to be your own person,” she is not in the women’s movement. “But I’m grateful for those ‘strident women,’ she said with a wicked gleam in her eyes. “They’re out there doing all those things that make it possible for me to sit in my room and write.” During the eight years of her marriage, she said with amusement, she has made some gains. Her husband no says he feels like he’s being castrated if he clears the table.

“The thing we’re all afraid of,” she said, “is that our husbands will leave us for some little woman who’ll take care of them.” She is only half kidding. “The husband of one of my militant feminist friends left her for a housewife in Scarsdale with her own tennis court.”

Erica Jong is irreverent, contemporary and honest. If her book is shocking at all, it may be in its unabashed assertion that women, like men, often have a need for more than one sexual partner.

She says in “Fear of Flying: “All those happy housewives making breakfasts for husbands and kiddies were dreaming of running off with lovers…” Just as Isadora Wing actually does, under the eyes of her husband. She admitted that her own husband has told her that if she has any extramarital sex, he’d rather not know about it.

“We all put a heavy trip on ourselves sexually,” Mrs. Jong said. Then her face lit up. “One of the things an affair does is make you grateful to go back to your husband and say, ‘God! I’m glad I have you.’ Most of the men you get you wouldn’t want anyway; you’ve find them pretty dragging!”

BESIDES, Mrs. Jong believes in marriage. “I like the idea of being married. I’m not a loner. Either it is the best way to live or the worst, depending on how it is going at a particular moment.

“The trouble with marriage is that it means so many kinds of renunciation for a woman. There is a mental freedom most women give up along with their names. If we could find mental freedom within marriage, then it would be great. My book is a trumpet for that kind of change.”

Mrs. Jong said that she uses her husband’s name on her work “because he’s such a supporter of my writing and he wanted that symbolism, that representation of himself. It made him happy.”

She may have children soon to make him happy, too. Mrs. Jong has “delayed and delayed” having children because she didn’t want to be frustrated as a writer and take it out on her children, as her mother has on her three daughters. But now that she is established, she’s tempted.

“My husband is 39 and he loves children, and he’s getting that 40 panic,” she said. She is finding that “as you get older, having no children gets gloomier. When Christmas time comes I find myself borrowing a nephew and worrying about not being connected with life in an essential way.”

She said that she keeps telling herself, “Next month, I’ll get pregnant.”

Mrs. Jong, unlike Isadora, has not lost her fear of flying. “I’m not a member of Cowards’ Anonymous,” she said. “I’ll fly if I have to get somewhere that way. But I get on the plane with my right foot first and I carry with me a little bag of amulets. I have a feelie stone agate that I rub a lot. And a little gold fish with a ruby eye my mother gave me. She believes it holds the plane up. And I have a little duck my friend Grace Griffin gave me.”

She didn’t bring the amulet bag along with her from New York last week. She took the Metroliner instead.

[This article originally appeared in The Washington Star, January 2, 1974 as A Nonmilitant Grateful for the ‘Strident Women’. #28 in a collection of more than 100 newspaper articles by Judy Flander from the second wave of the Women’s Movement reflecting the fervor and ingenuity of the women who rode the wave.]

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Judy Flander

Judy Flander

American Journalist. As a newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C., surreptitiously covered the 1970s’ Women’s Liberation Movement.