Sex, Feminism, & How to Save Your Own Life

Remember this famous picture of the beautiful Erica Jong?

Erica Jong

Sometimes one wonders where feminism went.

We still spend hours listening to pop songs about the men who love us and dump us.  We still love rom/coms where the girl gets the guy, even if he’s obnoxious.  And we are supposed to want a romance with Edward in Twilight, a vampire, even though in Stephenie Meyer’s  fourth book, Breaking Dawn, Bella’s longed-for sex with Edward leaves bruises all over her body.  (Vampires and human aren’t meant to mate.)

How to Save Your Own LIfe erica JongI am reading Erica Jong’s How to Save Your Own life, the sequel to Fear of Flying.  Jong sensitively explores Isadora Wing’s alienation from her husband, her affairs with unattractive male friends she loves, and with attractive men she doesn’t love, and her feminist philosophy in progress.

I wonder if this novel might be too radical for today’s audience.  It’s not necessarily the sex.  It’s the ideology.

It’s refreshing to read Erica Jong in 1977 on shopping and makeup as a substitute for sex.   Feminists used to try to escape the sexist image of women as dolls who made up their faces, dyed their hair, and shopped for shoes.

Suddenly I had a vision of a whole world of women starved for sex and making do with all sorts of buyable substitutes. Making up. A woman who spent her afternoons with a lover would never again find herself in Bloomingdale’s fingering Mary Cunt or lusting after Elizabeth Ardent. She’d go barefaced as a baby and throw her charge plate in the nearest sewer. Isn’t that the problem? That women have been swindled for centuries into substituting adornment for love, fashion (as it were) for passion? The main floor of Bloomingdale’s by Hieronymus Bosch!

Very funny!  And many women of my generation thought this in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s,  and then we gave up.

What do you think about Jong’s radicalism?

5 thoughts on “Sex, Feminism, & How to Save Your Own Life

  1. I admit I never read the book. My guess is for serious readers it might seem simple and (thinking what has happened since it was published) naive. Ellen


  2. Not read the book but defiantly will now! I think there’s definitely something in that when women need fulfilment they may supplement with material things, whether its love or sex (which are often confused anyway). Great post!


  3. Whatever the book, the issues are still with us. Feminism to me says that a woman is a whole person, not just a body looking for a man. Some people interpret that as meaning feminism and no concern with bodies or men, but that is not so, — they smut be part of a much larger package. I think I am ready for a dose of Erica Jong.


  4. Alas, it seems to me that feminism got sidetracked by so many things. The trouble is, one the s-called equalizing legal systems are in place (Sex Discrimination Act, Equal Pay Act) men can turn round and say: There – now you’re equal. Except it doesn’t work like that because the ideology hasn’t changed, many men (most men?) still think of women in terms of sex objects and inferiors, and young women are being totally brainwashed into thinking that plastic surgery and extreme sex are the way forward. Because there are so many variations to what people perceive as feminism, there is no coherent movement and when you build in the biological imperative, things get very confused. I’ve never read Jong, not even in my early feminist days, but maybe now is the time to do so.


  5. Ellen, I haven’t reread Fear of Flying, but the voice of the heroine in How to Save Your Own Life is vulnerable and intelligent. It’s a very enjoyable book. Now if you want to get crazy there’s Shulamith Firestone’s treatise, The Dialectic of Sex. Everyone read that, and I tried to reread it once, but it’s simply nuts.

    Alternate Planet, it’s certainly a reminder that shopping is pushed on us! It is a substitution, and oddly I had forgotten about that.

    SilverSeason, yes, I’m astonished by how radical Jong is, and what’s more that I used to dare to say such things too.

    Kaggy, Equal pay for equal work, legalized abortion, and free daycare on demand: those were the cries in the ’70s. And, strangely two of the three are still controversial here. But aside from these, you are right, there hasn’t been much change in ideology. It’s great that women have professions, it’s great that there’s gay marriage (well, in my state, but not all of them), but the emphasis on perfection is still there, and rebellion in terms of shopping isn’t sanctioned.


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