Erica Jong is an author, poet, social commentator and public intellectual, the woman whose novel Fear of Flying, became a cultural cornerstone for Second Wave feminism. Fear of Flying depicted women as unabashedly sexual at a time when such an idea was even more taboo than it is today. Jong has been a leading voice Second Wave feminism ever since, publishing books like Shylock’s Daughter and Any Woman’s Blues. She is, whether you agree with her views or not, a feminist icon.
Her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, is also a writer and the author of the books Normal Girl and Girl [Maladjusted]. Last year, Jong and Jong-Fast published side-by-side essays about motherhood, both of which engendered a good deal of controversy. Jong’s latest book is a collection of essays called Sugar in my Bowl: Real Women Write About Sex, and it includes contributions from Gail Collins, Eve Ensler, Jennifer Weiner and Daphne Merkin. Jong-Fast has contributed an essay to her mother’s new book, despite considering herself not anti-sex, but “anti-elder sex” because “it’s gross.”
For those of you who live in New York, Jong, Jong-Fast, Ensler and Merkin will be speaking about the book, and about sex, love, body image, self-esteem and the whole sexy messy thing, this Wednesday at 92nd St. Y.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Erica Jong and Molly Jong-Fast.
Chloe Angyal: Erica, what led you to write this anthology now, and Molly, why did you decide to be a part of it?
Erica Jong: There’s a generational split. The generation that didn’t have to fight to read Lolita, that didn’t have to fight to read books. When I went to graduate school, books were in a locked book room, and they were just starting to come out. We had Ulysses then, but the whole odyssey of a book like Lolita happened within my teenage years. So sex was in many ways banned. And when Philip Roth wrote Portnoy’s Complaint, I thought, “well, when is a woman going to write a book that frank?” And then I did Fear of Flying, and if you read the book now, it isn’t even that sexy. So we were fighting against censorship. Molly’s generation was actually bored with the whole idea of there being so much sex around. They have a totally different experience.
Molly Jong-Fast: She did it. She put together this anthology, and I really was very on the fence about putting a piece in it. And then she asked me if I would, and I said I would, and then I just couldn’t get it together until the last minute. My piece came in when the book was practically in galleys, because I really had very mixed feelings about being in the anthology. Not because I’m so anti-sex – I mean, I am anti-elder sex, I’m not anti-sex – but I decided to do it because I knew that this was a book with a lot of smart women in it, so to be in that company was pretty great. It was a great opportunity, and I also think my mother is brilliant. She’s a great mother, phenomenal, so any time she wants me to do something, I try to do it.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
MJF: Lily Bart.
EJ: I would say the same, because she’s so interesting. She can’t quite bring herself to marry for money. And she’s so ambivalent, and Edith Wharton, who was probably in the same situation herself at one time, has got her so subtle, and it’s so interesting.
MJF: My real life heroine is my mom.
EJ: Molly’s my heroine.
MJF: That’s so disgustingly cheesy. You’re not allowed to pick me.
EJ: Marie Curie? I don’t know.
MJF: No! She was smart, but not smart enough not to get radiated.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
EJ: The nearly-president of France, DSK. Actually, it was Anne Sinclair’s reaction. Anne Sinclair is his wife. She didn’t say anything, she just spent all this money rescuing him. I just don’t understand it. She’s famous, successful and very rich. What does she need him for? I can understand her wanting to be Madame President of France, but she won’t be.
MJF: But I also think that France is a totally different culture. We don’t begin to know what’s appropriate.
EJ: But they’re beginning to be pretty pissed off. French women are having a jolt of feminism, like Italian women in response to Berlusconi. I don’t see that here.
MJF: My favorite news story is Anthony Weiner. Because I just don’t understand how he didn’t think he was going to get caught. If Bill Clinton even looks at somebody in weird way and they end up indicting him – I mean, obviously, that’s not what happened with Monica Lewinsky – but there have been a lot of times when there are pictures of him looking at a woman’s breasts and they’re like “you see where his eyes are pointing!” and here is this guy sexting with, like, seven women, including a porn star, and he doesn’t think that he’s ever going to get caught!? It was really stupid. Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe it.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
EJ: Waking up the women who don’t realize the risk they’re in. Getting the conversation going again. It’s hard to get the conversation going again, because people think they have it all. And meanwhile all these states are going to outlaw not just abortion, but birth control, which is what they were always about. If you read successive UN reports on the status of women, there is one thing that leads to prosperity in poor countries, and it’s controlling fertility. Once women can control the number of children they have, everybody’s life gets better – economically, and healthwise, and in every other way. It’s been proven. So to see our country going backward in this way is ridiculous. There are probably many unconscious factors, like the fear of being outnumbered by brown and black people.
MJF: You can’t say it like that. It sounds inherently racist when you say it like that. “Fear of being outnumbered by” – it’s not a race war! First of all, you can’t say it like that. To say someone’s “brown” or “black,” you can’t say that. Every liberal bone in my body cringes. And the reality is that it’s not; America’s going to be more Hispanic, but it’s not going to be more “brown.” I don’t know what “brown” is. Is that tanned people? You can’t, I mean, what planet do you live on, “brown?” Mulatto? Did you mean Mulatto? Quinteroon? You can’t say that.
I would say the greatest danger is climate change. We’re going to be screwed. We’re going to have such bigger problems than women being oppressed when we’re living on a bubble on Mars with no water. We’re going to have much bigger problems than feminism. The entire world is going to be obliterated, so that worries me a little more. We won’t have time to worry about who’s being oppressed. That kind of thing is really a luxury problem.
EJ: But why is it that feminism is always considered a luxury problem?
MJF: I mean, I think we’ve gotten far enough. We’re not that oppressed.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
EJ: Chocolate, cranberry juice and Simone de Beauvoir.
MJF: Marzipan, Canada Dry club soda with lemon, in the can, with a straw, and my mom.