The Feministing Five: Erica Jong and Molly Jong-Fast

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.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • nazza

    I find it interesting how every generation has its own worst case scenario nightmare situation. This attitude stems from a genuine desire to sound the alarm and get people motivated, but one must also concede that everything is subject to change. This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t get involved, but that there are larger steering currents involved that humans can’t begin to influence, nor touch.

    Since I am a person of faith, I would call that God, but that’s just my own perspective.

  • Magpie

    …”I’m anti-elder sex…”

    …”I don’t know what ‘brown’ is. Is that tanned people?”

    …”I think we’ve gotten far enough. We’re not that oppressed.”

    Greatest challenge facing feminism today…hmm…

    • amanda

      I agree with Magpie. I’m quite perplexed by Molly. How on earth can she say we’ve gotten far enough? Things are are still very, very bad for millions of women, in the US and all over the world. Sure, climate devastation is a major problem, but she comes across (to me) as very ignorant by saying that ‘we’ve come far enough’. She also comes across (to me) as juvenile and mean for being ‘anti-elder sex’. That’s terrible. People of all ages should and do have meaningful, pleasurable sex and sexualities. Her stance against older people having sex strikes me as very rude.

      • aLynn

        I looked up a few other things she’s written after reading this. Further unimpressed.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I wonder if the younger Jong will remain “anti-elder sex” after she’s getting on in years :)

    It’s interesting to me that Erica Jong said that “Fear Of Flying” isn’t even that sexy, because I remember reading it when I was younger, hearing all this stuff about what a sexy novel it was, but I found the male lead that she runs off with far too pompous and self-important to be arousing. I guess unlike the standard romantic comedy formula where people who get on each other’s nerves wind up together by the end, I actually get turned OFF if I find someone really annoying! Even a fictional character!

    Oh, and Lady Chatterly’s Lover? I’m lookin’ at you too. In that I’m not.

  • cheyanneaura

    What I find to be most interesting about this piece is the dynamic between mother and daughter. Obviously Erica and Molly have learned a lot from one another and share mutual respect and admiration. I think the interview would have been much more formal if they had not been in each others presence, as their level of comfort is revealed as they speak casually about race and sexuality while coming off as some what offensive and crude.

    But it also shows the split between generations, where as Erica is obviously open about sexuality and feels comfortable sharing her thoughts surrounding the subject, while Molly finds the idea of “elder sex” to be unmentionable, which I doubt was the intention of her mother’s efforts.

    Overall what I find to be “feminist” about these women is their acceptance and love of one another, which I think is one of the most important aspects of feminism. Not all women want the same things out of life, and understanding our differences and respecting women’s ability to make their own choices is essential.

  • Amanda

    I’m surprised Feministing would endorse Molly Jong-Fast’s views. Jong may be a feminist icon, but her daughter seems almost the opposite. She thinks “tanned people” count as a minority, she’s ageist and doesn’t think feminism is a big deal because we have more “important” issues to deal with. Gross.

    • Courtney

      “I’m surprised Feministing would endorse Molly Jong-Fast’s views.”
      We don’t. Just to be clear. We simply interviewed her and published it.