Oh, Ada, Katie Roiphe’s anti-feminist enfant terrible persona is so tiresome. In almost everything she writes she blames puritanical feminists for making sex no fun. But it’s hard for me to take her celebration of Norman Mailer’s violent sex scenes seriously, given that Mailer famously stabbed and nearly killed one of his six (ahem) wives. When Roiphe talks about the bygone belief in sex that could change things, possibly for the better, I think: for whom?
Anyway, what Roiphe calls “postfeminist second-guessing”—on the parts of ambivalent male characters—we could additionally call “post-sexual revolution second-guessing.” Younger guys might realize that some of the stuff Mailer and Roth thought was so great actually has some fallout, emotional or otherwise. Roiphe should read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Hearts of Men, which convincingly argues that the sexual revolution was always partly an attempt by men to escape the confines of stereotypical masculinity. For some, that meant the violent sex and threesomes that seemed incompatible with respectable marriage; for others, perhaps, it meant sex in which they didn’t have to be the initiators or always at the ready for. Some guys don’t want to be conquering heroes.
That seems like a good thing. And yet, I agree with Roiphe—wow, that feels weird—that there is also misogyny in the sexual sensibility of someone like Benjamin Kunkel’s main character. I read Indesicion, but unlike Roiphe, I didn’t think he seemed too cool for sex; I thought he seemed too romantic. 90swomen were all about proclaiming that they had their own desires, sexually and otherwise. My sense—and I read the book a long time ago—was that this was precisely what seemed to scare Kunkel’s trepidatious anti-hero, even if he cloaked it in feminist rhetoric. I remember feeling super annoyed when he convinced his girlfriend to have Ecstasy sex with him, then ditched her for an ethereal foreigner with a do-gooder job.*** It felt like Kunkel was saying that female desire can just be Too Much.
But I’m going to quit being a downer because I don’t feel nearly as depressed as I sound. Feminists hate the oral sex, anal sex, threesomes, and adultery Roiphe gets so excited by? Not according to Susie Bright or Tristan Taormino, etc. etc. etc.. Or you or me or our feminist friends. We know plenty of feminist guys having plenty of hot sex. The big difference might be that their girlfriends or wives or hook-ups or whatever are, too. Not sure where those sex scenes are—maybe in novels by women?
***Okay, you know what? I don’t 100% remember if that’s exactly what happened. (So glad our blog doesn’t adhere to New York Times standards). But this conveys the book’s sensibility! Which, it should be noted, Rebecca Traister smartly covered back in 2005.