Let’s talk about sex, bay-bee.

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This interview by Nina Power with novelist Charlotte Roche caught my eye for one obvious reason and two random ones.  The random ones are: I used to know a girl named Charlotte Roche (this one is German, OTOH the one I knew probably was, too, ancestry-wise), and I read a novel by Nina Power several years ago (or I thought I had, but it turns out that novel was by Nani Power).  Apparently Roche’s novel caused quite a stir in Germany, due to its . . . what’s the word? . . . frank? . . . handling of assorted female topics and/or human topics normally only presented from a male point of view.

Anyhoo, Roche said several things in the interview that made me say, in my best Scooby-Doo voice, “Huhhhh?”  I thought I’d post them here and see what people think (or are willing to think publicly).

Very often, lately, people have come up to me and say “You look tired,” and I hate it. Women are supposed to always look fit and healthy and pretty.

Does that ring true?  Do you feel you have to look pretty even when you’re sick, ladies?  That’s the first time I’ve heard it.

I have this theory. If you tell any man, “Today I am your sexual servant. You can tell me whatever you want and I’ll do it to you,” every man would think of 12 things to do. Men have fantasies; they have words for everything. They could tell a woman, “Lie down, do this, lick this.” But if I a man said to me, “I am your sexual servant, what do you want me to do?” I would be blank. There’s nothing even in my head to allow myself to think what I actually like.

Scooby-Doo voice.  I mean, really?  Didn’t the whole feminist movement of the late 60s and early 70s make a point of announcing that sexual fantasy is a part of every woman’s life, and claiming it as healthy and normal?

The problem with taboos is that you think you’re the only one. And Helen [the novel’s heroine] always wants to know: Does it smell the same with other women? How do other women’s vaginas look? We’re all completely isolated. It’s not a group of women that menstruate; we’re on our own. But where does that come from? Mothers still don’t think it’s a good thing to be a woman.

Again, I’m surprised by both of those things.  I’d always been under the impression that women are much more open and supportive with each other — much more a community — about that kind of thing than men.  Such community as men develop around male sexuality tends to happen well after it’s needed; it’s a community of the survivors, of people who are confident enough to talk because they feel successful.

And do mothers really teach — directly or indirectly — their daughters that it’s not a good thing to be a woman?  Which is to say: do women feel it’s not a good thing to be a woman?

Mothers tend to be almost proud of their son’s sexual conquests, whereas girls have to keep quiet about it.

Exactly. I have so many arguments with people who say, “Look at ‘Sex and the City.’ Women can do everything. We can f__k around.” But look at families with young teenagers: They start making jokes about the boy age 12 or 13; they leave tissues by his bed. But what mother can manage to teach her daughter that it’s a good thing to menstruate — or nothing terrible, at least? That it’s a good thing to have sex, to have breasts?

This is the first of several areas in which Roche’s notion of males’ experience of sexuality is just completely divorced from reality, as far as I know it.  It’s certainly true — and certainly a problem — that fathers and older boys tend to ballyhoo [what they perceive as] sexual conquests, but mothers?  Not exactly.  Nor does it ring even remotely true that mothers make jokes about their 12 or 13-year-old boys’ burgeoning sexuality.  Older sisters?  Okay, that happens.  But mothers?  No.  And the notion that mothers do anything as overt as putting tissues beside their sons’ beds — good golly, not only did it never happen to me or any male I’ve ever known, I’ve never even heard of it before.  Maybe this is a cultural difference between Germany and America.

In describing research she did in brothels, Roche says:

The brothel owners would always tell me to come at 6 in the evening, before business started. The atmosphere was so nice. They were all completely naked and had high heels, and it was so warm, everybody was sweating. And just walking in the entrance area in the bar, it’s just like paradise. People are naked and sexual and humid. And I thought, it’s a big shame that we don’t have that for women.

Isn’t that just a matter of supply and demand?  Such clubs do exist, of course.  Apparently, though, there isn’t sufficient demand for there to be lots of them, or a great variety.   “Playgirl” magazine has never been remotely as successful as its male-audience counterparts, and according to Wikipedia, 30-50% of its meager sales are to gay males.  As E.B. White and James Thurber wrote in the 1930s, “The sexual revolution began with Man’s discovery that he was not attractive to Woman, as such.”

These are all, of course, recent developments.  For most of recorded history, women have been allowed neither the freedom nor the means to buy the kinds of things Roche wishes were available to them.  But that’s no longer the case.  If women don’t have brothels of their own (“bro-thels”?), it’s due to low demand, not the unwillingness of men and markets to supply.

Also, for a woman who says she has no sexual fantasies, it sure sounds like she was having one.

Helen is not a hippie, even though she celebrates her “naturalness.” She’s very modern. But do you think men who say they prefer their women totally shaved, with artificial breasts, is it because of a kind of familiarity with porn, or is it what they want?

Of course all the shaving stuff comes from porn, and I think that often men don’t have enough self-confidence to admit that they would like a non-shaven woman . . .

Men don’t stand up for what they like, because there’s a pressure on men that they have to like these fully shaven women. A man wouldn’t dare to say in the pub, “Look, I really like women with big bushes.”

To which I can only say, respectively: Roche apparently has met only 3 or 4 human males in her entire life, and has never darkened the door of a pub.

That’s obviously not true, and I don’t mean to be unduly harsh.  But, honestly, I’ve got 30-ish years experience in male sexuality, and I’ve never lived in the world she describes.  I’m wondering if her representation of what it’s like to be female is likewise skewed.

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6 Responses to “Let’s talk about sex, bay-bee.”

  1. Sandi Says:

    I read this same interview several days ago (and then wasted an hour by reading a bunch of the letters as well, which devolved into a debate on the merits of pubic hair v. no pubic hair). This woman is clearly very insecure about her looks. I used to feel like that when I was in my 20s, but she’s married and really ought to be past it. I found that marrying a wonderful man who loves me even though I don’t shave my legs much anymore has done wonders. I personally don’t feel like I have to look pretty ever, but that’s because I decided not to care about that stuff anymore. I’m sure some women do feel pressure. Particularly in the South women seem to feel a lot of pressure to be made up all the time. I just can’t be bothered unless it’s a special occasion or I’m going to have a picture taken.

    On mothers and daughters, I can only speak from my own experience, and I did not receive any kind of positive reinforcement or any sense that the physical aspects of womanhood were good from her. I think she was very prim and proper, which is why I didn’t learn how to use a tampon until I was in college. I remember asking her once what a dildo was, because I heard the word at school (in 6th grade, totally not in context, I had no idea it was anything sexual), and she pursed her lips and said, “I think it’s an artificial penis, but you should ask your father.” So that was the end of my going to her for information.

    On men’s preferences, I do think there are men out there who have (or claim to have) fairly exacting standards about how women should look, because I’ve heard other women tell me about them. For example, a quote from one 20-year-old (at the time) guy: “It’s so disappointing. Even the most attractive girls, when you see them naked, they all have stretch marks.” I chalk statements like that up to immaturity and insecurity on the part of the guy. I mean, GROW UP. (I can say this now because I am 33 and not 20. When I was 20 I would have cried in a corner).

    There are also some men whose preferences have clearly been influenced by pornography, which is a shame. I feel sorry for them and for women who date and marry them. But in my experience, there are also a lot of men out there who are good and sincere and understand that life does not revolve around physical appearance. And men whose true preferences run counter to what culture tells them they are supposed to like. There’s a range. Some men are jerks, but many aren’t.

    I remember coming away from the interview thinking, people really just want to be loved for who they are. All this sex stuff is just a red herring.

    Oh, and btw, Playgirl is no more, ended maybe last year?

  2. Sandi Says:

    I should clarify that I heard the latter on the news. 🙂

  3. urbino Says:

    Having now perused the novel, I would say the word for it, the author’s protestations notwithstanding, is “raunch.” It seems to revel not in a representation of female human nature in all its fullness (whatever that would look like), but in the diseases thereof, very intentionally acquired.

  4. Sandi Says:

    Yeah, I heard that the novel was pretty gross, not even particularly sexual, just gross. Not something I’m particularly interested in reading. I think the interview was probably more interesting.

    Too bad most people are too squeamish to talk about sex stuff — the questions you pose in your post are really provocative. It’s fun to hear different people’s experiences and thoughts since it’s such a fraught area of our culture.

  5. urbino Says:

    Comfort levels vary, which is okay. I’m not comfortable discussing some of the religious topics. And then there are ones like your IVF post that I just don’t know anything at all about, so I’m incapable of saying anything intelligent.

    I just throw this stuff out there every now and then, and see what happens.

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