At a sexy gathering on the publication of Erica Jong’s book, What Do Women Want? (Harper Collins), the author sat on the stage of Manhattan’s Town Hall theater with Naomi Wolf to answer the question that her book’s title poses. In a dialogue moderated by don’t-blame-guys-for-date-rape Katie Roiphe, they bantered about just what it is we most urgently crave.
“More,” said Wolf. “Better orgasms. More touching. More love. . . . We really are demon goddesses of lust.”(No surprise, coming from the author of Promiscuities.)
“We want work, we want bread, we want roses,” proclaimed Jong, echoing her book’s subtitle. In a discussion largely about material comfort, Jong’s invoking of a labor-movement hymn seemed ironic as she sat in her short-short skirt suit (olive green; Wolf’s mini was blue). “In the past,” she said women had to give something up in order to get what they wanted. Women want not to have to chop off half of themselves.” Though Wolf confessed her exhaustion as a working mother, the gathering was really a victory celebration for American women who’ve made it.
Despite these gains—and contrary to Time Magazine’s cover, “Is Feminism Dead?”—the consensus was that feminism is very much alive. (Time, Jong informed the group, has published 118 articles since 1970 “trashing feminism.”) In fact, feminism is now new and improved.
“The fact that you’ve got empowered women on the right and empowered women on the left screaming at each other,” said Wolf, is a sign of a more “liberal feminism.” Indeed, even Roiphe and Wolf did their almost successful best to avoid their past sparring on date rape.
They pointed to the absence of an official feminist position on the recent White House scandal as more evidence of this diversity. Clearly, however, Clinton still held their hearts. “It’s a shame he’s so scuzzy,” said Jong. Absolutely, agreed Wolf, “It’s a world I prayed for in the evil ’80s of Reagan.”
Both women reserved their harshest judgments for the treatment of Monica Lewinsky in the press [see page 6].They said Lewinsky has been repeatedly described as “pushy” and “oversexed” and suggested that anti-Semitism and ethnic stereotyping accounted for some of the indelicate treatment. If she hadn’t been a “voluptuous Jewess,” said Jong, America would have treated her much more protectively.
Questions of real activism on such issues as family leave came up—briefly—only when women in the audience insisted. Wolf did announce the creation of The Woodhull Institute, a leadership training center to help “young women…become powerful agents of ethical change.” Some of the cruelest abuses against women today—among them, Afghanistan’s new edict forbidding women from going to school—were sadly and notably absent from the entire discussion of what women want.