January
3rd 2010
Coincidence?

Posted under: American history, art, Gender, the body, unhappy endings, women's history

Today Katie Roiphe tells us she desperately wants to be slapped around and ravished by Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and John Updike and asks why the rest of us are so uptight about their portrayal of sex, and Mary Daly dropped dead

Yes, that’s the same Katie Roiphe who told us back in the 1990s that rape statistics on college campuses were the invention of Women’s Studies departments and their fixation on technicalities like “consent.”  Hey, Katie–I really don’t want to know why you need so desperately to reassure men and lecture other women that rape is a figment of their imaginations, but please:  it’s “The Morning After” already.  Get over it–and find some new material.

Well, girls–what can I say?  To borrow an old line from Gloria Steinem:  this is what postfeminism looks like.  I smell an awesome new decade dawning, don’t you?

(H/t to Echidne for her series The New York Times Hates Women, parts I and II, and to BDBlue at Corrente.)

22 Comments »

22 Responses to “Coincidence?”

  1. Comrade PhysioProf on 04 Jan 2010 at 6:11 am #

    Roiphe has always been knowingly full of shit, and writes this kind of arrant baloney to attract attention and sell herself and her books. When everyone is writing about what a fucking misogynist douche Roiphe is, she has succeeded. Paglia, on the other hand, seems to generally like patriarchal head pats.

  2. The Rebel Lettriste on 04 Jan 2010 at 7:55 am #

    OMG! I am so glad you linked to and wrote about this essay. When I read it yesterday, all I thought was: meh. Men and their dicks. Again!

    The far more interesting essay would be about WOMEN novelists writing about sex. Who bloody cares anymore about Philip Roth, first of all, much less about what Jonathan Safran Foer thinks about fucking? Don’t we have more interesting writers and representational fictions to think about than this?

  3. Dr. Crazy on 04 Jan 2010 at 8:02 am #

    What CP said about Roiphe. Also, seriously: somebody needs to send Roiphe the memo that Sexual Politics, while very significant at the time of its publication and while still casting a cloud over the reputation of Lawrence (most notably), totally does not remain a central text of feminist literary theory or criticism. Indeed, people took Millet to task for the problems with her book fairly quickly – most definitely at least 20-30 years ago, so dusting off Millet as an emblem of the Big Bad Feminist Unconscious seems pretty pathetic and like bad recycling.

    The thing that I find most… irritating about the Roiphe piece (as a person whose actual scholarship relates to some of what she’s discussing in the article) is that she acts like the authors she discusses were doing something groundbreaking *when they totally were not*. Roiphe writes:

    “In the early novels of Roth and his cohort there was in their dirty passages a sense of novelty, of news, of breaking out. Throughout the ’60s, with books like “An American Dream,” “Herzog,” “Rabbit, Run,” “Portnoy’s Complaint” and “Couples,” there was a feeling that their authors were reporting from a new frontier of sexual behavior: adultery, anal sex, oral sex, threesomes — all of it had the thrill of the new, or at least of the newly discussed.”

    If these things were being published 30 years before, how exactly are they “new or newly discussed”? Um… that’s right: they weren’t. Also, if you’re going to talk about this crew of writers, you probably also need to talk about Erica Jong, Joyce Carol Oates, Marge Piercy, Joan Didion…. ‘Cause the Ladeez write about sex too, you know.

  4. Historiann on 04 Jan 2010 at 8:19 am #

    Dr. Crazy: I’m glad you brought up that curious fixation on Kate Millett. (Is she seriously assigning Millett as the ne plus ultra of feminist theory? Srsly?)

    I wondered if perhaps it was because Millett was willing (for a while) to take the show on the road and debate a-holes like Mailer publicly. (That and the fact that Roiphe appears to be stuck in the early 1970s, when her mother made it big as a feminist novelist, and I think Roiphe’s whole career is built on her mother’s fame while it also is a big F-U to her mother’s politics.)

    Rebel Lettriste: clearly, d!cks are of compelling and enduring interest to Roiphe. Good for her–I wish she’d leave the rest of us out of it.

  5. Vance Maverick on 04 Jan 2010 at 11:59 am #

    I’ve often wondered what the big deal was about these writers — specifically Updike, Mailer, Bellow, Roth. I’ve tried a bit of each, and have never gotten the point. And there are people I respect who respect each of them. (Well, except Mailer, whose act aged soonest, anticipated very early by Tallulah Bankhead.) Perhaps, in light of this article, the misogyny was the point. Truth-telling!

    Incidentally, I see that Updike won a lifetime achievement award not only from the Bad Sex people, but also from the Conference on Christianity and Literature.

  6. Vance Maverick on 04 Jan 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Also, gotta love how Roiphe tries to guilt-trip us into respect for her subject — in the very first sentence.

  7. perpetua on 04 Jan 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    @Historiann – it makes sense to read Roiphe as building a career based on what we may call an Electra complex, for lack of a better expression. I am continually struck by how large feminism looms in her world (as an all-powerful force that is somehow responsible for everything constraining women); of course her “critique” of feminism leads to a sustained alliance with patriarchy/misogyny (women aren’t *really* raped that often; violent sex is cool and life-affirming; women authors who write about sex don’t count; feminists try to destroy all the joy and fulfillment of motherhood). And of course this kind of contrarian, faux position is JUST the kind of “women’s writing” that the NYT loves, because, as Echidne writes, it hates women.

    Oh, postfeminism, how I despise thee. I cannot count the ways. My head would explode.

  8. syllabusted on 04 Jan 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    hey, good discussion and good topic. I’m a fan of Updike’s Rabbit series but I also think that if younger male authors are NOT spending the whole book focusing on their sexual conquests, then that is a good thing. Not trying to be prudish but times change….

    Sign me,

    Really need to focus on my syllabus…..

    last bit: I once heard Mailer describe himself as an ‘aging roue,’ and thought: maybe 10 years ago you were an aging roue, on a good day, MAYBE!

  9. Susan on 04 Jan 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    I couldn’t bear to read past the first page :)
    But really, if these guys were taking up on things that O’Hara and Miller (and Nin?) wrote, then it wasn’t that new. It was newly respectable, perhaps, to talk about it.
    I think the mind blowing thing is that Roiphe cannot think of a single woman writer who said something interesting about sex. And if I remember feminist fiction from the late 60s/early 70s, part of what was so shocking was how WOMEN wrote about sex.

    And Perpetua is right — if there’s such a thing as an Electra complex, Roiphe does show it.

  10. Historiann on 04 Jan 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Syllabusted’s and Susan’s points about how times and literary tastes have changed remind me of something else that irritated me about the Roiphe article. She writes as though she didn’t live her adolescence and young adulthood in the 1980s, the big AIDS decade. As I’ve written here before, all of us in our mid-30s to late 40s experienced sex in the age of HIV and before Protease inhibitors. To think that that would not affect literary representations of sex by authors around our age (Chabon, Wallace, Frantzen) is just baffling. (And once again, only men interest Roiphe–no women of her generation apparently have anything interesting to say about sex.)

    I have to admit: I thought Frantzen’s portrayal of Chip, a pathetic, sexually out-of-control failed academic, in The Corrections was hillarious. He’s one of the most fully realized characters in American fiction in the past decade, I think.

  11. Historiann on 04 Jan 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    And, p.s.: I can’t believe no one has commented yet on the Hello Kitty cowgirl pasties! How perfect are they, for this blog, since they suggest cowgirls, stripping, kitties, and the triumph of postfeminism?

    Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

  12. Fratguy on 04 Jan 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Disturbing. Although the results of that google surch must have been intriguing.

  13. Janice on 04 Jan 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    The pasties were, erm, icing on the cake of the patriarchal paradigm?

    You know, there’s a deeply weird part of me that wants to find out where you can actually acquire such things. They appear to be pretty professionally made — was it from Etsy?

    *shudders some more*

    Oh, yeah, and you know that Roiphe thinks that women don’t write about sex except for those women who write romance which is all trash and not serious, important literature but really just fantasies all about wanting to be romanced and not about sex which is what real men write about and it is important because they are men.

  14. syllabusted on 04 Jan 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    right on, H-Ann, with The Corrections!

    “Doubtful it stood,” was, I think, the name of the failed academic and even more failurific screenwriter character’s medeival “script,” right?

    Subsequent essays by Frantzen in the New Yorker, especially the one on bird watching, have been hilarious.

    Why doesn’t Roiphe criticize these he-men novelists who don’t have enough of a sense of humor to laugh at themselves artfully? (I’ll give Updike points on that one — Rabbit is clearly acknowledged as a pathetic lowlife… but forget about it with mailer and roth)

  15. Historiann on 04 Jan 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    Fratguy: the results of a google image search on the term “stripper kitty” were less pR0nographic than you’d think. (That’s how I found the pasties, right there on page one, as though someone on etsy made them just for Historiann!)

    Syllabusted, I’m with you that a sense of humor and self-deprecation is much to be appreciated. (And you’re right that that may have been Updike’s one redeeming feature.) I wish Frantzen would write another sprawling bildungsromanish Tom Wolfean spectacle like The Corrections. I read his shorter essays and short stories, but they’re kind of just bags of chips when you’re really ready for a full dinner.

  16. Indyanna on 04 Jan 2010 at 3:40 pm #

    There was lots of sex, for example, and none too romantical, in Lisa Alther, _Kinflicks_ (1976). Not sure where that one’s landed in the literary criticism sphere. And of men before or contemporaneous with O’Hara, and better and more sophisticated than the Mailer generation, what of James T. Farrell and the Studs Lonigan Trilogy, or Robert Penn Warren (All The King’s Men, The Cave, etc.)? Roiph sort of began reading on third base and thought she’d hit a triple.

  17. Comrade PhysioProf on 04 Jan 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    And, p.s.: I can’t believe no one has commented yet on the Hello Kitty cowgirl pasties!

    That’s what those are!?!? I am ashamed to admit that I thought they were armoire door handle tassel deelybobbers.

  18. Historiann on 04 Jan 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    CPP, I figured you’ve visited more strip clubs than I ever have. Perhaps I’ve underestimated you!

  19. Knitting Clio on 04 Jan 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Read it, went ho-hum, moved on.

    re: images — why didn’t you search Regretsy?

  20. Paul S. on 04 Jan 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    It’s in discussions like this that I occasionally regret the fact that I never read any literature (rarely fiction of any kind, in fact).

  21. Notorious Ph.D. on 04 Jan 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Paul S.: It’s never too late!

  22. Cattyinqueens on 05 Jan 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Oh, so therapeutic to read all these responses! I so wish I could have read that Roiphe article with a *yawn* it sort of deserves, but I found my blood boiling so quickly! But it’s calmed back down. Note to self: read more rational discourse; works everytime!

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