A Memoir of Female Lust
Continued from previous page
You write, “What is it to define, or even to know, our desires — to identify which are our own, and which result from a kind of porousness?” I’d like to redirect that question to you now.
Well, that’s a pivotal moment, I think. That’s where I pose the question that frames the rest of the book, in a way. And what I find interesting in that question is that part of me has an urge to try and draw that boundary, to say, “What do I really want?” I think the book is about trying to find your own language, about trying to work out what you want not just from sex, but also from your life as a whole. One of the trajectories in the book is sort of individuating and trying to find out who you really are and what you want to, in my case, write. It’s partly a book about coming to find your voice in a larger sense. But I think that it’s such an important feminist question: What do we individually want as women regardless of what magazines are telling us we want, or advertisers are telling us we want, or men are telling us what we want, or whatever?
What I find worse is that there’s a tendency to view women as more porous than men, if you like. So we tend to see male sexuality as a kind of simple, mechanistic given and that women are constantly prey to these cultural and social norms. The fact is, I think we’re all shaped by these cultural and social norms. There’s no such thing as an authentic sexuality that then gets encroached upon by powerful forces from the outside. Sexuality and our desires are things we kind of develop over time in response to this bewildering array of biological, individual, social, cultural cues. The challenge, then, for us as individuals, is to kind of work out what to do with that and what we want to resist and what we want to claim. It’s a profoundly feminist question, but I think the way the debate tends to unfold is that we worry about women as these passive, empty vessels that receive the influence of culture, and I think that’s something we need to make more subtle in the conversation.
There is a lot in the book about protecting your partner’s masculinity, inflating it, even. You admit that this is in fact not just in service to him but also to yourself. How so?
Our sexual desires are so shaped by ideas about gender. Whether we like it or not, or whether we’re conscious of it or not, and I think regardless of our sexual orientation or identity, we’re always dealing with ideas about masculinity or femininity, because that is such a powerful structural concept of modern life. So I feel that first of all, as a whole, that’s partly what sex is about. It’s partly about grappling with gender and trying to assert it or undermine it or play with it or fragment it or resist it.
But it’s also, as I point out in the book, partly about my feelings that part of socialization and emergence of a woman or a girl is the deference to man — make sure the male ego is protected and safe. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I certainly know in my own life the ways that I do that — unconsciously, as a kind of habit — and I wanted to be honest about that. I suppose I also wanted to point out that it’s a mutual thing. In the book I touch on how it’s a mutually calibrating process. I think my experience of heterosexual sex is that partly what you’re doing is taking pleasure in that. You’re taking pleasure in taking roles and enacting them. Whatever we might think about that, it’s a powerful aspect of sexuality.