Barbara Ehrenreich | Critical Review by Leslie Dick

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Barbara Ehrenreich.
This section contains 873 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Leslie Dick

SOURCE: "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" in New Statesman, Vol. 114, No. 2950, October 9, 1987, pp. 25-26.

Below, Dick gives a negative review of Re-Making Love.

In 1964, when we were nine, my best friend and I played a secret game, enacting elaborate adventures in which we would take turns to be Paul McCartney or John Lennon. The story always ended with us "falling in love": we would roll around on the floor, kissing passionately.

In Re-making Love, the roots of the Women's Liberation Movement are found in the rebellion against the female sexual predicament of the early 1960s, as evidenced by Sex and the Single Girl-ism (nice girls in big cities having affairs) and Beatlemania (which the authors see as a proto-feminist outburst against rigid gender roles and teenage sexual repression). Later, Cosmopolitan magazine and manuals like The Joy of Sex, with their "reassuring" injunctions to experiment, to seek out the ideal orgasm and assert your "right" to sexual pleasure, apparently brought non-feminist women into contact with euphoric feelings of self-determination and control. Indeed the authors claim it was at least party due to the "sexual revolution" that feminism was not limited to a "subculture of politicized, urban women", but moved into the mainstream of American culture and politics.

The book is only concerned with mainstream America—and one quickly longs for an interrogation of the whole idea of the "mainstream", with its connotations of the Normal and the Average. The "housewife in Ohio" reappears often, as does her counterpart, the "professional" single in the city—it goes without saying they are both white, middle-class and heterosexual. In a sense the book is both about these women and addressed to them, despite their status as convenient sociological fictions. The authors state they will not tackle the thorny issues around homosexual and lesbian love, except as a "sense of possibility", or source of sexual fantasy for the (normal) heterosexual woman.

That silent "(normal)" is present throughout the book, obscured by overt denunciations of 1950s sex manuals and their insistence on female sexual passivity. But the fundamental implication of all sex manuals is that sex can be (must be?) defined, "fixed" and quantified, that there are achievable goals, definable expectations, alphabets and menus of sex: "Twenty years ago the woman dissatisfied with sex was made to believe she was lacking something … Today … it is the woman who does not know how to negotiate or find her own way to pleasure who wonders if she is different, abnormal." We call this liberation?

A grim picture emerges of the dutiful pursuit of sexual pleasure, as all over America "equal partners" enter into bedroom negotiations over the exchange of labor necessary to produce this elusive thing, this final goal, the female orgasm. (Of course male sexual pleasure is supposed to be as simple as abc, but that's another story …) In the 1970s, one expert suggested that each couple acquire two copies of The Joy of Sex, his "n" hers, and work their way through all the positions, scoring each with marks out of ten, and then exchange books. In this scenario, it's impossible even to say "gee, I like that", as the sex manual becomes both the source of sex and the means of communicating a response.

Which is not to imply there's some natural sexuality somewhere that doesn't "need" all these instructions; the hard information produced by the Kinsey Reports of 1948 and 1953, and the Hite Report of 1976, backed up by the purely physiological researches of Masters and Johnson (1966), was extremely useful to women long oppressed by myths of the vaginal orgasm, female sexual passivity, etc. One problem is that if you're going to be scientific about sex, you have to have something to count, something to measure: orgasms. Who dares say pleasure is not equivalent to orgasm? Stephen Health's book The Sexual Fix (1982) shows how the official approval of experimentation in pursuit of the orgasm ("just so long as nobody gets hurt!") both functions as a definition of sexual expectation and overlooks the fact that psychic pain, like pleasure, isn't measured by electrodes and dials.

Nevertheless, Re-making Love presents an entertaining survey of sexology, from the 1948 book that describes sex for women as easier than falling off a log ("it is as easy as being the log itself"), to the 1982 "G-spot" and its resurrection of penetration as the way to ultimate female orgasm. The authors analyze the 1970s movement of S/M style and paraphernalia from the cities into the suburbs. Once everyone had bought their vibrators, S/M allowed a whole new range of sexual commodities to be marketed and consumed: "From a strictly capitalist viewpoint, it is the ideal sexual practice." Equally fascinating is the chapter on sex manuals for born-again Christians, which encourage the devout wife to dress up in costumes (thus sustaining her husband's interests and preserving monogamy) and to imagine herself as a "love-slave to Christ", delighting in sexual submission.

Tragically, Re-making Love appears at a historical moment when the repercussions of the AIDS epidemic are changing the parameters of this debate. Biology wreaks havoc with ideology; as feminists we must continue to celebrate sexual pleasure, without ceasing to question the terms of our "sexual liberation".

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This section contains 873 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Leslie Dick