WOMEN ON TOP
A Review of Women On Top
by Nancy Friday
New York: Simon and Schuster
Review Copyright © 1991 by William A. Henkin
Originally published in Spectator
No, no, you randy submissives, this is not a book about female domination over others; it's about female triumph over the weird notions to which generations of Americans have been trained: that sex is wrong, and that however bad sleazy-dirty-disgusting men are for wanting their magic twangers plucked, sin-filled women are far worse for having, wanting, or even thinking about the dreaded S-word.
But thinking about sex is how Nancy Friday became internationally famous, and no anti-choice demagogue preaching violent repression from the White House or the Senate floor is likely to stop her free-market explorations of the human mind's juiciest nooks and crannies. In fact, if you want to participate in her future ventures, there's an invitation for you at the end of this book. More on that later, however: first, the foreplay.
Back in 1973, when lots of innocent people thought the sexual revolution had already been won, Friday published her first book. My Secret Garden was a collection of women's sexual fantasies, interspersed with Friday's up-beat, cheerleading, pop-psychology commentary. Women who read it often discovered, with amazement and delight, that theirs were not the only pussies entertaining secret visits from Mr. Hand and his Five Sons; men who read it were often astonished that women had sex lives at all apart from their peckers.
For lots of other innocent people in those much more innocent days, who had not known there was ever a sexual revolution going on in the first place, My Secret Garden itself announced the battle.Written by a pretty, upper-middle-class, straight, white broad, it shot right onto the New York Times best-seller list. Its paperback version, now in its 29th printing, is still selling briskly, thank you.
Four other Friday best-sellers followed Forbidden Flowers, Jealousy, Men in Love, and My Mother/ My Self but for the moment we need not be concerned with them, because what
Friday claims is really important about Women On Top is how it differs from that first of her middle-American female stroke books.
The women whose fantasies cropped up in My Secret Garden wanted sex, all right, just as the women in Women On Top do. But a generation ago Friday's contributors were largely interested in the kind of sex Playboy, James Bond, or Jim Morrison had told them they could want: they wrote at length about macho (or at least dominating) men seducing or compelling them to fuck. "Look, Ma, it wasn't my fault!" Friday claims that was the way these women mostly born in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s got to get off while still retaining the self-images they had been raised to cherish, as good, clean, and wholesome girls which meant, to the twisted values of that distant era, as women who did not want to fuck even if they liked having to fuck. Perhaps this is how so many folks grew up linguistically disabled, believing that "no" meant "yes." But I digress.
Times, Friday is here to tell us, have changed. The hippies and feminists who thought sex had its good side are now middle-aged and parents, who have
put the sexual revolution to bed. Implicit in the prim set of their lips today is that they overdid it twenty years ago; like good Calvinist children the Establishment now punishes itself for its former naughty excesses and righteously turns its back on sex. Because they are still the majority who make the rules and write the headlines, they assume they speak for everyone.
They know little of the women in this book.
These women are for the most part in their twenties, the generation that followed the sexual revolution and the initial momentum of the women's movement. Their voices sound like a new race of women....
For them, the explosive emotions we unleashed in the 1970s are still very much alive.... Sex is a given, an energy not to be deferred for "more important things." Their sexual fantasies are startling reflections of their determination to abandon nothing.
It is the purpose of Women On Top to demonstrate that lack of abandon in the formula that has worked so well for Friday before. For the last 380 pages of this book women mostly in their late teens, 20s, and early 30s, but some 13 or 14 and a few in their 50s and 60s write about what gets them hot and wet when nobody else can or will.
Lots of these fantasies involve Other Women, even as the fantasizers protest that they are neither gay nor bisexual. For example:
A butch, but attractive, lesbian has cajoled me into coming home with her.... "Take your clothes off," she orders, as I stand in front of her.... Next, I'm... ordered to play with myself.... She pulls me onto her lap and begins spanking me. At the same time, she rubs my clit with her other hand.... Nothing I've ever done in real life has come even remotely close to what happens in this fantasy.... least of all with another woman!
* * *
I am a 19-year-old female, presently going to college, single, upper middle class, heterosexual (I think).... Whenever I masturbate I think of this one: I am hitchhiking on a lonely road when a gorgeous, sexy girl picks me up....
* * *
I am 21 years old, single and heterosexually oriented.... All of my fantasies revolve around a central theme: my sexual involvement with other women.
* * *
I am 20 years old and have been married since I was 17.... I have a lot of lesbian fantasies.
* * *
I am a black female. I was married at the age of 16 and had my first child at 17. I am in my early 50s now and I have three children.... While I'm masturbating I fantasize about women.
Friday who has a fairly conventional Freudian demeanor, as heterosexual feminists go has a theory about this phenomenon. When men are sexual with women, she proposes, they get to relive their infant experiences with smooth and soft-skinned Mommy the Breast at some psychological level; but women cannot have that same need met when they are sexual with hairy, rough-skinned men, leave apart the pherenomes. "Whatever sexual pleasure women may find with a man, they cannot get this primitive physicality with him," she writes; "even the most tender of men cannot offer the unique satisfaction found in a woman's body. Nor should he be expected to give it.... The penis can only offer so much, extend so far; it cannot make up for what the breast offers."
Many of the women whose fantasies do not involve women want more control in their fantasy experiences than they get in their day-to-day sex lives with men. Sometimes they just came late to sex:
I am furious at having been a virgin so long myself. I was brought up with sexual restrictions.... The big thing in my household was to prevent my getting "knocked up".... While I was taught that sex had negative consequences... I was also quick to seize upon the fact that my vagina was my power! No one was making such a fuss over my high IQ!!
Sometimes they find great power in being what Friday calls "the great seductress" and giving pleasure to men on their own terms: "I am sitting in my office and two of my handsome young drivers come in.... Being waist high to him, I put my hand on his firm young ass.... "
Some who fantasize about sex with animals had nosy pooches as kids and learned to get their fancies tickled from the git-go by a lover who, as Friday notes, doesn't talk: "One of my fantasy themes is of being fucked by animals who allow me to be as totally uninhibited as they are about it. I've let animals lick my pussy and asshole, and have sucked a dog's cock...."
Sometimes providing men the means to a "good orgasm" enables them to feel like "good mothers": "My fantasies are almost exclusively concerned with saving some handsome and virile man's life and then, as a result of this, his wanting to make love to me. I have been particularly attracted to astronauts...."
Sometimes they want to show off their sexualities in orgies of exhibitionism they would never really risk:
I get off on inadvertent and "innocent" exhibitionism, and almost all of my fantasies revolve around someone viewing some of my naked charms and being driven to a frenzy of lust at the sight.
* * *
Three of the guys are watching us, the other has his eyes tightly closed but is listening very carefully. I... find that all of them are enjoying the sight, sounds and smell of me and Bobby so much that they're beating off. What a rush of power I felt at that moment!
Sometimes they want to explore sadomasochism:
My fantasy has always been to dominate my partner. First off I call him up and tell him to drive over. He is to arrive in only a jockstrap, nothing more. And he is told to be there at a certain time.... Pulling off my belt, I give him fifteen hard smacks for being late. "Get on your knees and ask my forgiveness," I tell him, "or you'll get fifteen more".... He assures me that he's all mine, that he likes a lady who takes control. I grab ahold of his penis, dragging him to the bedroom.... Then I tie him spread-eagle and begin to whip him....
The largest section of the book concern women who want more: more variety than they're accustomed to; more foreplay and/or more fucking than their mates can get it up for; more people and especially more men at once; and much, much, much more cunnilingus. A fair number of Friday's contributors would also like to watch two men suck and fuck, and a few wish they had dicks of their own whether or not they are willing to lose their tits in exchange.
But: "These young women assume that the men they have sex with are as liberated as they," Friday opines. "The truth is that it was women, not men, who changed in the 1970s and early 1980s." Competition and comparisons were too frightening for men, who feared they'd lose their position at the top of the social ladder if too much change came down, so they stood still. And now, as a result, it is women who lead the way in liberated sexuality.
That change of relative social posture is what the title of Friday's book refers to: women not necessarily on top of anyone else, but women on top of themselves, of their fantasies, and increasingly of their lives.
Why women should be, or want to be, or feel they are, so much more in charge than they were, wanted, or felt 20 years ago is the subject of Friday's first 60 pages.
In her first chapter, "Report from the Erotic Interior," Friday relates her own progress from the time she wrote My Secret Garden to the reason she dedicated Women On Top to Mary, a young woman she met at a cocktail party. At the party a network anchorman had already confessed to having read My Secret Garden but had hurried to assure Friday (or himself) that he hadn't bought it (for masturbation?) but had simply found it in someone else's home. Elsewhere a so-called friend could not understand Friday's desire to write "another one of your masturbatory books."
Mary wondered if women's fantasies had changed since Friday's first book had been published, and felt enormous relief to learn that she was not the only one who had fantasies outside the early book's pale. At some point in the conversation Friday "turned and realized the entire party had closed in around us and was listening avidly."
I have dedicated this book to her because she reminded me that I must not let the opinion makers judge the importance of sexuality.... When we deny our fantasies, we no longer have access to that wonderful interior world that is the essence of our unique sexuality. Which is, of course, the intent of the sex haters, who will stop at nothing.... Beware of them, my friends, for they are skilled in the selling of guilt. Your mind belongs to you alone.... If they can damn us for our fantasies, they can jail us for the acts we commit in our dreams.... In your life, not everyone will embrace your sexuality. Remember envy.... do not buy their shame and give up your sexuality so that they can rest more easily.
The second chapter's sub-title speaks for itself: in "Separating Sex and Love: In Praise of Masturbation," Friday attacks the guilt we have all been brought up to feel about "the most natural thing in the world our own hand on our own genitals, doing something that gives us pleasure and harms no one, practicing the safest sex in the world." She writes about the values of masturbation, the social history that underlies our social prohibitions on it, the psychological arrangement mothers make with "nice girl" daughters to keep their little hands away from "down there," and wonders whether the fury women sometimes feel with men "for going to whores, for feeding their masturbatory fantasies with pornographic magazines" might be in part "envy, an angry resentment that they have access to a life from which we feel barred?"
The eminent sexologist John Money once proposed that if we want children to become good at sex we should encourage them to practice it the way we encourage young athletes to excel at their endeavors: send them out to practice over and over again, and then reward them when they do it well. Friday, too, proposes that "the most generous act of all is that mother free her daughter to find her own sexual way.... Mother, let your little girl masturbate."
Nancy Friday is continuing her research on the interaction between women's real lives and their sexual fantasies. She is also continuing her research into men's sexual fantasies. If you would like to contribute to her efforts, particularly concerning parental attitudes toward your early sexuality, age of your first masturbation, current masturbation practices and fantasies, or the impact of adolescence on your later life, include your thoughts with a brief statement about what in your biography influenced your sexual development and fantasies. Her address is: Nancy Friday, P.O. Box 1371, Key West, FL 33041. She says, "Anonymity Guaranteed.4
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