EROTICA FOR HER -- AND HE
A Review of Herotica: A Collection of Women's Erotic Fiction
edited by Susie Bright
Burlingame, CA: Down There Press
Review Copyright © 1988 by William A. Henkin
Originally published in Spectator
Well, thank Goddess! Some one-handed reading for the fair sex and for boys who want to know what turns girls on. Following fantasy collections like My Secret Garden, by Nancy Friday, stories such as those in Lonnie Barbach's Pleasures and the Kensington Ladies Erotica Society's Ladies Own Erotica, and the more radical lesbian writing in Samois's Coming to Power, editor Susie Bright has selected stories that expand the scope of what she calls "contemporary clit's point-of-view erotica" while they blur the distinction between pornography and erotica for all of us. In each story, "the woman's path to orgasm, her anticipation, are front and center. Even if her climax is not part of the scene, it is her sexual banquet that is being served, whether she is the initiator, the recipient, the reciprocator, the voyeur or the exhibitionist."
Even for readers already familiar with the growing shelf of female, feminine, and feminist sexual literature, Bright's anthology is a change of pace because her taste is catholic and her focus correspondingly broad. "Some women want the stars," she writes in her Introduction, "some the sleaze."
Some desire the nostalgia of the ordinary, some the punch of the kinky. And some want all of it. Our sexual minds travel everywhere, and embrace every emotion. Our sexual fiction is not so different from men's in terms of physical content. Its uniqueness lies in the detail of our physical description, our vulnerability and the often confessional quality of our speech in this new territory. Above all, because we have had so little of women's sexual fiction, there is absolutely no formula to follow.
The 21 stories in Herotica deliver what the editor promises. There's silky hedonism in a businesswoman's retreat to a sensual spa, a hot fuck in the back of a pickup truck, astral intercourse with a long-dead boyfriend, and a birthday visit to a male bordello on a science-fiction planet. There' women with men, women with women, women with women and men, as well as women watching women and women watching men. In "Big Ed," Isadora Alman offers a humorous twist on transvestism that may be more common in life than in literature, while Jennifer Pruden's "Shades of Grey," a story of a woman seducing her lesbian lover with a gift of lingerie, is a holy sexual paean to love. Nancy Blackett's "Shaman's Eyes" is a myth-like tale that could have come straight out of many a pre-industrial society's lore, and Charmaine Parsons's "Affairs" celebrates sexual mind over the absence of sexual matter.
All the stories in this collection are short only one is longer than 10 pages and the entire book makes an easy evening's reading that ought to be much more pleasurable for erotically inclined women than the latest rerun on the Playboy Channel.
But for a couple of reasons I think this book is even more important for men than it is for women. First, as a human sub-group, men have a legendary ignorance about women's sexuality, which books like Herotica may help to reduce if for no other reason than that they start to answer Freud's famous lament, "What does woman want?" Second, in this heyday of X-rated videos ("a whopping 60 percent of which are rented by women," says Ms. Bright, editor of the excellent lesbian magazine On Our Backs and X-rated video reviewer for Forum), sexual literature is not only about sex. No, girls and boys, when in a sexually evolutionary time an anthology is defined by its contributors' gender, its mere existence constitutes a political statement.
Now, we boys don't read Henry Miller for the strokes any longer, and no one, I think, has ever read Ulysses just for the titillation. However exciting it may or may not be, literature is finally measured by the mind, not the crotch. Few of us live out our wildest fantasies, and we read with that most important of all sexual organs, the brain, in order to expand the modest world of our individual experiences beyond the limits of our senses into the boundless universe of our imaginations.
As Ms. Bright writes, "Women's erotica objectifies all the sexual possibilities."
It doesn't matter whether it's describing a lover's body for her own pleasure, or a titillating meal for her consumption....In sexual literature and art ... [objectification] means manipulating images for her own pleasure.... Women's contribution to erotic objectification has been to expand the territory of compelling sexual possibilities; not only to romanticize, but to virtually fetishize erotic environments.
Certainly this book sets out to fetishize environments other than the bedroom. Though as a literary reader or as a sexual man I might quibble with some of the particular selections, at its best Herotica fetishizes feminist literature and the female imagination itself, and that seems to me a marvelous contribution toward some true equality among all the sexes.
This book is available from Down There Press, P. O. Box 2086, Burlingame, CA 94011-2086
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