Recently, I had the pleasure to speak with Hallie Cotnam on CBC Ontario Today on the subject of co-sleeping and intimacy. The piece was produced in response to this article by Erica Jong in the New York Times, where she states, among other things, that women are hiding from their men in an ‘orgy of multiple maternity’ and ‘man-distancing slings.’
I suppose Erica Jong has done a lot of good things for women and the notion of a woman’s sexual freedom, but she’s never really represented my brand of feminism. She certainly wasn’t representing me when she said that the older generation (presumably, hers) discovered free sex, and that the younger generation (presumably, ours) are rebelling by fetishising motherhood and monogamy.
Her point, it seems, is that women these days are choosing motherhood and monogamy over sexual pleasure and freedom, and that the two are incompatible. She rallies that there can be no room for intimacy in a bed full of children, and indeed, that we have sterilized the notion of sexuality back to a 1950s ideal, after her generation worked so hard to turn us all into sluts.
My first reaction to the article, as I mentioned to Ms Cotnam in an earlier conversation, was that Ms Jong was simply on the defensive. She states early on that her own daughter is living and parenting in a very different way than she herself parented. Ms Jong patronizingly calls it rebellion, but I think a more accurate analysis would be that, in the mirror held up in front of her, Ms Jong sees her philosophies and values being rejected by her daughter, which smacks of disapproval of her own parenting skills. In other words, Erica Jong is afraid her daughter doesn’t think she was a very good mother, as evidenced by the 180 degree difference in their parenting styles. I'm not saying that this is indeed the case, but I know that if my kids do everything differently than I did, I might feel a little rejected.
I completely get it. When Jong had her babies, as when my own mother had hers, formula was new to the market and hailed as a feminist breakthrough. Mothers had the freedom to be away from their babies for as long as they wanted to be, now that they were not tethered to them by their breasts. It seems that Jong is angry that our generation is ‘undoing’ everything she did for us, as evidenced in statements vilifying women who ‘breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him.’ Gee, Erica, how forward-thinking.
What she fails to accept is the simple reality that times have changed. Instead of lashing out at all of us ungrateful puritans, she could instead enjoy the notion that her (gag) trailblazing led us to a place of choice, where we are all comfortable to make our own.
As for the question of whether one can be intimate with their partner while they co-sleep, I am almost insulted by Jong’s lack of imagination. Sex, only in a bed, only at night? C’mon Erica, is that what your generation fought for?
Then again, Ms Jong does speak from a place of expert experience – she’s on her fourth husband; I’m still on my first.