In a world Kamen and I I wanted to It’s a Bush has been It totally –they This is the During the In the book What did you From Ralph I was in England That’s There was that This is something Women have Statistically What about There are a Many people I’m 33, Does AIDS play I think with Speaking of It’s a Trash a magazine, I kind of wish I thought everyone’s Yeah, stabbing I can criticize Bitch magazine You expect And they use Marie Claire A friend was You’d That’s The funniest On one hand Paula Kamen
full of Bridget Joneses, it’s nice to stumble across Paula Kamen. Her 1991
Feminist Fatale focused on why many young women who identify with the
tenets of feminism reject the label "feminist." Her latest, Her
Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution (NYU Press, $25.95, 280 pages),
chronicles women’s relatively newfound sexual freedom via two current cultural
phenomena: the sexually aggressive "super rats"–rat because they
are often considered "disruptive," and super because they embody "the
development and pattern of future generations of women"–and today’s
new breed of virgins, who’ve gotten a public-relations style makeover and
are possibly a more evolved version of the former. As well as everything in
spoke recently on the phone.
talk about your last book, Feminist Fatale. Explain for us why feminism
has become a dirty word among women who were born after the sexual revolution.
complex issue. I wrote about it in Feminist Fatale 10 years ago, and
it’s even more the case now. Those women don’t have a clear sense
of 70s history–how things were before and after feminism–so feminism
is taken for granted. Feminist Fatale explains how young women support
the feminist principle of equal pay for equal work, and Her Way is about
how they support all these sexual freedoms of choice, but at the same time they’re
not calling themselves feminists. Her Way deals with women not necessarily
recognizing the political issues involved with sexual freedom. Young women don’t
connect the choices they have with a political struggle, and therefore aren’t
prepared to defend it, and it’s about to be totally attacked again by the
Bush administration. Clinton obviously hasn’t been all good for women,
but John Ashcroft is like some character from The Handmaid’s
appointing women to his Cabinet like crazy, but they’re not necessarily
women who are pro-women, if that makes sense.
makes sense. With women like these–
might as well be John Ashcroft.
generation of women who feel more entitlement sexually to do things on their
own terms than ever before. But now reproductive rights and sex education are
being threatened, and these are essential components of that sexual freedom.
It also terrifies me that many young women have no real idea of what happened
30 years ago with underground abortions–that hospitals were constantly
getting hundreds of mutilated women per month.
election, women around 18-30 didn’t seem to believe Roe v. Wade
could come under attack or even be reversed. When you brought up the possibility,
people said, "Oh that would never happen," because they’ve had
it their whole lives.
I have some statistics of a poll that was taken among women in their 20s, and
most support abortion rights, but they believe it’s a guaranteed right.
Also, they don’t understand that it’s being chipped away. Like Ashcroft
possibly not employing federal authorities to back a woman’s right to go
into the clinic.
think of Clinton?
Nader’s point of view, it was terrible. But compared to George W. Bush,
he was Susan B. Anthony. Maureen Dowd made a good point by saying that Bush
was elected by white men and absentee military ballots, and the Democratic Party
has always had lots of support from women. Of course abortion rights and sex
education were chipped away at during the Clinton administration, like in 1996
when the Republican Congress appropriated $100 million for abstinence-only sex
education compared to the $30 million set aside for AIDS prevention. And poor
women lost welfare.
when the Lewinsky story broke, and the reaction was very European: just one
more babe Bill bagged, and Americans are so uptight about sex. For me it’s
been a case of this serial sexual harasser, and possibly a rapist, as our president.
why Ralph Nader did so much damage, because many women didn’t want to just
settle for crumbs. But one of the first things Clinton did was to get rid of
the gag rule, and he gave his wife unprecedented power. However, there were
a lot of lies–the lie Clinton told about the blowjob, and then there was
the lie that George Bush Sr. told about Clarence Thomas being the most qualified
man for the job on the Supreme Court, and I think that was the worst lie.
story going around about the 1988 Republican Convention, during which a reporter
asked George W. Bush what he and his father talked about when they weren’t
discussing politics. He allegedly said, "Pussy." So what all women
have to understand about politics today is that a man who refers to women in
print as "pussy" can still win the highest office. It’s true
of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush…fill in the blank. All these men have one
face for the public as far as women are concerned, but in private, and in their
hearts, they obviously believe something very different.
I wrote about in Her Way, the fact that many men, even our alleged ally
Bill Clinton, are frozen in time in the 70s, where women are sort of sexually
there for the picking.
become more confident and aggressive about pursuing men, and a lot of men, while
they listen to Belle and Sebastian and think it’s insane that women don’t
earn a dollar on a man’s dollar, can’t handle a woman asking them
out. While we evolved in that area, they stood still.
there’s definitely a lag, and it’s one I am personally most upset
about. Although I prefer now to how my mom lived in the early 60s, when she
couldn’t go out on a Saturday night unless she had a date, and she couldn’t
put herself in certain situations with a man because it was giving him permission
to have sex. I’d rather have the sort of anarchy we have today.
Monica and the "super rats"?
lot of women like Monica who are using sex for power, just like men do. In the
book, I talk about that subset of sexually aggressive women who act like men.
I call them the "super rats," and they’re here for better or
for worse. The whole goal for young women is to do things "her way,"
and not how the male-defined sexual revolution of the 70s more narrowly views
liberation, as being promiscuous and always available to everyone. But instead
to define sex more in women’s terms–saying no as well as yes, realizing
there’s spirituality involved, and not compartmentalizing. The super rats
are a phenomenon I wanted to educate people about, because I think the whole
country was caught off-guard by Monica and Sex and the City, when actually
this type of sexually aggressive behavior has been evolving among women of our
generation for the last 20 or 30 years. In the book I also talk about another
phenomenon among young women–virgins and people saying no. Women moving
beyond that traditional male power-hungry model.
would look at virgins as more traditional.
and when I was in college in the 80s it was much more shameful to be a virgin.
Now it’s being redefined as someone who has integrity and control, and
with all the oral sex and sexual sophistication going on, virgins aren’t
necessarily considered sexless or naive.
a lot of virgins, it’s not about being antisex or fearful. I include a
big academic study on virgins in the book, where they were polled on why they
haven’t had sex, and AIDS is ranked very far down on their list of reasons.
The number-one motivation among virgins as regards sex is listening to themselves,
and being true to that. The whole point of this book is to listen to your voice,
and get rid of the scripts. Listening to your own voice is the standard for
sexual liberation. However, in some cases, that means being a super rat.
scripts, what do you think of women’s magazines?
mixed bag. I might have been too honest in the book…
and you better never think of submitting there.
I’d thought of that! But I would have done it anyway. It’s important
to criticize, and, like everything, there’s two sides to women’s magazines.
I have a lot of statistics in the book about how women’s magazines are
a major way young women learn about orgasms and sexual pleasure without shame–all
the nitty-gritty your mom won’t tell you or you don’t learn in high
school. I interviewed a woman who had a bad first experience losing her virginity,
and felt like a freak about it, until she read in Cosmo that other women
had bad first times too…
first experience was a bad time. Isn’t that the rule?
pain never helps.
Jane, because I’ve already submitted there and been rejected. For
one, its tone is extremely didactic and condescending.
has a huge feud with Jane. They have whole essays on their website about
how Jane is so insidious because they purport to be so feminist, yet
they’re really about 30 pounds less. My gripe with women’s magazines
is the same one I have with women in general, which is that there isn’t
a focus on political issues. A magazine’s bread and butter is sex. And
even Bust, in their issue right before the election, when all these freedoms
were at risk, had John Cusack on the cover.
even more of Bust than Jane, because it’s independently operated
and has more of a zine feel.
the word feminist all the time. There is some great feminist stuff there in
terms of good vibrator articles; it’s smart and it’s funny. But forget
the mainstream in Iowa, even these feminists in New York City are missing making
that leap to the political. That’s why I wrote the book. I felt we needed
some real reporting, and to go beyond the memoirs. I had to fight publishers,
because they weren’t interested in feminism. This publisher supported it,
and really went against the grain. It would have been easier if it were a memoir
about me losing my virginity at Yale.
always has at least one very political story, often about women in other cultures
or countries, but it’s a big feature.
telling me there’s a lot of good feminist stuff in Elle.
be shocked. Possibly that’s because those magazines appeal to an older
market–women in their late 30s, 40s.
a good point. The body-image stuff is so debilitating to women. They might have
an article about self-esteem, but then it’s invariably followed by 100
pages of skeleton-thin women in the fashion spread.
story, or saddest story, I saw in the papers recently was one in the New
York Post about a woman who was a model because she had cancer, which allowed
her to be skinny enough to fit the standard image. Or you have Betsey
Johnson being declared one of the "Gutsiest Women of 2000" by Jane
for using Playboy bunnies with implants for models. It seems like very conservative
times all of a sudden.
it is, because while women have more education and money than ever, we’re
up against the current patriarchal system. But the bottom line is the positive,
that women do have much more independence, which gives them permission
to make choices. And instead of getting married because of the fear of being
a spinster or being in the closet because of the fear of being exposed as a
lesbian, the choice should come from inside the individual. You can be a Sex
and the City person or a virgin or a bisexual or single or married and living
in the suburbs with three kids. And with all the negatives, I wanted this book
to really recognize that we have advanced, and to not take the women’s
movement for granted.
and McSweeney’s author Neal Pollack read and satirize their contemporaries
on Tues., Jan. 30, at KGB, 85 E. 4th St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.), 505-3360.
Kamen also reads from Her Way on Weds., Jan. 31, at Bluestockings, 172
Allen St. (betw.Stanton & Rivington Sts.), 777-6028.
In a world
Kamen and I
I wanted to
Bush has been
This is the
In the book
What did you
I was in England
There was that
This is something
There are a
Does AIDS play
I think with
Trash a magazine,
I kind of wish
I thought everyone’s
I can criticize
And they use
A friend was
On one hand