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Women Who Write About Sex Lives Face Backlash

Will Women Ever Be Able to Write About Sex & Not Be Judged?

Sady Doyle of the hilariously, and depressingly, accurate Tiger Beatdown noted on The Atlantic's blog yesterday that a woman still can't write about sex. Not without facing the venomous reception of reviewers, readers, family, and strangers who have never read her work but heard somewhere she is a terrible person.

Terrible because she dared to write honestly and explicitly about sex. And, no, the Carrie Bradshaws of the world don't count. Carrie spent more time typing deep, dichotomous musings like "Do we need distance to get close?" She pressed relationships and sex through an emotional filter. And women's reputation for writing about sex without the gorging details of it gave Kate Copstick, editor of Britain's Erotic Review, the excuse she needed last year to say the only woman's name on its masthead was going to be her. Women, she said, can't be straightforward about sex.

Where does this backlash come from? Find out after the jump.

Go all the way back to 1998, when Nerve held its very "first virtual round-table discussion" via email, and five women writers discussed the vitriol and bomb threats they received for writing about their sexuality. Betty Dodson, author of Sex For One, said most discrimination came from editors and publishers. In fact, her book publisher told her that if she'd just turn her sexual autobiography into a pornographic novel it could be published and would "sell a million copies tomorrow." The consensus of that early panel seemed to be this: whether or not America admits it, it's not ready to hear about women enjoying sex that has nothing to do with love.


Of course, that was 12 years ago. Things have changed, right? Some, yes, but one of Sady's examples is Julie Powell — the food blogger and author who put the Julie in Julie and Julia. She's been attacked for punctuating her words with expletives, appearing smug, and cheating on her husband and writing about it in her new book Cleaving.

"It can't be that bad," I thought. So I went to the Amazon page for Cleaving, and immediately saw this review from Publisher's Weekly: "The clunky performance cannot redeem the uninspired prose, and Powell — who compulsively cheats on her saintly husband — is difficult to empathize with."

And that was one of the better reviews!

Source: Flickr User Postumptio

Join The Conversation
Bettye-Wayne Bettye-Wayne 7 years
Greg, I'm not sure... but in our sex-scandal-obsessed culture, I think it would be fair to assume that ANY affair would be sensationalized, even if she only mentioned it in passing. It's almost like a NEW double standard is being created: a man who sleeps around/cheats is a chauvinist pig, but a woman who sleeps around/cheats is sexually liberated? I just don't get it.
GregS GregS 7 years
Was the subject of the book the infidelities? or was that a section of the book? If it's the book, then I can see your point.
Bettye-Wayne Bettye-Wayne 7 years
No one is perfect and we are all subject to human frailties, but capitalizing on her infidelities? I have a hard time respecting or supporting that.
GregS GregS 7 years
tlsgirl - Why support that? Because she's human and subject to human frailties? I don't think any of us are perfect. She had an affair. When they were separated, did he have an affair? He was still married. She started her publishing career as a blogger - much like us. It's her style to just tell it and not sugar coat it. At least she's honest about it and has told her husb she did it. Of course she also told the rest of us, too, but isn't that the culture of blogging? I think Publisher's Weekly should get their collective heads out of their butts. They're supposed to critique the writing not the subject. I think we're jumping to conclusions without benefit of all sides of the story, too. I'm not ready to condemn her at all for this.
Pistil Pistil 7 years
I checked out some of the books mentioned in the article. Cleaving is the only one that was not well received. The others had positive reviews. There is a point here, but it's not illustrated well. Give me an example of a man who was praised for detailing an affair. Give me an example of a book with absolutely no criticism.
brandilicious brandilicious 7 years
If the book is about blatantly cheating on a husband who has been nothing but devoted to helping her succeed...then I would criticize too. I strongly dislike cheaters. Woman or not!
Bettye-Wayne Bettye-Wayne 7 years
There's definitely a double standard when it comes to a man's sexuality and a woman's, but I agree with tls. Would it be any different if a man cheated o his wife and then bragged about it?
tlsgirl tlsgirl 7 years
I can get the reviews for Cleaving. In her first book, her husband was so supportive, putting up with her sometimes crazy behavior, etc. and then she cheats on him. If she'd just been writing about sex, who cares? But she's writing about dishonesty to and betrayal of someone who supported her and, in the process, helped make her life as it is today possible. Why support that?
starbucks2 starbucks2 7 years
A lot has already changed. At least women can write about sex today. I really hope someday, we will not be perceived as sluts because we enjoy sex. We've got a long way to go but the change is happening.
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