Friday, November 12, 2010

Who Needs Yet Another Collection of Myths About Female Sexuality?: Haphzibah Anderson's Chastened

Men want women and women want to be wanted.
This is the main conclusion that author Hephzibah Anderson reaches in her book Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year Without Sex. The title of the book is a lie. Frtom what I have been able to glean from this interview with the author, there is absolutely nothing unexpected in this tired rehashing of ancient patriarchal stereotypes about female sexuality. Men want sex, while women want to feel desired and accepted, which they achieve through sex. We have heard this a million times before from every purveyor of patriarchal ideology under the sun.

As usual, instead of analyzing when and why her personal view of female sexuality became so sadly screwed up, Anderson goes where everybody who has no courage to confront their own psychological issues usually goes: blaming society. Slipping into an annoying "we" that is aimed at convincing the author that her uneasy attitude to sex is somehow prevalent, she complains of the "pressure" she feels to be sexual:
It made me realize we're under such pressure to be sexual beings all the time and constantly up for it. It gets exhausting.
It's curious that other manifestations of normal human physiology (eating, sleeping, using the toilet, etc.) don't provoke the same kind of exhaustion on Anderson's part. One would think that this might lead the author to consider why this one particular area of human physiology is so problematic for her. No such luck, however. Anderson's entire project of going for a year without sex was a result of her long and losing battle to get her lover dump the woman he is engaged to. Instead of considering that maybe her unhealthy attitude to female sexuality is scaring people away from her, the author decides to take the easy path of blaming the universe for not being willing to adapt itself to her deeply ideological view of sex.

We can understand everything about Hephzibah Anderson's approach to life if we read her answer to the final question of the interview. Would she try going yet another year without sex? the journalist asks her.
"Well, no," Anderson responds. "Though I will say that the year chronicled in the book was followed by a year of writing the book, and the year of writing the book was infinitely harder and far less fun."
Not having sex is this author's idea of fun. It is a lot more joyful for her than writing books. I can only imagine how painful it is to read a book that was such a drag for the author to write.

P.S. Thank you my friend Kola for sending me this curious interview and by doing so robbing me of sleep last night. :-)

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're not supposed to check your emails during bed times, except staying away from bed and reading emails is more pleasurable for you too :)

Clarissa said...

Even the longest email in the world doesn't take a year to read, does it?

As a blogger, I do sleep, eat, bathe and breathe with my cell phone, that's true.

Lindsay said...

I'm with you on the annoying and totally unenlightening approach she's taken, but I don't think there's anything wrong with choosing to be celibate. Some people want sex less than other people want it, and there can be a lot of social pressure to have more sex than you want to, if you're one of those who don't enjoy sex all that much, or find that a little goes a long way.

Clarissa said...

"I don't think there's anything wrong with choosing to be celibate"

-I don't either. Although a question arises on how is it any different to have sex from profit from being celibate for profit.:-)

Lindsay said...

Hah! That's true.

I will admit, as a woman who just happens not to want sex all that much, the whole wave of "Rediscover your self-worth through modesty and sexual abstinence!!" memoirs and self-help books get on my nerves.

sptc said...

I think what she may mean is, it's exhausting to be expected to be constantly sexual in patriarchal terms, or expected to respond to people you're not interested in.

That is to say: it's exhausting to be expected to have sex in exchange for being desired and accepted, or to actually have sex in an effort to be desired and accepted.

Which is to say, it seems this author is caught in the very loop she is criticizing.

FD said...

I got the same general feeling as sptc.

Anderson goes where everybody who has no courage to confront their own psychological issues usually goes: blaming society.

Psychological issues stem from somewhere - it's worth examining them and deciding whether in fact they are actually psychological issues, or whether they are a reasonable response to an unreasonable society.

Your objection to the statement comes from her assumption that her uneasy attitude to sexuality is prevalent; I think possibly your personal experience informs that objection and it might be worth considering whether the attitude is in fact more prevalent than you think.

I would also point out that enjoying other things more than sex doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with her; asexuality is a perfectly normal point on the range of human desire.

That doesn't however mean that it's not a crummy book; it doesn't sound as though she examined the topics very closely!

Lindsay said...

@sptc:

"I think what she may mean is, it's exhausting to be expected to be constantly sexual in patriarchal terms, or expected to respond to people you're not interested in.

That is to say, it's exhausting to be expected to have sex in exchange for being desired and accepted, or to actually have sex in an attempt to be desired and accepted."

Yes, I think that's absolutely what she's responding to, and that it's a totally valid thing to complain about.

I'm just somewhat bemused and annoyed that, rather than see the whole setup for the no-win scenario it is, her Amazing Solution That Will Work For Every Woman, Ever is ... to engage in that exact same sex-for-affection-and-social-prestige bartering system, only tweaking the exchange rates a bit.

Clarissa said...

"I'm just somewhat bemused and annoyed that, rather than see the whole setup for the no-win scenario it is, her Amazing Solution That Will Work For Every Woman, Ever is ... to engage in that exact same sex-for-affection-and-social-prestige bartering system, only tweaking the exchange rates a bit."

-Exactly! It's so annoying to keep seeing that time after boring time.

kaz said...

Here via the Feministe thread-

First off, this does sound like a pretty unpleasant and sexist book.

That said, I have to say the way you're criticising is also unpleasant for me to read as an asexual person. Talking about sex and wanting to have sex as a part of normal human physiology (I suppose that would make me abnormal or not human, then? you have no idea how /tired/ I am of this stuff), dismissing the idea that there might exist pressure to be sexual in society - something I and pretty much the entirety of the asexual movement can definitely attest to! - with a final dig at people who prefer not to have sex.

From your description I don't doubt that this is a seriously problematic book, but surely there were ways of criticising it without mocking and dehumanising asexual people and other people with low sexual desire?

Clarissa said...

I'm wondering: if I were to write a post about anorexia being wrong and unhealthy, should I prepare for the advent of the anorexic movement on the blog telling me how misguided I am to criticize them?

It's getting so one can't have an opinion about anything because there is always some "community" getting ready to persecute you for uttering anything other than a bromide about how all choices are equally acceptable.

Sorry, people, my computer has crashed for the third time in one day and I'm kind of testy. To say the least.

Clarissa said...

For those who want to discuss asexuality, we had a whole endless discussion on that subject here a while ago and maybe you should read it or at least look at it before we start rehashing that whole thing here again:

http://clarissasbox.blogspot.com/2009/06/asexuality.html

Anonymous said...

Shit! I spent say, 3 years without sex (my sex life is great now, thanks). How come I didn't know I could write a book about it and, at least, make some dough?

Clarissa said...

I know the feeling, my friend! :-)

NancyP said...

Anorexia is life-threatening. Lack of sexual activity is not harmful to human physiology, and for many people, not harmful to mental status.

People do not engage in sexual activity for a wide number of rather prosaic reasons: too busy/tired, too much "opportunity cost" (time locating a reliable partner), regular partner sick, disabled, or dead, lack of privacy, lack of interest in available potential partners, too many experiences with inept, lazy, or inconsiderate partners, and just plain lack of interest.

Clarissa said...

NancyP: It sounds like you are defining sexual activity as necessarily partnered. I believe that human sexuality is, indeed, a lot more varied than that. Solitary sexual enjoyment, watching or reading pornography, fantasizing, sexual dreams etc. etc. - all these are sexual activities too. I don't think that experiences of those who engage mostly or exclusively in those should be in any way devalued.

sexual futurist said...

Anderson is guilty of grossly oversimplifying human sexuality and reducing it to mere intercourse when it is so much more than that. She unwittingly strengthens the hand of sexual repression by joining in the arguments of fundamentalists and other sexually repressing agents (like governments) when she reduces human sexuality to “nooky, whoopee or bonking.” She’s one of those characters from Oliver Twist, scolding “More? You want more?”