Slut (n.): A Woman with the Morals of a Man

Call me Isadora.

Reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, there were times when I thought to myself this is me! This is how I feel! This is what I think! Finally, a female protagonist who’s reclaiming the word “slut!” Long before Lisbeth Salander blazed her own sexual trail and her own moral code, accepting no alternatives, there was Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing.

Historically speaking, men have had to suffer through very few social changes in terms of their sexual standing. With a very few exceptions (namely a couple of tribes in Africa), men never had to contest their place as head of the family, or their superiority in the realms of physical strength, virility, and even intelligence. Women, on the other hand, have had a much rougher go of it. Even as recently as the late nineteenth century, women only accounted for 15% of the total workforce in the U.S. In the beginning of the twentieth century, women were still considered the “keepers of morality”, effectively giving men free rein to develop their sexual identity, while the women were expected to keep their virginity until they married. Any woman who failed to do so became a pariah, a poster child for sexual looseness, little better than a prostitute. “It is heresy in America to embrace any way of life except as half a couple. Solitude is un-American. It may be condoned in a man….but a woman is always presumed to be alone as a result of abandonment, not choice. And she is treated that way: as a pariah” (10). Men seemingly became more manly with each notch on their belts, yet women became less than women, almost monsters, if they followed the same path. Over a hundred years later, in a new millennium, where women can vote and even be president, how much have things really changed? What happens when a woman follows her sexual desires, straying outside the bounds of traditional marriage and social expectations? What becomes of a woman who is, to use a term that’s been used frequently from Shakespeare to 50 Cent, a slut?

In this novel, which, when it came out in 1973, became an instant controversy because of it’s blatant female sexuality, Isadora Wing finds herself choosing between her husband and her “zipless fuck.”

The zipless fuck was more than a fuck.  It was a platonic ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff. Tongues intertwined and turned liquid….For the true, ultimate zipless A-1 fuck, it was necessary that you never get to know the man very well….So another condition for the zipless fuck was brevity. And anonymity made it even better (11).

Does she do what society demands of her and stay with her husband? Or does she live out her own sexual fantasy and see what happens? In the first half of the novel, the reader follows Isadora as she goes back and forth between her husband, Bennett, and her lover, Adrian. This is where she started to lose me a little. What I first saw as a devil may care, sexual, independent woman seemed to shrink into a woman whose sexual waffling was really just the age-old drugstore romance-esque attempt to find “her other half.”  Even though she leaves her husband and goes off on a cross-European road trip with Adrian, I had all but lost faith in Isadora.

The next part of the book is Isadora describing to Adrian her past loves, including her first marriage to Brian, who turned out to think he was Jesus Christ and had to be committed, and her romance with Charlie, the conductor with a faulty baton (double entendre intended). Thus, we come to understand two main themes in the novel: sanity v. insanity and virility v. impotency, both of which are intimately connected to Isadora’s situation.

What is sanity in a woman? Is it finding a good man, starting a monogamous relationship which culminates in marriage, popping out some babies, and having dinner on the table when the hubby gets back from his hard day of bread-winning? Or is it being independent, sleeping with whomever you please whenever you please, doing what you love for its own sake, and living the life you want?

I suddenly had a passion to be that ordinary girl. To be that good little housewife, that glorified American mother, that mascot from Mademoiselle, that matron from McCall’s, that cutie from Cosmo, that girl with the Good Housekeeping Seal tattooed on her ass and advertising jingles programmed in her brain….I had a fantasy then of myself as a happy housewife….Me in apron and gingham shirtwaist waiting on my husband and kiddies while the omnipresent TV set sings out the virtues of the American home and the American slave-wife with her tiny befuddled brains (253).

This is why I began to lose faith in Isadora. I thought she was falling into the trap of thinking that it was EASIER to be what women are told they’re supposed to be. That instead of feeling that terrible loneliness that any independent woman feels after sleeping with the wrong guy or not sleeping with anybody for a while and missing that kind of contact, that instead she should  be that ideal American housewife, that life must be easier that way. And then, I was very pleasantly surprised. She turned out to be the woman I hoped she was in the beginning, only better, because now she was real. Not some new-age sexual Joan of Arc. She was me. She was any woman who dared to be more than what was expected of her:

But then the fantasy exploded. It burst like the bubble it was. I thought of all those mornings in New York when I had awakened with my husband and felt just as lonely….All those lonely moments measured out in coffee spoons, in laundry bills, in used toilet paper rolls, in dirty dishes, in broken plates, in canceled checks, in empty Scotch bottles. Marriage could be lonely too. Marriage could be desolate. All those happy housewives making breakfasts for husbands and kiddies were dreaming of running off with lovers to sleep in tents in France!….They constantly dreamed of escape. They constantly seethed with resentment. Their lives were pickled in fantasy (253).

Isadora: 1, Housewives of America: 0. Moral? We are all lonely. It’s up to us to find a way to be happy in spite of loneliness.

Next up, virility v. impotency. The ultimate male nightmare.  In this story, the males get more manly when they feel that their woman is interested in another man. Adrian can do no better than half-mast whenever Isadora is practically falling over herself to have him, but becomes a sex God whenever he’s trying to convince her to run away with him. Bennett takes it even further by bursting in on Adrian and Isadora in bed together and actually fucking her while Adrian watches. Isadora’s crazy ex-husband only sleeps with her when he thinks that Isadora believes that he can no longer satisfy her, and then he practically assaults her in his violent attempt to prove himself. Men feel threatened by independent women because the idea that a woman doesn’t NEED them is terrifying. It’s impotency at its finest. Everyone likes to feel needed, but women don’t necessarily feel less female if they don’t.

I’m going to stop now. I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just say this: it’s the classic case of woman versus society. In the end, Isadora Wing succeeds in doing what Edna Pontelier failed to do in The Awakening. She foregoes what she should do for what she desires to do. She realizes that, contrary to what she was brought up to believe and thought she did, she does not need anyone to complete her. “You did not have to apologize for wanting to own your own soul. Your soul belonged to you–for better or worse. When all was said and done, it was all you had” (288). And after a lot of wishy-washy “I love him/I love him not” in which I almost gave up on her as the feminist ideal, and instead of committing suicide a la Edna, she comes into herself, and realizes that she doesn’t need another half. She’s a whole all on her own. Women are a whole, all on their own.


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