What Are You Working On?
I've been thinking about the issues for over a decade, and when I read Wendy Shalit's A Return To Modesty back in the late 90's I was inspired to write such a book about about sexual freedom but didn't really have it in me at the time. Somewhere, I have 40 pages of juvenile drivel, but at least those got me thinking about sexual freedom within a slightly broader context. I had the same angry reaction to a book about sex when I read Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs. In some ways my book is an answer to hers, written by someone whom she might term a "female chauvinist pig," about what sexual empowerment and choice really mean. So this project feels like the natural culmination of many years of thought and research.
The more immediate influence was when a married man twice my age, who barely knows me, said to me, "I envy your erotic life." There were many sad elements to that statement, and at first I got angry because at the time, I really didn't and still don't have that much of an erotic life to envy. He'd said that because I spanked my friend a few times over the Fourth of July, and that seemed apparently so glamorous and exciting to him but meanwhile, he's married and lives with someone, whereas I'm single and don't really have sex all that often. What I think he meant is that he envied my ability to be so open about my desires, when it seemed to me that nothing was stopping him from also having an "enviable" sex life.
It made me realize that so much of our sexual sense of self is about comparing ourselves to others, and we often come way with false ideas about what other people's sex lives are like. It also seems to me that instead of feeling "free" in the sense of being able to live out our sexual fantasies and be our authentic sexual selves, we now see certain options dangled before us -- but woe unto those who try to live them out. The level of vitriol aimed at sex workers, or anyone who dares to explore sexuality, is frightening. Sara DeKeuster, the photo editor of an independent school paper at her Wisconsin university, published a photo essay about her rape fantasies; to Marcie Betts, who was fired from her job as a corrections officer for having posed for an internet porn site, to photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who has photographed both Presidents Bush and many politicians, but recently found his photos censored at art fair palmbeach3 when county officials objected to "the genitalia and even more the expression on the women's faces, which suggested pornography."
Or just take the really horrible things people have said about my friend Jessica Cutler, aka The Washingtonienne -- "slut" and "whore" are really just the tip of the iceberg -- not to mention the lawsuit pending against her by an ex-lover. These and other instances of not just societal prudery but absolute disdain and contempt for anyone choosing a different erotic path made me realize that sex is still a very treacherous area if you're doing it in any way that's not considered "traditional." We are not living in an age where people are truly sexually free, from my married friend to so many others, and I want to explore why that is and try to offer some potential solutions.
I've had to really challenge my own beliefs and think as broadly as possible. So many books about sex, and especially sexual politics, are aimed solely at women, and I think that's a mistake. It's not just a feminist or women's issue, and I want to include men's opinions because I think men are also highly affected by this lack of sexual freedom, whether it's overtly or simply in their heads. The research feels easy in the sense that it's coming from publications, blogs and books that I'm reading anyway, whether for my own interest or in the course of other work.
I haven't been able to give it as much attention as I'd like, but it's rewarding to think in terms that are a little longer than 1,100 words, and to feel like I possibly could have a say in some of these national conversations and see my arguments fleshed out. It's also one of those projects where the more I think about these issues, the more they pop out at me when they're in the news. Gathering examples and doing research is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece of information a vital part that I have to figure out how to turn and twist to make it fit.
Well, ideally I will be done with this proposal, which seems like a never-ending process, by February. Then I have to go over it with my agent and once we get it to our mutual liking, she'll start shopping it around. It seems to be taking much longer than I'd expected -- this is actually book proposal version 3.0 for me, after a few other ideas just didn't pan out -- so I'm hoping that this is The One. Should that happen, I guess it might be published in late 2007 or 2008, though right now I'm just looking to sell the proposal and get the core thesis sorted out, then I hope things will fall into place in terms of fleshing out the rest of the book.
Rachel's Lusty Lady blog
Bookmouth interviews Rachel about Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z
Rachel's list on amazon.com of "books featuring my writing"
See more What Are You Working On? interviews.
published 30 Jan 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco