We’ve all come across the type: the divorced 50-plus woman of painfully politically correct politics who wants to tell you all about her orgasms. Feminist ideology has wreaked havoc in every generation, starting with first-graders subjected to textbooks informing them that girls are smart and boys are stupid, but Hymomitz suggests that its most pathetic victims are this cohort of Baby Boomer women who are taught that their chief goal should be independence from every other human being–just at the time when their bodies are starting to fail and they are going to be most dependent on the kindness of somebody or other. Her article is a review of new books by ur-Boomer feminists Gail “Seasoned Woman” Sheehy, Erica “Seducing the Demon” Jong, and Jane “A Round-Heeled Woman” Juska (Juska’s the one who put an ad in the New York Review of Books seeking casual sex at age 66 and found herself having casual sex at age 66 with a lot of truly repulsive-sounding men).
Here’s Hymowitz on Sheehy, who believes that divorce isn’t the marital tragedy that most people make it out to be, because being single is so much fun, no matter how advanced in years you are:
A 50 percent divorce rate and the heavy damage inflicted on legions of children haven’t dampened her enthusiasm. Sheehy eagerly cites a study showing two-thirds of divorces among couples over 40 initiated by women. That’s because women, like men, ‘love the freedom that being single brings’ citing independence, getting to keep their houses however they want, and not having to compromise with another person. Single women are in a better position to ‘get to know [their] new self.’ They also go on dates in the ‘midlife singles bazaar.’ Sheehy quotes an AARP survey about midlife singles: 75 percent of women who divorced in their fifties had a serious relationship after splitting from their husbands. The fact that more men, 81 percent, had such relationships passes by without comment. At any rate, ‘lusty, liberated women’ are finding lots of romance, much of it, she assures us, with younger men.
Here she is on Jong and Juska:
The memoirs by Erica Jong and Jane Juska in particular illustrate how feminism’s promotion of self-actualization makes it particularly ill suited for women, no matter what their politics, who are racing toward the day when they will become deeply and humbly dependent on the kindness and love of others. In fact, Jong has always been a case study in the porous boundary between feminism and narcissistic indifference toward other people’s reality. Her breakout novel, Fear of Flying, celebrated for its uninhibited depiction of female sexuality, was also thinly disguised autobiography that must have caused great pain to the two ex-husbands and numerous lovers she once had (presumably) cared for. That’s not unusual: male novelists beyond number have betrayed family and lovers in their books, too. But in the spirit of those let-it-all-hang-out times, Jong won applause not despite her callous exhibitionism and disregard for others’ privacy but because of them. Her exhibitionism, like that of the hordes of women confessors who have followed her, was taken as proof of her irreverent honesty, bravery, and admirably voracious libido.
Nor was the self-absorption much of a friend to those closest to her. She collected lovers and husbands the way some people collect orchids. ‘I seem to have married people because they would make good material,’ she muses. The one who suffered the most was her daughter, Molly, the progeny of one of those husbands from whom she separated very early in the marriage. Jong appears to have had no interest in creating a coherent family life for her clearly troubled child. As she whiled away summers with her Venetian lover, her daughter, who has recently written an acid memoir describing those years, hung out at the Cipriani pool with her nanny and the neglected children of European celebrities. After divorcing Molly’s father, Jong wrote a smiley-face children’s book, Megan’s Book of Divorce, telling the story of a lucky child who can now enjoy two sets of presents, two sets of toys, and two sets of families, though the book fails to include the procession of men, some of them young enough to be Molly’s brother, traipsing in and out of her mother’s bedroom. So Jong got her orgasms and fed her muse, while, unsurprisingly, Molly became a depressed teenager with a serious drug addiction.
And as in the case of Jong, Juska’s egotism turns out to have a long history that has badly hurt her child. Juska admits to leaving her son’s father without much thought, ‘I just sort of forgot my husband,’ and to being so self-involved that she doesn’t notice when the child jumps into the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim. Inspired by the women’s movement, she refuses to cook dinner for him (though she does learn to masturbate ‘without guilt’), and she considers changing her name from Juska, the name of her ex-husband, until her quasi-orphaned child wails: ‘If you change your name, I won’t belong to anybody.’
By ninth grade, the child expresses his despair by shaving his head and becoming a drugged-out, petty-criminal runaway, living wretchedly on the Berkeley streets. Both Juska’s and Jong’s children are now grown, married, and seemingly on good terms with their mothers, but interestingly enough, they both independently refuse to read their books. You can’t blame them.
The ever-upbeat Sheehey informs us that the new, thrilling life of the Desperate Grandma should be called “Second Adulthood.” But Hymowitz’s essay shows us that these Boomer women, indoctrinated by radical feminism to believe that their own needs and desires trump those of all others, may have never entered First Adulthood.