The XX Factor

The Sexual Revolution is Dead! Long Live the Sexual Revolution!

Photo by CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

One thing Erica Jong always wants to make sure you understand is that nothing ever changes. Stale old white men still rule the world, the ‘70’s remain the only decade that ever mattered, Erica Jong is still being overlooked for “professorships and prizes,” women “still have wombs and breasts and need health care different from men so we can still be manipulated.”

Jong’s piece in the Daily Beast  is responding to an essay I wrote in the Wall Street Journal defending the sexual revolution. But apparently I did not defend the sexual revolution in exactly the correct way, because I “just don’t get it,” she writes and what I don’t seem to get is that Erica Jong and her truly feminist contemporaries (as opposed to the fake feminists of my generation) marched in the streets in vain, because after all these years, all their marching has not changed the fact that we “still have wombs and breasts,” etc.   

Well forgive me, but if the disappearance of “wombs and breasts” is the only standard for victory how will we ever win? One thing that gets muddled in moments like this, by which I mean the current “war on women,” is just how much things have changed since, say, the 1970’s. Just because Rick Santorum exists (and in every American election, I can assure you, there will always be a Rick Santorum) does not mean we have been thrown back into the pre civil rights era. The most convincing responses to, say, Rush Limbaugh, are full of condescension and humor, because the only appropriate thing to say at this moment is some version of, “Are you serious?”

As Margaret Talbot pointed out in the New Yorker, a society that has become utterly dependent on the unfettered ambition of women can not with a straight face reopen a conversation about contraception. And that’s where things have changed. We can fight  Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh but we can’t be expected to take them seriously.