Banned Books: Women on Top by Nancy Friday
8th Feb 2012
This style continues throughout the book – even looking at the chapter headings would cause the more prudish of us to gasp. Its author, Nancy Friday, was already well known for her frank discussions about sexuality in her previous books.
My Secret Garden and Forbidden Flowers had shocked and amazed her readers in the 1970s and 80s; but Women on Top was different. It admitted that real women had sexual fantasies that related or were influenced by their lives and that they were willing to talk about them.
According to Friday, she was one of the first to publicly discuss the topic in her earlier books (which went through endless red tape to get published and promoted) but up until Women on Top the real lives of these women had never been examined in relation to their fantasies.
Nancy Friday writes in a rather ‘pop-psychology’ style that is accessible and chatty – and also very candid. She encourages the women in her book to tell every detail about their sexual fantasies, no matter how unusual or explicit.
As a modern young woman of the 21st century, even I was a little shocked at how much graphic detail these women went into. They all clearly trusted Friday with this information, and some give quite a few personal details about their lives (though no surnames of course).
The point is of course that we are meant to analyse their fantasies with reference to the circumstances – both social and sexual – of their real lives.
It is this admittance that our real selves, our public selves, interact with such unabashed sexuality within our imaginations that no doubt shocked people.
However it is a simple fact that people will never fail to be shocked by sex; and especially not when a former Catholic nun tells all about her naughty fantasies involving a priest (really).
Friday has been constantly challenged for her very open and honest attitude to sex and its psychologies, and Women On Top was another opportunity for the critics to get their teeth stuck in.
Our immediate feminist reaction is that the press and public simply disapproved of such graphic and candid discussions about female sex. This must be at least partly true – the detail is minute – but there was more to it than that.
Relating sexual fantasies to real life suggested that sex was a vital part of our psyche, part of our personality and what made us who we were. It was not just something that had to happen to procreate or express love – it was also a base instinct that was part of the make up of human life.
Even after Freud and Kinsey, people were still afraid to bring the issue of sex and its fantasies to the forefront of society. The fact that Friday’s book was entirely about women’s sexual fantasies only served to make it more shocking to the average member of the reading public.
Men, Friday states, are seen to ‘need’ sex in a way that women apparently don’t – we are not supposed to want to do it; but guess what, we do. Friday was completely unafraid to be upfront with everyone and say, yes, women like and want sex, and it isn’t always about love, marriage and babies – sometimes they just want to have a good time and some orgasms. Where’s the harm in that?
The women who contributed their fantasies obviously thought there was no harm in it. A lot of them are religious or had a religious upbringing; are married or in a long term relationship; and some of them are very young.
Either way most of them have felt, at some point in their lives, that men are supposed to be the ones in control; but no more. Friday has made them realise that they have sexual needs and desires that are sometimes completely unrelated to the men in their lives.
If their real life men do play a role, it’s a role the women have chosen for them – the women have the choice and the control. Nothing here is traditional, conventional or co-dependent. These are independent women.
Have you read Nancy Friday? Intrigued by her? Agree or disagree with Women on Top being banned? Comment below and let me know what you think!