Women’s Work

Combat in the Erogenous Zone

by Ingrid Bengis
Knopf, 260 pp., $6.95

The Inevitability of Patriarchy

by Steven Goldberg
Morrow, 256 pp., $6.95

The Manipulated Man

by Esther Vilar
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 184 pp., $5.95

Not in God’s Image

by Julia O’Faolain, by Lauro Martines
Harper & Row, 362 pp., $15.00

Male Chauvinism!

by Michael Korda
Random House, 242 pp., $6.95

Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation

by Mary Daly
Beacon, 225 pp., $8.95

From a distance, Oxford in Oxfordshire, the concentration of Women’s Liberation in New York City is a nightmare. Both sides in the argument seem bolted to Manhattan, a little island of battle. No end to the books on the subject is in sight—at least the publishers must be profiting.

This splurge has, of course, an irritating quality, as though only New Yorkers know how-hard-it-is-to-be-a-woman. But the noise may work to the good of the entire sex. The New York writers are not all brilliant, but still they are like the writers before the French Revolution: their effect, however wayward and hysterical it now seems, may have profound practical influence.

But why does this fixation on feminism occur in New York City? Why not Paris or London? The reasons are not very pleasant. For one thing, New York is unnaturally piled up with talent—ready, even desperate, to leap on causes. And the talents are exceptionally vocal, practiced over years on a variety of problems. Midge Decter passes easily from other social issues to that of women: The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women’s Liberation. Ms. Decter was also an editor of Harper’s when Norman (the Knuckle-Rapper) Mailer published there his Prisoner of Sex. And Jill Johnston’s Lesbian Nation develops easily out of her column in the Village Voice. And then there is Kate Millett, author of Sexual Politics, now The Prostitution Papers—and victim, in Harper’s, of Norman Mailer. One of his victims—I was another.

But it is clear too that New York City is exceptionally framed for feminism: no other Western city is so rude, outrageous, unbridled as New York. Gail Sheehy’s Hustling describes the everyday experiences of New York prostitutes, but life for everyone is abrasive. The one (and only one) thing you can almost sympathize with in Ingrid Bengis’s Combat in the Erogenous Zone is her resentment of construction workers’ hooting and whistling. And you must go to New York to be asked by strangers, “Wanna fuck?” But people are inclined to laugh at this sort of thing, or be bored by it. When, at night, an intensification to terror occurs, the police (if they are called in time) will pay attention. But they too are capable of distrust and mockery. It is not surprising, then, that women, getting home safely at last, open their typewriters. Naturally, they can’t compose calmly. Someone could be jimmying the lock on the back door of the apartment, unheard because of the typewriter’s clamor. So every word is given a nervous hurry—at once its irritation and its force.

Out of the worst city, comes the passion of revolt: an ironic capacity, borne by timidity out of risk. The comparative tepidity of London produces a matching tepidity of reaction. The racket of New York is unseemly, exhausting. One longs for the feminists to subside, to give quiet a chance again. But what good would that do? The grit of …

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