Spurned Sex Columnists Mistake Roguery for Revolution

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Spurned Sex Columnists Mistake Roguery for Revolution by Ruth Shalit

Sex in the City Sex and the City
by Candace Bushnell.
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996; 228 pages.)
Sexplorations: Journeys to the
Erogenous Frontier
by Anka Radakovich.
(Crown Books, 1997; 222 pages.)

A revolution is brewing in the literary marketplace. Sexual writing by women is moving out of the margins and into the journalistic mainstream. In her new book, Sexplorations, former Details columnist Anka Radakovich trolls for dates at a sex-addicts group meeting (“Come here often?” she asks); extols the glories of vaginal Ping-Pong; and invites a diffident Christian boyfriend to “put out for Jesus.” In Sex and the City, Candace Bushnell ponders the advantages of three-way gropefests and revels in “the luxury of treating men like sex objects.” Is this a post-feminist insurrection or a marketing putsch?


Certainly many of these writers have a commercial motive in mind. When staging a literary revolution, it never hurts to be sans-culottes. But some members of the new cohort claim a political motive as well. By exposing their most private depredations, these writers argue, they perform a public good. Radakovich refers to herself as “a pro-sex feminist” and “a women’s libber for the ’90s.” In an appendix, Radakovich’s father compares his daughter to “the feminist writers in the 60s” and proudly eggs her on: “You have a unique opportunity to speak for women.”


It is exciting to follow these voluptuous, thirtysomething vamps as they prowl sex clubs, deflower virgins, and titter over the vagaries of male anatomy. More specifically, it is exciting to see men debased and dehumanized in the same way that men

debase and dehumanize women. At last, you think, the shoe is on the other foot. When a male compatriot at a nudist retreat praises Radakovich’s “big nipples,” Anka smartly returns the compliment. “Thanks,” she says, “I really like your large scrotum.” Meanwhile, Bushnell and her gal pals whoop it up as they recall the erotic technique of “Tom Peri,” an aging Manhattan rentier. “I thought he was awful,” says one of Bushnell’s friends. “Can we please talk about his feet?”


At times these self-styled pioneers seem less women than praying mantises, pursuing their hapless targets with predatory intensity. Radakovich lewdly describes her “c.bs” (chick boners): hankering for a contestant at a weightlifting convention, she brushes against his “barbell.” “It felt like a steel bar,” she writes. “Suddenly, my clitoris erectus felt like it was on steroids.” Another suitor accuses Radakovich of desiring “emotional involvement.” “Little did he guess,” she writes, “all I wanted from him was his penis for about an hour.” You can almost hear the mandibles clicking.


Though she moves in more elegant thoroughfares, replete with polo ponies, cucumber sandwiches and other emblems of luxury and comfort, Bushnell is even cruder in her calculus of sexual possession. When one of her crowd targets a man as potential husband material, it seems there is very little he can do to get away. “Women in this town don’t care if a guy is married or engaged,” one of Bushnell’s friends informs her, “they’ll still go after him. You have to be on top of it all the time.” Bushnell casually explodes the myth of “difference” feminism: that men are by nature aggressive, women nurturant and gentle. The frenzied femmes of Sex in the City are masculinized creatures, driven to erotic excess by their bestial need for drugs, money, power. Woe to the doe-eyed artiste who stumbles into their toxic lair. Bushnell’s friend “Charlotte” recalls a luckless “poet who was terrific in bed . . . but who kept wanting me to go to dinner with him and go through all the chat bit.” Recently, Charlotte says, the poet had stopped calling: “He wanted to read me his poetry, and I wouldn’t let him.” Charlotte and “Carrie,” Bushnell’s fictionalized alter ego, are relieved when they read in Cosmopolitan about women with high levels of testosterone. According to Cosmo, these women are more aggressive, more successful, have more sex partners and are less likely to get married. “There was something incredibly comforting about this information,” writes Bushnell. “It made you feel like you weren’t a freak.”


With their talon nails, kohled eyes and creepily rapacious erotic appetites, Bushnell and Radakovich remind us that every vamp is at heart a vampire — an aggressive, primitive succubus whose sexuality subverts the social order. In an age when

Victoria’s Secret’s bestselling lingerie line is “Angel,” a demure festival of opalescent ruffles, could it be that alpha males are turned on by such blatant displays of female roguery? Anka says yes. “Women should treat men like sex objects more often. Men love that.” But do they? It’s revealing that just before beginning her publicity tour, Bushnell admitted she’d been cast off by Vogue publisher Ron Galotti, the rich, stony-hearted “Mr. Big” of Sex and the City. “I’ll probably write something about the breakup,” sighed Bushnell in an interview with Time Out New York. “What’s a private life, anyway?” The revelation, duly flacked in an accompanying publicity packet, gives Bushnell’s portraits of yuppie dissolution a retrospective poignancy. Indeed, for all their swagger and androgynous sangfroid, Bushnell’s libidinous heroines turn out to be a surprisingly lonely and vulnerable bunch. “No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Bushnell mourns. “No one has affairs to remember . . . How did we get into this mess?”


The considerably less reflective Radakovich, clinging to the role of prankish ingenue, also finds herself in a bit of a mess. Her naughty outfits and gynecological bluster may excite pubescent Details subscribers, but such hamfisted grossness is likely to send grown-up men scurrying for the exits. In a terse chapter titled “The Sequel,” the columnist admits to having been unceremoniously dumped by the winner of Details’ much-hyped “Win a Date with Anka” contest. “Most guys will say anything to get into a woman’s pants,” laments Radakovich, as her hunky date’s eyes begin to wander. “Yet he was saying anything to not get into mine.” When she sneaks a peek at his diary, her suspicions are confirmed. “I don’t owe her anything,” writes the sex goddess’ putative suitor, a twentysomething Californian named Tom. “Anka is so into me, it pushes me away.” As the rejected Radakovich shoves her quarry out the door of her bachelorette pad, she snaps, “Sorry I wasn’t attractive enough for you.”


“It wasn’t just your looks,” Tom replies. “It was also your personality.”


By the end of the book, we know just what he means.

©1997 Ruth Shalit and Nerve.com