My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday

Well, this post turned out a little rant-ier than I thought it would – it might get edited later, but probably not – It’ll just have to be ranty.

I’ve just finished reading My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday, and I wanted to talk about it a bit. While I don’t talk about it much, I do read ‘Feminist’/Egalitarian blogs and one of the often talked about issues is ‘sexy’ stuff. Sadly, a lot of Internet feminism is still pretty backwards while trying desperately to convince itself otherwise. So, My Secret Garden is a pretty popular book about sex, written in the 70s and reprinted about eight or nine times a decade each decade since then.

An obvious warning – I’m gonna talk about a sex book…with sex in it. Duh.

My Secret Garden doesn’t claim to be very serious – it’s certainly not exhaustive or unbiased, not by a long shot. It’s very much for a 20-40 white female audience (mostly) interested in heterosexual sex, written by a similarly aged white woman. It’s self aware enough of this – when talking about ‘The Black Man’ fantasies, it’s discussed that obviously it’s a lot of expectation (of increased sex ability being based simply on skin colour) that just isn’t true. But it is interesting. It’s a collection of female sexual fantasy organised (roughly) alongside Friday’s armchair psychology explanations. The important point is it wants to ‘demyth-ify’ the idea that women don’t have sexual fantasies and that if they do – it’s because they are unsatisfied. And I do think we’ve moved on from the seventies in that respect – at least partially.

Women are a lot more sexually free now – my small (ish) town alone has two different sex toy and paraphernalia dedicated shops that people freely walk into without getting weird looks. It’s a lot worse being a man and visiting a sex shop – there isn’t a lot on offer beyond ‘novelty’ underwear and cock rings in a lot of shops – anything else is online. But it’s not all roses (as it were) – there’s still a lot of sexual negativity towards women engaging in non-monogamous relationships – that’s the unfortunate ‘slut shaming’ nature of current ‘liberal’ internet feminism.

It is something that Friday mentioned in her book – that there’s this prevailing shame and guilt attached from birth to sex – being a ‘good girl’ or a ‘clean girl’ so someday someone can marry you because that should be your ultimate life goal. She suggested (which is a perfectly sensible suggestion) more women talking about sex would help dispel this – but sadly no. While I can easily walk ten to twenty minutes and buy a vibrator and be considered sexually liberated, a lot of sex neg feminism would consider me buying porn to be terrible (and sadly not because porn is so readily free on the Internet) because it ‘demeans women’ and I would be a ‘gender traitor’.

Other sins of the internet feminism include: All men are potential rapists, and ‘You’re a misogynist’ really means ‘You disagree with me and I can’t convince you with a real argument.’

I do in fact own vibrators (which I assume is deemed okay because it frees me from needing a real man’s penis…or some such crap) and I do like porn. But I’m not a feminist. Because sadly I do think a lot of people don’t argue in good faith for equal rights but just want to be angry about things and blame men’s penis’s and business’. I think that equal rights isn’t just a gender issue – Egalitarian is the much better catch all. Because while it is terrible that women have a different set of standards expected of them just for being a woman, lots of other things suck too. It sucks that young people are expected to work for either little or no money at all and be grateful for it. It sucks that men are still more likely to suffer and die from illnesses like cancer than get a check up because that’s not the ‘manly’ thing to do.

But I’m rambling (feel my rage at Internet feminism!). So while the books ‘message’ – or the message that I’m taking from it – of more communication and there being nothing wrong with fantasy is a good one, the book has its flaws. It could have done (in its many many reprints) with some serious editing. The middle drags and the whole chapter on ‘types’ of fantasy is very badly organised.

The book was also guilty of…well, sexism. It mentioned more than once that women are better than men at having fantasies without a whole lot of justification. And I don’t believe that women are better than men at fantasy. Or better than men full stop. There’s this idea – Patriarchy hurts men too. It’s something that gets brushed aside by a lot of people as a ‘tactic’ to derail arguments. Because men aren’t supposed to (according to some people at least) join the discussion, but only sit and listen like good little dogs. And people expect me to believe that’s arguing for equality? Not even a little bit about revenge?

The biggest problem I had, however, was her ‘categories’. Some categories were vague, such as ‘The thrill of the forbidden’ which other categories (most of them in fact) could fit under anyway. Friday also has two categories, ‘Pain and Masochism’, and ‘Domination’ that she doesn’t really give satisfyingly different definitions for. Her explanation of domination is just that it involves ‘humiliation’ and that’s that. I’m assuming it’s because the author herself isn’t interested in these fantasys personally but a good editor would at least want a more helpful discussion of them.

Beyond that, alongside Friday’s commentary and conclusions there are a lot of women’s fantasies taken from letters and recordings demonstrating the range and depth of fantasies women have. Friday explains in the book that while initially unwilling to talk about sex, after seeing other accounts, women were a lot more willing after seeing that having these fantasies is normal and all these other women do it. And I can appreciate the freeing feeling that must have made for a lot of people reading the book. We think about sex and that’s okay.

So, to wrap up! While it’s a flawed (and did I mention biased?) book in many ways, it’s still interesting to read. And I do like reading naughty stories.

As an aside – websites I do read: No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?, The Pervocracy, Captain Awkward, and others. And I may in the future talk about why I’m not a feminist some more.

One thought on “My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday

  1. Pingback: The Year in Review: Books! | Studious Octopus

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