Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Modern, Feminist, Egalitarian Types" in Love

For reasons that we need not try to understand, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s column, “The Unlikely Other Woman” was rejected by the “Modern Love” section of the New York Times.

Happily enough, a new website has just appeared, dedicated to publishing columns that were rejected by the Times. Among its first publications was Bussel’s column. Link here.

Bussel is a writer. She writes about sex. She writes about her own sexual experiences and about the sexual experiences of others. She has, dare I say, pretty much tried it all, and has emerged as an expert in matters erotic. We might fairly say that she is skilled in the arts of love.

I will not say that she is a sex professional, because that term has a pejorative connotation, but, were she living in a different time, she would happily fulfill the requirements to be a mistress, courtesan, or concubine.

I think it fair to say that if that is the way you want to be identified, you will naturally attract men who are looking for sexual adventure, who want to explore the wilder side of sexual experience.

Some of you might find it horrifying and profoundly offensive, but a woman who exposes her sexuality should not expect to marry and settle down in a conventional existence.

In fact, self-exposure will pretty much immunize a woman from having a conventional life. If that is her choice, that is her prerogative.

Bussel’s rejected column details a passionate love affair. In properly modest terms.

The affair involved her with a married man. Not an unhappily married man in a “loveless sexless marriage,” she specifies, but a man who was “happily married, in an open relationship.”

It happens that the marriage was not open enough for the man to tell his wife of the affair, but… let’s not be too nit-picky here.

Of course, Bussel was concerned that an affair with a married man might open her to emotional risks. She thought it through and concluded that she had the situation under control: “We were modern, feminist, egalitarian types who could separate sex and love, marriage and monogamy. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I started flirting with him—or so I thought.”

Those are the words of someone whose ideology has caused her to imagine that she is immune from a normal woman’s feelings.

Isn‘t that what all of this ideology about socially constructed gender roles is really supposed to accomplish; to allow women to have sex like men?

Bussel was especially enthralled by this man because he was reading her erotic writings and was willing to give her so much attention. After all, what with his career and his marriage, he was a very busy man.

She was so utterly enthralled that when they met for their first tryst, and when the man told her that he had had sex several times with his wife that very day, Bussel was undeterred. She soldiered on, basing her decision on the intensity of her feelings.

In her words: “He picked me up and I melted into him; there was no way an attraction that powerful could be wrong.”

Sorry to say it, but many women have been lured into the wrong relationship by telling themselves: “THERE WAS NO WAY AN ATTRACTION THAT POWERFUL COULD BE WRONG.”

If you do not understand that a powerful desire can, and often is, wrong, then you do not understand much about human relationships.

It doesn’t take that long for Bussel to decide that she wants more than just the great sex. Despite herself and despite her feminist convictions, her emotions become involved in the relationship.

The more they do, the more it becomes about her soul as well as her body. Then she discovers that desire is not the be-all and end-all of human relationships… especially for men.

She had made a grievous miscalculation. If you believe that desire conquers all, read carefully what happens when Bussel tries to open her soul to her lover: “I had tried to distill my feelings for him down to their simplest essence, and he’d dismissed me as a lovestruck nuisance. My birthday came and went without even a text.”

How does she explain where she went wrong? She writes: “I thought I was too smart to get hurt, which was my ultimate downfall.” Here I agree entirely. Intellectual arrogance led her astray.

She thought she was so smart that reality did not apply to her. She believed that the mind can control reality, that if you think differently or speak differently then you will change the world, or, at least, you will change your emotional makeup.

Keep in mind, Bussel was not looking for a husband. She was looking for a lover. She wanted to have an affair. She wanted to practice her advanced skills as master of sexual pleasure. And that was exactly what she found.

She claims to have no regrets.

The moral of the story is that a woman’s free and open expression of her sexuality will require her to repress her emotions.

When those same emotions escape their shackles and catch up with you, it will not be a happy day.

Bussel declares that she would not do it differently. I imagine that she felt that she had to say that. Since she described her experience as a “downfall” I suspect that she was saying what her readers want her to say, not what she really feels.


Anonymous said...

She has a blog to maintain after all.

Dennis said...

I find it hard not to smile or almost laugh when I read things like this by avowed feminists. Point in fact I could not stop a chuckle while reading.
The more one tries to prove that we are the same the more they prove we are different. It does appear that the more feminists try to change the dynamics the more they become what they said they did not want to become.
It always happens to those who believe they are smarter, better and so much wiser than others. It is irony at its best and most satirical.

blahga the hutt said...

I agree with Dennis, though I periodically rolled my eyes as I read it rather than chuckle.

I also got the impression from reading it that although she does not blame him directly, she passive aggressively deflects it onto him.

I'd be extremely leery of being with a woman like that. If she's had sex that many times with so many different people, who knows what she has? I call this type of person "damaged goods." And no, I'm not a promiscuous person.

I'm sure we can all agree as well that for her to say that she had "no regrets" is pretty much a huge load of BS.

Kiri Blakeley said...

Stuart, you have lately blogged about my Forbes blog on Botox as well as a contributor to my ModernLoveRejects site. Not sure why I deserve all of the attention, but thanks.:) At any rate, I think Rachel Kramer Bussel, like anyone else who writes a memoir or personal essay, wrote it with one goal in mind: to be honest with her readers. Not to paint herself in a perfect light. Not to cast judgments on her (former) self. And not even necessarily take stock of what happened and what she "learned"-- oh, Americans are so big on learning! Not everything is a school lesson. I think she was merely sharing one particularly experience with us, which was bound up with sex and love.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Kiri. I do enjoy reading your posts on Forbes and am happy to comment on and link them. I find your writing compelling and engaging, and, if anything, I should probably write about it more often.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

And I thought that your Modern Love Rejects site was a great idea. Congratulations. So I wanted to bring it to the attention of those who read my blog.

I do agree with you that some people do write about their personal experiences in a way that does not involve providing lessons or judgments.

I can think of someone off hand who fits that category, but I will refrain.

Anyway Rachel Kramer Bussel does herself offer explanations and lessons and commentary about her experience. He offers us the principles that led her to make her decisions.

If she defined herself as a modern egalitarian feminist and if this identity was the basis for her decision, then I think it fair to mention it.

I do believe that another person might have gotten involved in a similar situation without having identified herself in the same way, but that was Bussel's choice.

I also thought that many of RKB's insights were great. They offered a great picture of how her mind was processing information and coming to a decision.

I thought it fair to praise her for her openness about her decision making.