Sunday, August 7, 2011

Revisiting Nancy Friday...

A few weeks ago I was rummaging through the hoards of dealers at the Aberfoyle Antiques Market near Guelph, Ontario, when, hidden away at the top of a crumbling pile of old books, I found an early edition of My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday.  Nancy was pretty much the first writer to expose women as the sexual beings they really are, and at a time when, even though Women's Lib was the in-thing, the acceptance of female sexuality beyond that of being a satisfier of the needs of men was still some time in the future.

In her introduction to My Secret Garden, Nancy explains that a novel she had been working on for some years, and which included some female erotic scenes, had received so much negative commentary from her publisher that she felt compelled to "shelve" the project, and concentrate on other work. That "other work" eventually evolved into My Secret Garden, a collection of women's erotic fantasies Nancy gathered together, originally from her close circle of family and friends, but then from the large numbers of letters she received in reply to her advertisement:

wanted by serious female researcher.
Anonymity guaranteed. Box XYZ...

The resulting avalanche of stories that Nancy received in her mail covered an incredible range of sexual activities, including many aspects of behaviour that even today's modern eroticists tend to steer clear of. Detailed fantasies of incest, rape, bestiality and pedophilia are presented alongside those of less nefarious acts, including inter-racial sex, lesbianism, domination, group sex - in fact, just about every sexual practice we eroticists love to write about is covered somewhere in this book!

But this book is more than just a collection of salubrious scenes presented without rhyme or reason! Far from it! Nancy arranges these confessions of feminine fantasy into a number of groups, dividing them along threads of justification, then activity, then a grouping detailing the origins of the fantasies discussed. There's a section on women's guilt at having their fantasies, and a short section on the anxiety of men knowing such fantasies exist. The penultimate chapter discusses various outcomes when fantasies are accepted by the parties, and the book closes with a chapter of "Quickies".

In presenting these scenes, Nancy keeps to the graphic language that the submissions use, which, for that time, was bound to be highly controversial.  Such language and scenery was usually found in the pages of mens pornographic magazines and, occassionally, in newer, cult novels of the era, but most certainly not in a serious deposition on sexual mores. However, the unbridled success of the book laid the foundation for many more sexually explicit publications, and especially paved the way for the incredible growth of female erotica authors who now knew that they were neither alone nor abnormal to have the fantasies they had, and to write them down for presentation to the field of avid readers who were waiting for them. Erotica was no longer the exclusive domain of the male, and we women owe a great debt to Nancy and her peers for breaking those rules and the iron grip the publishing industry had on who was allowed to write and publish erotica.

Nancy has continued to write on the same subject matter for almost the last 40 years, and has a number of works to her credit.  She followed up My Secret Garden with Forbidden Flowers, a further study in women's sexual fantasies. Another work, My Mother, My Self, investigates the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, and how this drives the patterns of future relationships throughout the daughter's life. Most recently, in 2009, she published Beyond My Control - Forbidden Fantasies in an Uncensored Age, that investigates the effects that the unbound female sexuality have had on erotica and erotic fantasies since the publication of My Secret Garden.

For any would-be eroticist, My Secret Garden and its sequels are required reading, as they place female-focussed erotica right alongside the more pornographic style of erotic tales more generally enjoyed by the male section of our audience, and ensures that we all understand that women deserve to have that kind of literature available to them just as much as men deserve theirs. 

Let's keep having fun out there!