By May S. Ruiz
The Broad Stage and esteemed L.A.-based publisher Red Hen Press continue Season 2 of the Red Hen Press Poetry Hour as they discuss modern feminism. The online episode, which will broadcast on Facebook Live on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m., will honor the extraordinary life and legacy of one of the leading proponents of feminism. Host Sandra Loh leads a program with five unique artists talking about the intersections between feminism, performance, identity, and poetry in the time following the demise of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the #MeToo Movement, and a century of women’s suffrage.
The five unique poets and writers who will appear on the program are: Erica Jong (on tape), whose first and most famous novel, “Fear of Flying,” published in 1973 sold 37 million copies, blowing conventional thinking about women, marriage and sexuality out of the water; Judy Grahn, a foremother of feminist, the gay and lesbian liberation movement; Brooklyn based gender-liminal multi- and inter-disciplinary artist C. Bain, whose “Debridement” (Great Weather for Media) was a finalist for the 2016 Publishing Triangle Awards; Pushcart Prize nominee and Jack Straw Writer Program alum Amber Flame, a queer Black mama just one magic trick away from growing her unicorn horn; and Monique Jenkinson known for her herstory-making work as cis-gendered drag queen Fauxnique, crossing cabaret and contemporary dance. Fauxnique’s “The F Word” will perform at The Broad Stage in 2021.
Known the world over, Jong has inspired women of all ages to acknowledge and voice their needs and desires. She agrees to be interviewed by email to talk about her work and feminism.
I begin by confiding that I managed to get a copy of her book “Fear of Flying” when I was a very naive high school student at a Catholic school and I felt it wasn’t something a “nice” girl should be reading. I ask if that was a common reaction at that time.
Jong responds, “I think that some people were shocked and other people relieved. Through the years people have breathed a sigh of relief and said, ‘now I know that I am not abnormal. Now I know that other women think about sex and love the way I do.’ I guess it depends on when the person reads my work; some people feel relieved that their feelings are like mine and other people, perhaps younger, are shocked. What I have learned is that the response to a book is never static. I continue to be grateful to my readers for all their responses.”
I inquire if it was meant to be provocative and Jong says, “I guess so! I don’t think there is any point in writing if people are indifferent.”
When I ask why she wrote it, Jong replies, “I think I was upset that women’s books were not honest enough. I think however difficult it is, honesty is essential to the writer and to the person! I write to share my courage and I’m immensely grateful to my readers for communicating with me”
Has feminism come a long way from the bra-burning days of the 1960s? I query. To which Jong replies, “The feminist revolution has taken much too long. Remember that it started in the 18th century. Ever since Mary Wollstonecraft, we have been trying to tell the truth about our lives. Unfortunately, there are moments of regression but the main thing is that women have become more honest about dealing with feelings. We would never accept the silence that was forced on us in the past. Many women now feel they have the right to demand what they need. The incredible response to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows how much we still need feminist heroines to inspire us.”
The topic of feminism is still an important discussion today. As Jong explains, “I wish I could say that women’s honesty has been embraced by everyone but that is not the case. We must still encourage each other to tell the truth about our lives.”