40 years after 'Fear of Flying,' Jong says many women yet to soar
Published 7:38 am, Thursday, October 10, 2013
Author and poet Erica Jong was afraid of flying until her ground-breaking 1973 novel, "Fear of Flying," forced her to travel via airplane around the world to talk about the best-selling book, credited with exploring uncharted feminist territory and redefining sexuality.
Jong still has one lingering fear -- writing fiction -- that explains why it's taken her a decade to write her latest work of fiction, "Fear of Dying." She shared that fact with an audience of nearly 200 people gathered Wednesday at the Westport Library to hear Jong talk about her landmark literary work on the 40th anniversary of its publication.
"I have never been anything other than frightened writing fiction. Non-fiction I can turn out easily. Poetry is ecstatic for me ... Fiction scares the bejesus out of me," said Jong, a resident of Weston and recipient of a Westport Arts Award.
In introducing Jong, program moderator Mary-Lou Weisman said that "Fear of Flying" showed "that women could be as aggressively libidinous as men. Its publication was greeted with cheers of delight, shrieks of horror, gasps of disbelief and sales of over 27 million." Weisman, a Westport author, screenwriter and essayist, is a fellow Westport Arts Award winner.
"It was THE book of this generation," said one woman in her 70s as she scanned the audience hoping to find more young women so she could tell them, `See, she broke all this ground for you.'
The book remains in print and continues to sell briskly, three new editions were published to celebrate its 40th anniversary and a feature-length movie is also in the works, Weisman said.
One woman asked Jong if she thought women were more liberated today than when she wrote "Fear of Flying." Jong answered by talking about the composition of Congress: "We have a pathetically small number of women in Congress."
She said she's glad there are three women on the U.S. Supreme Court, but, "It's not enough ... I don't think we've fulfilled our revolution."
Another indication of the current-day status of women, Jong said, is the popular novel, "Fifty Shades of Grey," which she called "nearly unreadable."
Jong said women should be ready to fly, but there's so much holding them back. "There is such sexism in our society, in our zeitgeist that it's really hard for women to progress as we should ... We are way behind other modern democracies in the way we treat pregnancy, birth, healthcare, early childhood education," Jong said.
"Everywhere I've gone in the world women's concerns are the same ... They want to control their bodies, they want access to the political process, they want to be paid the same as men, and they don't want to have to go into a panic attack every time they need to leave their children. They want to know that their children are safe and taken care of ... We all have the same complaints and the same desires," Jong said.
"If the world were ruled by grandmothers rather than grandfathers, there'd be fewer wars," she said.
Ellen Bregman of Westport brought with her a dog-eared, yellowed first edition paperback of "Fear of Flying."
"I've owned this book since I was a sophomore in high school," said Bregman, who said she thinks she "stole" it from her mother. "It was ground-breaking at the time. The push-pull of ambition versus career spoke to me," she said.
"I think she's terrific. I've been reading her for years. I'm 80 years old. She wrote about things I went through. She opened a whole new world for me in a good way. She was a woman I admired for her honesty," said Miriam Slater of Westport.
Neil Herschkowitz of Norwalk was one of the few men in the audience. He said he read the book when it was first published. "I have a signed first edition. Nobody dragged me here kicking and screaming.
"I've always liked her writing style. It's straightforward. Most women don't write like her. She writes like a man," Herschkowitz added.