Getting More Interested in Cheryl Strayed

Though this write-up, “Eat, Pray, Love Like a Badass: Cheryl Strayed, the Oprah Author 2.0,” does a suspicious cheerleader vs school slut thing with Elizabeth Gilbert.

But Strayed, with her unsentimental, unflinching attitude toward the muck of life, seems like an odd choice to be paired with Oprah’s New Age-lite brand of yoga pants, vision boards, and Dr. Oz-endorsed juice cleanses. Strayed’s “radical empathy” contradicts Dr. Phil’s blustering judgmental condemnations. In her 2006 blueprint essay for Wild, “The Love of My Life,” Strayed gives a hard glimpse into a bout of promiscuity after her mother’s death that eventually ended her marriage: “I didn’t bargain, become depressed, or accept. I fucked. I sucked. Not my husband, but people I hardly knew, and in that I found a glimmer of relief.” This is a sharp contrast to the first line of Gilbert’s memoir, “I wish Giovanni would kiss me,” conjuring giddy, girlish romance in a foreign land.

Not to say the contrast isn’t there to be exploited.

Then there was another woman writing, first-person, about emotion and sex. Mazza coming out as being “frigid,” a word she uses deliberately, with all its baggage. Rather than the perhaps more artful term asexual.

When women write about sex, they have to deal with a certain amount of double consciousness: awareness that they are perceived as both sexual objects and sexual subjects. Enjoying sex (or not), and then writing about it, demands an acutely self-aware stance. It’s a nasty distillation of all the complexities of women writing.

Mazza’s essay could have been less stream-of-consciousness for my taste, but its strained work fits the topic quite well. Overintellectualizing a state of being in which there is no sensual escape from the mind.

The gender politics of the whole meshugas, though, was strikingly absent. Perhaps in Mazza’s book she confronts the irony of living a stereotype, of being that woman who just doesn’t care for sex. Who lays back and thinks of England. And how destructive that stereotype has been for women over the ages. Perhaps this constitutes the intellectual underpinnings of her obvious discomfort writing about her sexless life.

On the other hand, shame on me for entertaining, even for a second, assumptions about how this writer feels or thinks about her body. She wrote a memoir, sure. But that doesn’t give us the right to assume anything about the life she left off the page.

I’m running out of time for a full-bore rampage about women’s bodies, and writing, and sexuality. So consider it ranted. Boom. (The perils of blogging: incomplete thoughts, partial analyses.) I’ll be back with more when I get the chance.

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