By following a group of four contemporary girls - including her younger self - as they come of age in the seventies, Wolf shows how our culture tries to shape and confine women's desire. Embarking on a voyage of discovery, she illustrates how flawed and prescribed are the notions of what women want, and how these change through the ages - from Taoist techniques for giving women pleasure, to Victorian repression, and the so-called liberated nineties.
Drawing on scholarly texts, secret diaries, real life and fantasy, she demonstrates that female sexuality is wilder, more demanding and more powerful than our culture dares to accept.
In this first-person account of growing up female in post-sexual revolution America--"not a polemic but a set of confessions, a subjective exploration"--Wolf (Fire with Fire) examines the "shadow slut" who trails "girls" in a culture that demands they be sexual even as it dismisses and devalues female desire. The result is an at times awkward melange of memoir, reportage and academic anthropology. Contrary to our enduring Victorian myth of sexually rapacious men and passive women, Wolf argues, women--with their capacity for multiple orgasms--are the more carnal sex. However, the sexual experiences recounted here offer few glimmers of pleasure. Still, there are nuggets, as when a young woman relating a lesbian experience discovers, "God, this is sort of like kissing a boy--except that she knows how to kiss!" While Wolf is at her best when evoking the anything-goes ethic of her hippie upbringing in 1970s San Francisco, her account grows oddly skittish as she gets older. Whether describing the fumbling process of losing her virginity or her desire to wear a "technically white dress" on her wedding day, Wolf tends to cut away too quickly to sociological boilerplate, as though she doesn't trust her own story to speak for itself. Still, it's hard to quarrel with Wolf's basic contention: that girls need more accurate information about their own bodies and better rites of passage than wrestling matches in the backseats of cars.