I answered a New York Review of Books personals ad from a “young writer” who was “in need of a patron for fun and pleasure.” She turned out to be much younger than I am (her late 20s to my mid 50s), very abused by her family (her mother is a born again Christian psychologist, her father an agoraphobic, alcoholic lawyer), and very creative (a Yale MFA with a novel coming out). For our own separate reasons, we decided to maintain a strictly platonic relationship (my reason being that she was a bit heavy, hers probably my age). Mostly, she accompanied me to things I couldn’t bear to be at or do alone, viz., the theatre, art gallery openings, fine restaurants I’ve wanted to try.
After a month or so, she invited me to a gathering of women she’d met at a place on New York’s Upper West Side that she called The Pussy Palace. Near as I could tell from her responses, consistent with its name, The Pussy Palace was a gathering place for middle-aged women who thought that their relationship pendulums had swung too far into feminism. The likes of Betty Friedan, they thought, had made them so strident with and suspicious of men that they were missing out on the sexual pleasure that feminism taught them they deserved.
With three daughters of my own, and having been raised in a very maternally-dominated household, I fancied myself a supporter of feminism. That made me wary of attending a gathering of what I’d loosely call Feminists Who Thought They’d Gone Too Wild. It had taken me decades to identify what I thought were my own culturally-induced, exploitative, unequal and/or condescending attitudes towards women. How would I know which of these attitudes and behaviors this group had come full circle on and now embraced?
Turns out, I had nothing to fear. These women were, generally, skittish, self-conscious, nervous, self-deprecating, revealingly dressed and grinning too much for their smiles to be real. They seemed to harbor serious doubts about where they stood in relation to the opposite sex which made me quite comfortable because that also describes me.