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Friday, Nancy (1938—)

Friday, Nancy (1938—)

There is a cliché in American culture that men are principally interested in sex, while women are mostly concerned with love. In helping to debunk this myth, Nancy Friday has performed an invaluable national service. She is one of the relatively small number of modern writers who has gathered and published evidence that women's fantasies are often as sexually explicit as men's. Her books devoted to relating women's sexual fantasies work effectively on several levels: as psychology, as sociology, and as pornography. In addition, Friday has produced several other important books on subjects of interest to modern women: jealousy, beauty, and the mother-daughter relationship.

Nancy Friday grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, the child of a single mother. She moved to New York City in the early 1960s, where she was simultaneously introduced to the sexual revolution and the women's movement, both of which would influence her life, and writing, profoundly. She worked at Cosmopolitan magazine and The Examiner before deciding to devote her energies to writing books.

Friday's first book, My Secret Garden: Women's Sexual Fantasies, appeared in 1973. It attracted considerable attention, partly because of its sexually explicit language and subject matter, but mostly because these "nasty" words and scenarios were coming from the minds of women. In 1973, the idea that respectable, normal women had such steamy, even "kinky" thoughts was considered something of a revelation. The book was a bestseller, as was its 1975 sequel, Forbidden Flowers.

Her third book was something of a departure. My Mother/My Self, which appeared in 1977, was an exploration of the mother/adult daughter relationship, including the ways that mothers' implicit messages can influence their daughters long past childhood. The book was a huge success, and interest in the subject was suddenly on the public agenda, spawning workshops, TV programs, and books by a host of authors.

In her next work, Friday returned to familiar territory, but with a twist. Men in Love (1980) was a collection of male sexual fantasies. Friday's choice of title was a reflection of her conclusion after reading the anonymously submitted fantasy material. Contrary to widely held belief, Friday said, men's fantasies about women were mostly not violent, hateful, or exploitative; instead, they were passionate, inventive, and, yes, loving.

Friday waded into another subject of intense interest to many women with her 1985 book, Jealousy. An immense volume (running over 500 pages), the book combines a discussion of the psychological literature on the subject with interview material and Friday's brutally honest account of how jealousy had played such a major role in her own life. Friday admits that her principal reasons for approaching the project were personal, and much of the book is a description of her own personal struggles with the "green-eyed monster."

With Women on Top, Friday returns to the milieu of women's sexual fantasies, but the book's subtitle is her justification for visiting the territory again: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Sexual Fantasies (1991). Friday wanted to find out whether the passage of fifteen or so years since her last visit had changed the landscape of women's private sexual longings. Her conclusion: women have ceased to dream of passivity and submission. They now are excited by thoughts of sexual power, aggression, and dominance. The fantasies submitted for consideration this time, she found, were much more likely to portray the woman as taking change of her partner, her relationship, and her own sexual satisfaction.

The year 1996 saw the publication of The Power of Beauty, possibly Friday's most ambitious work yet. As with her earlier books on mother/daughter relationships and jealousy, Friday combines survey research, psychological insights, and her own candid history into a meditation on the ways that physical attractiveness (or the lack thereof) influences, for good or ill, many aspects of modern life—from who you will marry to where you will work, to the degree of success you will enjoy in your job.

Nancy Friday established her own web site in 1997. It allows users to read Friday's thoughts on a variety of subjects, leave their own messages for her, share their sexual fantasies, and read excerpts from several of Friday's books.

—Justin Gustainis

Further Reading:

Friday, Nancy. Jealousy. New York, William Morrow and Co., 1985.

——. Men in Love: Men's Sexual Fantasies, the Triumph of Love over Rage. New York, Delacorte Press, 1980.

——. "Nancy Friday." March 1999.

——. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Sexual Fantasies. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1991.

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