In a society filled with sexual imagery,
advertising, and exploitation, we see photographs of beautiful, sexy women
everywhere. Most of those photos,
however, are taken by men; most erotic movies are directed by men; most
advertising agencies, ditto. What a
novel idea, then, for Marion Schneider and Linda Troeller to set out to
discover what women find erotic; to ask the subjects themselves to come up with
the settings, the images, and the text.
The glossy, hardcover book that resulted from this project, The
Erotic Lives of Women, features thirty-five women opening themselves
through words and pictures for our edification and, one hopes, for their own
Schneider, a scholar and spa-owner from Grebenhain,
Germany conducted the interviews; and Troeller, a photographer from New York
City, took the pictures. They started
by interviewing and photographing each other, and then they sought out other
women who were willing to participate.
The authors asked each woman the same four questions:
does the word erotic mean to you?
you remember your first erotic feeling and could you show it to the camera?
you remember your strongest erotic feeling and show it to the camera?
you have certain fantasies and could you show them to the camera?
The consistency of the inquiry does not yield
consistent responses. Some women want
to talk a lot; some dont have much to say.
Some seem to love posing, in all varieties of clothing and all views of
their nudity, while one shows the camera only her empty shoes. The women featured here range in age from
eighteen to sixty and they come from Morocco, Norway, Brazil, Italy, Germany,
France, Israel, and the Ukraine as well as the United
States. There is a belly dancer, an architect, a
filmmaker, a social worker, a gallery director, a professor, several
homemakers, and a cigarette vender.
There are virgins, divorcees, lesbians, mothers, and wivessome happily
married, some not. Some of their
memories, fantasies, and descriptions are romantic and cerebral.
Laura, a 59-year-old events coordinator, mentions
. . . making love on the sand. The sea, the sun, the excitement of being
exposed while Yifat, an Israeli philosopher of 37, says, I guess that is my
fantasy, that a man knows me in a very, very concrete, very mundane, very
worldly, very intimate way, and Kata, 17, says I painted my hands and my feet
with henna to express my joy and happiness, to show my feelings to the ones I
want to show them to. Some comments
are much more graphic and involve specific body parts, his tender stiffness .
. . male strength and craving . . . I
still remember the taste of his tongue . . . and one woman, Maria the American
filmmaker, says . . . life is an erotic experience, it happens daily, I live
it, I breathe it, its part of my life style, its part of my art.
All this variety seems quite definitely to be part
of the point. The women of Playboy
often appear indistinguishable: one unrealistically slim but voluptuous blonde
after another with their predictable and simplistic turn-ons. The women of Erotic Lives are
decidedly not alike. Each one is an
individual, specific woman with her own body, her own thoughts, and her own
relationship to sex. Thank God.
© 2002 Heather Liston. First Serial Rights.
Liston studied Religion at Princeton University and earned a Masters degree
from the NYU Graduate School of Business Administration. She is the Director of
Development for The Santa Fe Children's Museum, and writes extensively on a
variety of topics. Her book reviews and other work have appeared in Self,
Women Outside, The Princeton Alumni Weekly, Appalachia, Your
Health and elsewhere.