REVIEW: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

All Lina ever wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn't touch her? All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town? All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watch her have sex with other men and women? Consequences are handed out to some but not to others. 

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo has been everywhere. Bookshops, billboards, on the tube. For a few months, even Instagram became just one big advertisement for it. But, unlike many others I did not feel any of that ground-breaking, earth-shattering regard for its content. And, ultimately, I can pinpoint why into one specific reason: the titular women and their experiences present a very two-dimension look at heterosexual sexuality. All three white. All three conventionally attractive. Two straight (one possibly bi). All three cis. Two Catholic. All American. Two in their forties. Two married.
More importantly, they are all victims of sex; unwilling participants; pushed into relationships and fetishes by their partners, with no regards for their own enjoyment. It is almost a book dedicated to the opposite of sex positivity; a chorus of women admitting that they do not actually enjoy sex that much and they only undertake it as a chore at the benefit of their domineering, and sometimes even abusive, partners.
And, yes, it would be naive to argue that a lot of women do not experience sex in that way, but Three Women claims some sort of universality to the fact. That, like in so many 1950s sitcoms, all women lay back and think of England whilst their partner fulfils their own sexual desires.
But, is that all of our realities? Or even, just some? Are 100% of heterosexual women tied to unsatisfying sex that they have been coxed into by coercive, sexually-perverse men? For a book about modern-day sexuality, the book certainly falls into old tropes: female virgin (or even just one that is sexually repressed) at the whims of sex-mad, testosterone fuelled men. It is 1950s sitcoms on acid; Carry On movies shining bright for the world to see. Its normative views on gender (and more importantly, on sex) give little very credit to either and I worry that, instead of being informative or eye-opening, Three Women will continue to impound old, tired feelings about how each should approach sexuality.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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