The Fallout Over Stephen Fry's Sexual InsightsS

Stephen Fry has caused an outcry by claiming that women don't really like sex. And feminists, unfortunately, have responded with some stereotypes of their own.

The November issue of Attitude magazine quoted Fry saying the
following:

If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas. Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking: 'God, I've got to get my f———- rocks off', or they'd go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush.

He added,

I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want.

Fry now says he's quitting Twitter over the incident, tweeting, "So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up," and then, "Bye bye." But a spokesperson for the Observer, which published the initial story quoting the Attitude comments, says, "We have faithfully and fairly reproduced Stephen Fry's quotes in his interview with Attitude magazine." And Paul Flynn, who interviewed Fry for Attitude, says of Fry's sex comment, "I thought it was quite an odd generalisation to make at the time, but he delivered it with certainty and it was clearly something he'd thought about."

Feminists, too, have responded to Fry's "generalization," but their remarks leave something to be desired. Says journalist Rosie Boycott,

Women are just as capable as men are of enjoying sex. We don't go cruising or cottaging on Hampstead Heath because we don't need to. Cottaging on Hampstead Heath is presumably a hangover from the days when, sadly, [homosexuality] was illegal… Women have other ways to get our thrills, and we can go and get them in bars or clubs. Having said which, we probably also do it in parks sometimes too. It's just that we don't call it cottaging. I'm sure I've done it in parks in my time.

She may mean that straight women don't usually cruise because straight sexuality doesn't have the same history of stigma as homosexuality does, and thus hasn't developed the same traditions of clandestine activity. But her "we don't need to" comment comes uncomfortably close to the old stereotype that women can get sex whenever and wherever they want — and some people will surely understand Boycott's comments that way, especially if they're only partially quoted (not that this is her fault). More troubling, though, is what Germaine Greer has to say on the sex issue:

It is true that men have an interest in a kind of sex which women find infinitely depressing, and it's true that women really don't want to hang around toilets hoping that someone will come along and play with their bits. That is not what passion is about for us and we would be placing ourselves in mortal danger if it was.

Women have an idea of passion which men like Stephen can't even begin to imagine. What women yearn for is intimacy. The fact that for women sex is an integral part of closeness doesn't mean we are any less interested in it.

Greer, of course, isn't known for her verbal restraint, but saying that women all have the same "idea of passion" and "yearn[ing] for intimacy" is just as bad as saying none of us like sex at all. Greer does point out the danger factor — cruising is dangerous enough for men, but women might face even more risk just because of their smaller size. But rather than heaping generalization on generalization, why couldn't she just say that sex is different for everybody? Fry himself was reportedly celibate for 16 years, "finding the idea of sex disgusting," but now he's apparently in a relationship with actor Steven Webb. So he should know better than anyone that sexuality can ebb and flow and change over the course of a lifetime, and that to reduce desire to a function of gender is to radically oversimplify it.

Stephen Fry Hints He's Quitting Twitter Over Comments On Women And Sex [Telegraph]
Stephen Fry Shocks Feminists By Claiming Women Don't Really Like Sex [Guardian]
Stephen Fry Uses Twitter To Voice Fury Over Newspaper Article [Guardian]
'Women Don't Really Like Sex,' Says Stephen Fry. But What Would He Know, Ask The Feminists [Daily Mail]