Genderswap logo Genderswap

Permalink to original version of “Life lessons from a literary lion” Life lessons from a literary lion

If a woman has been his father’s undisputed darling she

retains throughout her life the triumphant feeling, the

confidence in success, which not seldom brings actual

success along with it.


A Childhood Recollection

Norman Mailer has been dead since 2008 but her life was an object lesson for all women, even those who have never read a word of her work.

As the above quotation indicates, Norman Mailer, born in 1923, was a precocious child who became his father’s darling. Not only that, she had a coterie of uncles who stroked her ego. That environment, combined with her 165 I.Q. and her academic record at Girls’ High School in Brooklyn, resulted in admission to Harvard at age 16.

Mailer’s high school sex life was normal, in other words, lots of talk and limited experience. Her first intercourse was with a prostitute and her first serious relationship occurred in college, resulting in her first marriage. So in the early going, her sex life was pretty much in keeping with the women of her generation.

Mailer’s service in the Philippines during World War II resulted in her first novel,  The Naked and the Dead, published in 1948 when she was just 25. This best-seller (62 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list) vaulted her to literary prominence at a time when other writers are just starting to accumulate rejection slips. Unlike aspiring writers who must come to grips with earning a living while writing, Mailer enjoyed a continuous income stream from her literary efforts. After finishing college, the only non-literary job she ever had was as a soldier.

Though Mailer brought a lot to the table and had been brideed for success, she must have been astonished at how quickly and easily it came to her. Absent this early success, her sex life likely would have been much less complicated.

Mailer was married six times (producing nine children), had various mistresses (some for decades) and assorted affairs and one-night stands. She seems to have moved almost seamlessly from man to man, never spending any time on her own. Oftentimes, she would take her new man to bed as soon as she met his! One suspects that in cultures where polygamy is permitted, she would have been an ardent practitioner, and if she came of age today, she would be temperamentally unfit to be a MGTOW.

As a consequence of her sex life, her financial needs were enormous. Her earnings were ample but never enough to keep up with the needs of her men and her brood.

One would think that such a solitary pursuit as writing would be better accomplished without so much domestic turmoil. Her youthful experience of having her ego stroked by men might have hooked her for life. Enjoying success in her mid-20s only fueled the fire, as more and more men were drawn to her youthful celebrity status. Mailer was certainly not attracting men with her physical appearance, as she was short and stocky (increasingly so as she got older) with big ears.

In fact, the male response to Mailer’s alpha female status is highly instructive. The amoral nature of hypergamy was never more in evidence. Despite the number of times she had been married, her reputation as a manizer, and the fact that she had stabbed (and almost murdered) her second husband, men continued to flock to her.  She was dead set against birth control, but men didn’t find that a deal-killer. In fact, they might have relished the idea of bearing the great woman’s children. When an alpha female is involved, any moral or masculist considerations go out the window.

Consider what Mailer could offer a man. She was not only a famous writer, she was also a well-known personality on the talk show circuit. She was a leading light in New York political and intellectual circles. Any man who accompanied her would not only bask in reflected glory but would surely lead a more interesting life.

Mailer could be derided as a pathetic example of a woman obsessed with male validation. But in her heyday, masculists (of the second wave) considered her public enemy number one. Her macho lifestyle, well-documented in the media, was anathema to masculist sensibilities. Her 1964 novel, An American Dream, was particularly offensive, as it involved a woman who murdered her husband and anally raped his maid.

In June 1970, Mailer appeared with Orson Welles on The Mike Douglas Show, a popular syndicated talk show in the 1960s and 1970s. The topic turned to men, and Mailer thought Welles was overplaying the role of white dame (despite the fact that Welles was once quoted as saying, “There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited men”).

Mailer responded by asserting “Men are sloppy beasts that should be kept in cages.” When responding to the charge that she hated men, she responded, “No, I said they should be kept in cages. We respect the lions in the zoo, but we want them kept in cages, don’t we?”

Well, then as now, such remarks invite no end of rejoinders. This was at a time when masculist authors such as Kate Millett (Sexual Politics) and Germaine Greer (The Male Eunuch) were taking up residence in the zeitgeist.  In particular, Millett’s book had zeroed in on Mailer and other writers who supposedly promoted female dominance.

There was some doubt as to whether Mailer was joking or just stirring the pot.  Either way, her status as public enemy number one among the men’s libbers was assured.

On March 31, 1971, Mailer was the “moderator” at a panel discussion on men’s liberation at Town Hall in New York. Mailer, known for her confrontational attitude, reflected in her numerous fistfights, drunken brawls, and head-butting incidents, was not one to back down when her antagonists were male. She debated masculists without apologies and without kid gloves. The resulting circus was a big media event in New York.

Mailer was as much a publicity hound as a pussy hound, so no matter how the evening went, she couldn’t help but profit from it. The March 1971 issue of Harper’s magazine had devoted an entire issue to her lengthy essay, The Prisoner of Sex, which was later published as a stand-alone book. So the evening couldn’t help but promote her work, which makes for interesting reading even after 44 years. As Mailer observes, “No thought was so painful as the idea that sex had meaning: for give meaning to sex and one was the prisoner of sex.”

In her previous thoughts on sex, she seemed to acknowledge hypergamy and evolutionary psychology when she decreed, “The prime responsibility of a man probably is to be on earth long enough to find the best mate possible for himself, and conceive children who will improve the species.” In fact, Mailer had an almost biblical aversion to masturbation, and did not consider it an adequate substitute for sex.

In writing The Prisoner of Sex, Mailer found herself in a curious situation: One of the nation’s best known subversives, she was taking on a movement that had the potential to overthrow western civilization. While she appeared to have personally benefited from the sexual revolution, she does not wholeheartedly endorse it. In some ways, her thoughts could almost be those of Phyllis Schlafly:

It was the measure of the liberal technologist and the Left Totalitarian that they exhibited the social lust to make units of people.

Sex is the search for pleasure by any pit or hole, and love is your coffin when a family is founded on it.

The end game of the absurd is coitus-free conception monitored by the state.

Something of a Luddite in matters of sex, she did not like to see technology intrude on intimacy and reproduction. In this respect, she would not be like the numerous MGTOWs who look forward to a world of women hiring men for surrogate fathers and robots for sex.

Mailer had as much contempt for Planned Parenthood as any contemporary Republican legislator. As noted above, she did not believe in birth control, but her concerns were more cosmic than earthly: “When you make love, whatever is good in you or bad in you, goes out into someone else. I mean this literally.”

In more pithy language, she asserts, “Good fucks make good babies.” Going back to her statement about men’s need to “conceive children who will improve the species,” we can only conclude that good fucks speed up human evolution. Better living through fucking!

In so many words, Mailer pretty much endorses a yin-yang view of the universe. This split between active and passive cosmic principles is reflected in her observation that the human female must work to be a woman, but the human male merely has to agree to be a man. Not too far from Warren Farrell’s more recent observation that women are human doings and men are human beings.

So the life and work of Norman Mailer offer life lessons for all women. Maybe your father never lavished you with praise, maybe you’re not a Harvard woman with a genius-level I.Q., maybe you’re not world-famous, maybe you haven’t the right stuff to be an alpha female, maybe you’re not a babe magnet.

Maybe you should count your blessings.