Female Sexuality and Gender Politics in “A fine, A private Place” by Diane Ackerman and “Play-by-Play” by Joan Murray Essay
The poems “A fine, A private Place” by Diane Ackerman and “Play-by-Play” by Joan Murray are both concerned with the theme of female sexuality. “A Fine, A Private Place” utilizes the third person narrative voice to express the memories of a woman who fondly remembers a lovemaking experience she had with an unidentified male lover by the shores of an unidentified ocean/sea.
However, the woman reminiscing was at first none the wiser about her lover’s intentions – he had to ask twice before she could understand the nature of his request and intensions (first stanza), and before she realized his manhood was hard: an indication of lovemaking desire.
However, the subsequent lovemaking experience as reflected from the woman’s voice was mutually consented, and the lovers made love intensely and with deep feelings for each other. In “Play-by-Play”, the omniscient narrator poses rhetorical questions as the narrator watches a group of men playing softball and analyses the secrete sexual thoughts and desires of the women nearby(both old and young), as they secretly admire the men’s bodies and reflect on the men’s sexual appeal.
The two poems suggest that female sexuality can be, and is, as expressive as male sexuality. In “A Fine, A private Place”, the female voice expresses the desires and thoughts of a woman during and after a lovemaking experience. These reminisces convey the idea that the female partner is not a passive player during the act of lovemaking, but is an equal partner with emotions and desires too, which have to be fulfilled and catered for in the entire lovemaking process.
The male player remains unnamed and unidentified – ironically, the last line of stanza three has the woman wondering who the man was, yet the woman is able to make love to a point of female climax and complete satisfaction. In the last line of stanza four, the woman reaches her climax as her loins roar and she pants in climactic excitement. The fact that the woman is able to be expressive sexually with a male who is not necessarily her husband portrays a woman who has taken control of her sexuality.
The woman in the poem is not tied down to certain societal expectations that women should be a passive player in both the courting/dating scene and in the act of sex/lovemaking itself (Markle 48). The woman in “A fine, A Private Place” is sexually expressive and is able to take charge of her sexual desires and her own path to sexual fulfillment.
In the poem “Play-by-Play”, the omniscient narrator also highlights the sexuality of a woman being as expressive as that of a man. In the first line of the first stanza, the narrator wonders whether it would surprise the young men playing softball to discover that the women around them are admiring and discussing their sexual appeal.
In the second stanza, the narrator further asks rhetorically, but poignantly, whether the men would take offence (as many women do) if they were to know that the women were lusting after them. In these expressive questions, the narrator brings outs the voice of women’s sexuality that has been previously unheard of or ignored. The questions point to the fact that the woman’s desire for sex and the pre-lovemaking bodily admiration for a potential lover is not a preserve of men.
The narrator is not condoning the act of men looking lustily at a woman, as men have been doing for generations. However, the narrator brings out the fact that a woman, too, has very similar feelings and even lusts for her lover, only that the woman prefers to do her sexual longing and lusts in a manner that does not necessarily cause her potential lover public humiliation- a point men should borrow.
The narrator in “Play-by-Play” further busts the female sexuality myth that has long been held – that once a woman reaches her sixties, (past menopause); her sexual desire is non-existent. The omniscient narrator indicates that the old women in their sixties who are also watching the men play softball are actively analyzing the sexual appeal of the softball players, just as much as the young virile women drinking wine and reading books a little further in the field.
The narrator further vouches for the women in their sixties as being the best-placed persons to speak on the matter of a man’s sexual appeal, since, as the narrator states in the second stanza; their experience has been horned through years of being with different lovers.
Again, the fact that these women in their sixties are shown as not having been involved with one lover – or one husband, but are portrayed as having experimented with different lovers, depicts female sexuality as not dissimilar to that of men. The act of old men admiring young women is considered ‘natural’ in a macho male society, but in the poem “Play-by-Play”, the old women are comfortably admiring young men, and have had different lovers, just as men in their sixties would.
These women represent a sexually expressive generation of women. Similarly, in the poem “A Fine, A private Place”, the woman reminiscing on her lovemaking encounter also highlights that, by virtue of her reminiscing, she is currently not in contact with that particular lover. Additionally, one can speculate that she has made love to other men, or is currently courting another man, thus her sexual experiences are varied; therefore, the woman is sexually liberated.
Therefore, both the poems “A Fine, A Private Place,” and “Play-by-Play” portray female sexuality in a much different light than what female sexuality has been thought of, especially by men keen to preserve the status quo and relegate women to secondary and passive roles in sex and lovemaking situations.
Because sexuality is dictated by various historical, social, political, and economic factors, sexuality can be, and has been, used as a tool to subjugate women in all these realms. The subjugation has always been propagated on the myth that women are not sexually expressive. The matter of consent before a lovemaking act has been tackled in “A Fine, A Private Place”. The woman’s lover is portrayed as being mindful of his lover’s feelings and satisfaction throughout the lovemaking process.
In the first stanza, he asks twice before he obtains consent from the woman, and throughout and after the lovemaking act, he further seeks to know whether she is fine and satisfied. Since sexuality is dictated by gender roles, the secondary role of the woman in society is usually transferred to the lovemaking process and her consent on whether she desires to make love or not is never sought – she is viewed as being ever ready, or is expected to be ever ready.
This mentality plays a role in men not being overly concerned with the beastly act of rape or defilement. The poem “A Fine, A private Place” vouches for seeking the consent of the woman, and the woman’s equal status in the lovemaking process. Therefore, sexual expressiveness is parallel to women’s liberation and development within the society.
Furthermore, because the woman is expected to play a subservient role in sex, her opinion on whether her lover or husband uses a condom and on the more significant way of family planning is ignored.
In both poems, sexual expressiveness in the women in the poems points to the need for the women to be recognized as equal partners in not only the lovemaking process, but also in the significant issue of family planning. Women in many third world countries are saddled with child after child even when their mental and physical energies for child bearing and rearing are exhausted (Manderson, Rae Bennett, and Sheldrake 184).
This occurs due to the social and political norms in such countries that reinforce the notion that women have no role in the entire family making process. The family making process is intimately linked to sex and sexuality, thus women’s sexuality is an important social, political, and economic entity. Such practices leave the women in these countries socially, politically, and economically disadvantaged.
In conclusion, the poems “A Fine A Private Place” and “Play-by-Play” portray female sexuality as present, real, expressive, and even honorable. The role of a woman as an equal partner to the man in the sexual realm, as the poems advocate, is the first step in achieving social, political, and economic advancement for women.
Manderson, Lenore, Rae Bennett, Linda, and Sheldrake, Michelle. “Sex, Social Institutions, and Social Structure: Anthropological Contributions to the Study of Sexuality.” Annual Review of Sex Research 10.6 (1999): 184.
Markle, Gail. “Can Women Have Sex Like a Man? Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City.” Sexuality & Culture 12.1 (2008): 45-57.
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