A refreshingly raw take on female desire
By Sarah Green, Arts Editor
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is perhaps the most important book I have ever read. Let me explain.
This summer, I was wandering through Chapters in Chinook Mall with a friend, pretending like I wasn’t an unpaid intern who could, in fact, pay $35 for a book and not think twice. As I glanced around the store, I came across Three Women on a random display and passively flipped to the first page. Immediately, I was captivated by the first sentence of the book — Taddeo didn’t hesitate to launch right into the twisted nature of women’s sexuality. She writes, “When my mother was a young woman, a man used to follow her to work every morning and masturbate, in step behind her.”
I told my friend to get comfortable and went on to read the entire first chapter, right in the middle of Chapters. The next few days were a blur as I took the book with me everywhere I went, attempting to read a chapter or two amidst my busy schedule. I was hooked. Looking back now, I am convinced it was the best $35 I have ever spent.
Taddeo documents women’s sex lives in a way that I have never seen before — she takes on the perspective of a journalist and puts together a detailed non-fiction account of sexual desire. Over a decade of reporting, Taddeo paints a picture of three American women who are each in different stages of their sexual journeys. Throughout the course of her book, I got to know Maggie, Lina and Sloane on a level I never thought possible. Looking back now, I feel as though these three women are the sisters I never had.
After driving across the United States six times, Taddeo chose to write about Maggie, Lina and Sloane because of their honesty, vulnerability and ordinariness. However, the truth that these three women represent is far from ordinary. Overall, these women are each a tangible representation of the female struggle to achieve sexual fulfillment, physical autonomy, and emotional connection.
First, I was introduced to Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who is in love with her English teacher. In essence, Maggie appeals to the naive and innocent part in all of us. As a young girl, she is swept up in a hopeless romantic affair with her thirty-year-old superior and ultimately, is taken advantage of. After a year-long intimate relationship, he dumps her on her eighteenth birthday and leaves her broken, hopeless, and depressed. A few years later, after learning her former lover has been named teacher of the year, she comes forward with her story in court. Taddeo’s account of Maggie’s story is heartbreakingly raw, “Men come to insert themselves, they turn a girl into a city. When they leave, their residue remains, the discoloration on the wood where the sun came through every day for many days, until one day it didn’t.”
Next, I am introduced to Lina, a mother of two who is stuck in a sexless and loveless marriage. After reaching a breaking point, she leaves her husband and pursues her high school sweetheart. Her and Aidan’s passionate affair solely takes place in cheap motel rooms and dark cars, but she is enthralled with her sexual liberation. Eventually, she realizes that she is only a temporary distraction for Aidan, yet she is addicted to him. Lina’s account is primarily a lament on how furiously she pines after Aidan, contrasting how passively he views her. Despite this unhealthy dynamic, her sex life is completely revolutionized and she is determined to never settle for any lesser passion moving forward.
Last but not least, there is Sloane, a beautiful and accomplished woman who is extremely aware of how her beauty gives her power. She is married to Richard who finds satisfaction in watching her have sex with other men and women. Sloane’s story is one of asking where true sexual desire begins and ends. Her and Richard’s relationship pushes and redefines the boundaries of sexual intimacy while representing the dangerous fallout that can come as a result of messy secrets. Sloane’s journey reminded me of how perfection is truly unattainable inside and outside of the bedroom — there is no definitive endpoint to desire and satisfaction.
As Three Women came to a close, I was left with a feeling of emptiness. There’s no denying that Taddeo’s book was one of the most profound books I have ever read yet, I was disheartened at the reality of women’s sexuality. In my eyes, Three Women essentially acts as a reality check by painting an accurate picture of the fragile and insecure mindset we, as women, take on when approaching the topic of desire. I believe society tells us to make ourselves small when we deserve to take up space, specifically regarding sex and the pursuit of satisfaction. As a result of this, so many of us have been conditioned to have zero self-regard in our sex lives, which is a norm that needs to be broken. By getting to know Maggie, Lina and Sloane’s stories, I am determined to make big strides on my own journey with desire and self-acceptance. Ultimately, these three women taught me to pursue what I deserve, inside and outside of the bedroom.