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Wed May 24, 2017, 05:47 PM

The Emancipation of the MILF

Does sexual freedom belong only to the young? Claire Dederer doesn’t think so. By KIM BROOKS

About six years ago, Claire Dederer realized she had a problem. The problem had to do with sex. It had to do with desire. It had to do with being a middle-aged wife and mother and needing and wanting to be seen and known by new people in a new way, maybe even by people she didn’t particularly like or love or respect all that much. Her problem had something to do with sex but didn’t stop there. It assaulted her notions of what it meant to be a grown-up woman in the world and wanting to have romantic encounters with men who were not her husband. She loved her husband. Obviously, she loved her children, her family, the life they had built together. And at the same time, a part of her wanted to step outside the boundary of the polite, middle-class domestic life they’d drawn around themselves. Or, to put it more crudely, she wanted to fuck around.

At the time of her realization, Dederer had worked for many years as a critic, first in film and then in books. She never planned to be a memoirist, but found herself splicing more and more personal history into whatever review she happened to be working on. After getting married, having kids, and moving to an island in Puget Sound off the coast of Seattle, she became fascinated by the obsessive parenting culture rampant in parts of the Pacific Northwest, and began writing a memoir that would merge the cultural history of the place with her personal history as a child of a complicated separation.

The culmination of these ruminations, Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning, is out this week. In it, Dederer tells the story of what happens when a devoted wife and mother in her 40s, a woman in a basically loving and healthy marriage, stops taking care of everyone, stops subsuming her own needs to those of her children and husband, stops repressing her unruly sexual desires, and starts acting like, well … a man. By modern standards, the author’s misbehavior is mild — there is no marriage-destroying, Eat, Pray, Love–style romance or affair. Instead, she yearns and flirts; she stays out late and takes vacations with her best friend instead of her husband; she has a slew of inappropriate email friendships with various suitors, and at her most reckless, allows an unnamed, famous short story writer from California to stick his tongue in her mouth. And yet, as limited as her indiscretions may be, Dederer struggles to find a name for her new desires. If she were a man, she’d be having a typical midlife crisis. In writing about it, she’d be working in the tradition of Philip Roth, Richard Ford, James Salter, Junot Díaz, and dozens of other 20th-century male authors. She’d be behaving like Bill Clinton, Tony Soprano, Don Draper — and countless other touchstones of middle-aged male sexual freedom. But as a woman, she is setting out into the uncharted territory, suggesting, as a few brave souls have now begun to do, that the MILF might not just be a male fetish and a focus of male desire, but a person in her own right, not just an object, but a subject with things she herself would like to do.

The exploration of a mother’s midlife sexuality might not seem groundbreaking, until you think about how few people are doing it, particularly when compared to the destigmatization and taboo-smashing tell-alls younger women have been enacting in recent years. “It’s funny,” she said, the first time we spoke, “how we’ve finally begun to accept that young women might want to have sex, and that this desire doesn’t make them sluts or whores. But this new acceptance goes out the window when a woman gets married and has a baby, the point after which all her sexual desire should be laser-beam focused at her husband, contained to odious date nights and nap-time masturbation.” Is it possible, she asks throughout her book, that middle-aged wives and mothers might want to have sex, too?


I'm posting here instead of GD because this is where the moms are.

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