Book Review: Women and Desire, Beyond Wanting to be Wanted, by Polly Young-Eisendrath

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While everyone was out drinking and barbecuing this weekend, I spent most of it on 41Q9R4GC2VLthe couch with this book (the actual physical book). It was so powerful in so many ways that I’m adding it to my “books that will change your life” list. If you’re unfamiliar with the canon of feminist writing (I was), Polly is a prominent and powerful voice among many amazing leaders. You can read more about her work here.

I want to share some excerpts with you from Beyond Wanting to be Wanted. If I’m being honest, I underlined, highlighted, and scribbled notes on most pages, so picking out excerpts was its own challenge.

In my opinion, Polly has brilliantly distilled a lot of ancient wisdom into a practical modern way of life (primarily for women, but also often applicable to men). She encourages her audience to get really honest and really clear about their desires; to bring their truths into the light, so to speak. Because it is only when we are aware of what we feel and what we want, that we have true freedom to choose how we live in the world. She has also articulated a very subtle phenomenon that resonates profoundly for me – the idea that women often focus on being the object of someone else’s desire, instead of the subject of their own. It is when you stop seeking approval of others, you stop trying to be the person you think you should be, that you can really live authentically, vulnerably, and with integrity.

Here are some pieces that got a big “yes!” in the margins:
  • “Wanting to be wanted is about finding our power in an image rather than in our own actions. We try to appear attractive, nice, good, valid, legitimate, or worthy to someone else, instead of discovering what we actually feel and want for ourselves. In this kind of conscious or unconscious arrangement, other people are expected to provide our own feelings of power, worth, or vitality, at the expense of our authentic development. We then feel resentful, frustrated, and out of control because we have sacrificed our real needs and desires to the arrangements we have made with others. We find ourselves always wanting to be seen in a positive light: the perfect mother, the ideal friend, the seductive lover, the slender or athletic body, the kind neighbor, the competent boss. In place of knowing the truth of who we are and what we want from our lives, we become trapped in images.”
  • “Nor is wanting to be wanted the expression of a desire for intimacy or closeness. Rather, wanting to be wanted makes us feel as though we have no clear desires of our own. We focus on how to bring things under control by appearing in a certain way, speaking in a certain manner, implying our needs. Yet we never say directly what we want, and we may never actually know. We have been culturally programmed so thoroughly to tune in to the subtleties of whether or not we are having the “desired effect” that we fail to tune in to what we really want or to see how strongly we are motivated by wanting to be wanted.”
  • “[People cannot read your mind or guess what it is you want. C]lear and direct communication avoids the indirect message that other must intuit our desires. Attempting to evoke response from others without claiming one’s needs not only is confusing but carries the hidden meaning of danger… It is only when we speak directly, with a secure self-confidence, that we step outside this negative meaning of female desire.
  • “The Renaissance metaphysician Paracelsus said that we cannot love something without knowing it, or know something without loving it. When we feel deeply loved, we also know that we have been encountered authentically, that we have been true to ourselves in the presence of the other and found that truth fully embraced and accepted. When we tell the truth to a partner or a friend, we are indeed vulnerable to being judged, blamed, or rejected. If we hide the truth in favor of protecting ourselves and appearing in a certain way, however, we may retain an illusion of control but we lose the possibility of being known for who we really are, and hence of being loved.”

 

All of that from just the first chapter!! I highly highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially to women. Hope you all had a terrific weekend!

 

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