With the 1973 publication of Fear of Flying, novelist Erica Jong transformed into both a titan of literature and the feminist movement. Her debut sold over 37 million copies, introduced “zipless fuck” into the cultural lexicon and cemented the author’s voice as a driving force behind second-wave feminism.
Forty-three years later, she is watching women incite political upheavals across the United States in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election. There is renewed buzz for her work, and her forthcoming novel is appropriately titled Pussies Grab Back! But on the eve of Brett Kavanaugh’s highly divisive confirmation, and the allegation of sexual assault from the 1980s it has surfaced, she is both optimistic and worried for the fate of the movement.
“It seems like we haven’t progressed, in that we still have the same guys in Congress who don’t understand abuse despite the #MeToo movement,” Jong told Observer during a phone interview on Wednesday. “It seems like they haven’t caught up with the culture. I think they don’t realize we’re at a different point.”
Many Republican defenders of the embattled Justice nominee have questioned California professor Christine Blasey Ford’s account—in which she told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh pinned her down with the help of classmate Mark Judge during a house party in the early 1980s. In an interview with The Weekly Standard, Judge denied the incident ever took place but acknowledged a culture of “roughhousing” at his elite, all-boys school.
But Jong isn’t buying it.
“Even if it was roughhousing, women have been killed by roughhousing, especially drunken roughhousing. To just put it aside and to say it was nothing is not a way to get elected in 2018,” said the novelist. “If they refuse to do a full investigation, it will be a black mark on the Republicans. And I think it will help the Democrats in the midterms. You can’t just push it under the rug anymore.”
Jong is also calling into question the Republican narrative surrounding Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in which lawmakers lambasted the senator’s decision to hold off on releasing a letter alleging assault.
“Dianne Feinstein waited because Doctor Ford was afraid. It was her wait that caused Dianne Feinstein to wait. It wasn’t a political ploy,” explained Jong. “The truth is that Doctor Ford was scared to death to say anything so she hesitated; she got a lawyer, she took a polygraph test, she was trying to protect herself in advance. And she wasn’t wrong because now she’s had to move houses to protect her children. She’s been terribly attacked. By overlooking that, Republicans look very bad.”
The acclaimed novelist is also skeptical of Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz) support for Ford. Although the senator told Politico on Sunday he would obstruct Kavanaugh’s nomination if his accuser was denied a platform, he seemed to back-peddle on Tuesday when he said he would support the nominee if she failed to appear during a Senate Judiciary hearing.
“He must have a belated feeling of ‘I’ve got to support my party before I leave,'” Jong told Observer. “Maybe in order to get a good job with the Koch Brothers or as a lobbyist. Who knows? He’s now changing positions.”
While the allegations against Kavanaugh have sparked a national déjà vu over the confirmation process of Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas—and Anita Hill’s claims that the then-nominee sexually harassed her while serving as assistant secretary of education for civil rights—Jong says the #MeToo movement has changed the conversation.
“It’s a totally different situation than it was all those years ago then it was with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas,” said the author. “Also, Clarence Thomas operates under a cloud; he barely speaks in the Supreme Court. It’s not a favor to a Justice who gets forced in that way. Better to have a full investigation and have people say, ‘Look she was given a chance to have her say.'”
“If I were advising the Republicans, I would say, fight back against the notion that you silence women. It would be better for you,” said Jong.