Best-selling author Erica Jong knows a thing or two about sexual politics. Her taboo-breaking 1973 novel, Fear of Flying, has sold 20 million copies in over 40 languages. Jong still has the magic touch when it comes to literature about women and eros: her new anthology of essays and short stories, Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex (Ecco) featuring contributions from Anne Roiphe, Gail Collins, Jennifer Weiner and many others is getting terrific early reviews. Jong spoke with TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs from her Manhattan home about Anthony Weiner, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), Arnold Schwarzenegger and other powerful misbehaving men in the news.
What do you make of Anthony Weiner?
Obviously he has a compulsion, and I don't understand it. It's very sad in a way because he was an up-and-coming Democrat. I think this is going to really screw up his career. When you notice all of these powerful men doing things that we would consider stupid, you have to wonder whether they're aware, or whether when this compulsion hits them do they go into a fugue state where the other parts of their life vanish and are not in their thought stream? It seems that way, doesn't it?
It seems like the season of sex scandals lately. Why that might be the case?
I think that there have always been sex scandals. I think that now, people are reporting them more accurately than before. What strikes me about all these so-called scandals is how far we have not come since feminism. I mean, when you look at Anne Sinclair paying a fortune to take care of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, you wonder why on earth a woman with her own profession, with an inherited fortune, would be doing that for a man who's so obviously a sick puppy, and totally narcissistic. What does she get out of the relationship? Is she going to spend her fortune defending this man who everybody in France knew was like a chimpanzee in rut?
How could Strauss-Kahn operate at the top levels of society being like that?
I think that we cover for powerful men, all of us. Men cover for them and women cover for them. We have to stop doing that because [theirs] is very sick behavior. Also, it's incredibly classist behavior, in the sense that here is this poor maid who works for a living, and here is this extremely rich and powerful man. It never occurs to him that she might not want his advances.
What about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Many people have asked how Maria Shriver couldn't have known about his affair and love child for so many years.
Well, she didn't want to know about it. But I'm sure on some level she did know about it. The child traveled with them, looked just like him. People are saved by their own denial sometimes, and that's what seems to be the case here.
Representative Chris Lee lost his congressional seat for sending a woman a shirtless picture of himself. Wasn't that kind of severe?
I think people really want to reverse the trend of men getting away with this stuff. There are so many infantile and crazy men out there. And also, there are so many men that feel that women are there to do their bidding.
Should John Edwards be facing legal sanctions or was that just a private matter?
It's not a private matter if you're using your campaign funds. That is against the law. When you think of John Edwards being taken in by someone like Rielle Hunter, you think, what a child he must be, how infantile he must be! What we're really seeing [is] men unmasked in a sense.
What about Eliot Spitzer, another man who paid a really heavy price for what he did?
He's a very clever man. If you watch him on television, he's so articulate. He has such a command of what's going on in politics. So he had to be absolutely in denial. At the Mayflower Hotel for goodness sake! That is not exactly a secret place.
Do you think that men who are not as powerful would take the same risks if they could?
I think there are men who would not take these risks, whether they're powerful or not. I think this is a form of mental illness.
Some people are blaming the press for all of this, as if the press is forcing it upon the public.
Well it certainly sells magazines and newspapers, at least for a little while. People get really sick of it after a while, but [the media] can exploit it for a time, and why shouldn't they? People are interested.
Do you think these men should be given a chance for redemption, or do you think these acts are unforgiveable?
I think raping somebody, as DSK [allegedly] did, is a crime that should be punished. Because if we don't punish powerful men for rape, we have no law in our society.
What about Schwarzenegger? Should he face public scorn for the rest of his career?
He's had a very good run. You can't absolutely control what the public is going to think about it. People are going to think that he's a sleaze bag. But he's not going to be punished for this in any way other than loss of reputation. But he never had much of a reputation anyway. He's not being punished really.
You've written so much about women enjoying sex, but women don't get into these scandals. Why not?
Well, occasionally women get into sex scandals when you have teachers seducing students and things like that. But I don't think that women make the assumption that men make. The assumption that these men make is that their power will protect them. Women know they won't be protected and that they'll be exposed. And it has to do with how much power men have in society and how little women have. So they don't take these risks, which to men like DSK don't even seem like risks. They feel they will be protected by the establishment because they sit atop the establishment.