'What Do Women Want?' Offers Us More Questions to Ponder

What Do Women Want? is fascinating, with the author's well-polished prose and affective curiosity justifying its place as one of the most talked-about books of the year, sexy title aside.

What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire

Publisher: Harper Collins
Length: 229 pages
Author: Daniel Bergner
Price: $27.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-06

Remember when Mel Gibson was almost respectable? I'm talking before the drunken roadside anti-semitic tirades. He made a film called What Women Want (2000) which was, aside from being an absolute clunker of a romantic comedy, premised on the idea that heterosexual men are completely ignorant of the inner desires of their sexual counterparts. Like countless films and television shows before it, What Women Want presented feminine heterosexual desire as an enigma; inaccessible, and totally mysterious. Gibson's character only gains access to the impenetrable world of the female mind through a freak accident involving a bathtub, a blowdryer, and pantyhose (I told you it was a clunker).

As was the case with that film, Daniel Bergner's provocative new book What Do Women Want? turns out to be less ambitious than its title suggests. What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire does not provide a definitive "answer" to its title question, and instead offers mostly additional questions for all of us to ponder. Along the way, the reader is treated to a survey of cutting-edge research on female desire, emotional yearnings, and what inspires, sustains, and destroys, sexual attraction in the female brain. What Do Women Want? is fascinating, with the author's well-polished prose and affective curiosity justifying its place as one of the most talked-about books of the year, sexy title aside.

Bergner's hypotheses are scant, as are those of the researchers in his book, however a partial answer to the book's title question might be "novelty": the research suggests that the feminine revels in newness, whether it's the rush of a first-time sexual encounter, or the discovery of a previously-unimagined fetish. Familiarity breeds more than just contempt for many of the women in Bergner's book; it destroys attraction, relationships, and even entire families. The book has received a lot of press recently, and this controversial insight into the female mind might help to explain why.

You have probably heard of What Do Women Want? by now. Bergner has been promoting it everywhere from The Today Show to The Colbert Report, and the book has caused a minor stir among cable news anchors, stay-at-home moms, and bloggers alike. I'm starting to understand why, as one of the book's implicit arguments is not likely to go down well in middle America: many of these researchers' findings suggest that women are not the creatures of chastity and monogamy they are so often portrayed to be. (Gasp!)

Throughout Bergner's book there are many tales of women bored -- even frustrated -- by monogamy, and "conventional" romantic relationships, and acting the part accordingly. With divorce rates hovering around 50 percent in most Western countries, and an epidemic of passionless, sexless, and stifling monogamous unions in our society, one is forced to ask: surely there must be a better way? Bergner's book suggests that many North American women are starting to answer this question for themselves.

Even in the wake of the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s, most cultural representations of women still suggest that women are the sex better suited to monogamy. The myth of the devoted wife and straying husband perseveres in American life. Whether it's the lingering influence of America's puritan heritage, the stifling legacy of our species' transition into agriculture and industry, or both, marriage -- for those whom are able to marry in America -- is still "the norm", for better or worse. Some Americans continue to have disdain, or are at least are skeptical of "unconventional" romantic relationships, and inventive sexualities. What Do Women Want? suggests that we might be on the precipice of major change in this regard, as more and more women begin to understand, make peace with, and recognize their need for an alternative to traditional marriage.

Bergner is not the only one profiting from cutting-edge research on female desire. There is a new app on the market intended to support the often ravenous, novelty-hungry female libido: "Pure" allows women to quickly seek out casual hookup sex using their smartphone, and has already generated a fair amount of buzz months ahead of its release. Hookup apps are nothing new (what with your Grindr, Blendr, etc.) but hookup apps that cater specifically to the feminine --- that certainly. It remains to be seen whether or not "Pure" will be as popular as its male-dominated forebears, but the research in What Do Women Want? suggests that the creators of "Pure" might be in for a very profitable fourth quarter.

Hopefully, What Do Women Want? will convince many that the stubborn cultural myth that most women are ultimately suited for and should aspire for monogamy deserves to die. The sooner it does, the sooner heterosexual men and women alike will begin to appreciate the fluidity of their sexual and romantic instincts, instead of accepting or assuming that marriage is the "end goal" of their dating lives.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.