The Observer: ‘Fear of Flying a Rough Guide’


Published in 1973, Fear of Flying was an instant bestseller and has sold more than 27m copies to date.

The novel was for the most part received as an affirmative and semi-autobiographical study of sexual politics in America. Written from the perspective of the irreverent Isadora Wing, Jong’s frank and witty protagonist, Fear of Flying was praised by many second-wave feminists as a sex-and body-positive bildungsroman seeking to reclaim women’s sexual freedom and erotic gaze.

It was published in the same year as the Roe v Wade trial in the US saw a landmark decision around abortion in America. Jong’s heroine emerged through her trials and tribulations as a funny and assertive young female artist who takes charge of her body, sexuality and work.

In the book Jong famously coined the term ‘zipless fuck’. The ‘zipless fuck is absolutely pure’, she wrote, ‘It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not taking; and the woman is not giving’.

Jong’s lifelong friend Henry Miller compared the novel to his own The Tropic of Cancer, dubbing it its ‘feminine counterpart’ in the New York Times. John Updikes described it as ‘the most unhibited, delicious, erotic novel a woman ever wrote’.

Despite becoming a landmark of feminist fiction, some feminist scholars, critical of Jong’s heavy sexy focus, saw it as trivialising and depoliticising the debate. These included the writer and academic Rita Felski, who pointedly excluded Jong from her anthology of feminist writing, Beyond Feminist

Mathilde Frot, published in print in the Observer on the 25th of October 2015