Books by Dalma Heyn

NON-FICTION
Released: April 1, 1997

A fervent but unconvincing argument that marriage as we know it is bad for women. A logical extension of Heyn's The Erotic Silence of the American Wife (1992), which looked at female adultery, this work is also based largely on anecdotal evidence. A longtime editor and writer for women's magazines (McCall's, Mademoiselle, Self), Heyn draws on a nonscientific sampling of letters and survey responses from readers of McCall's and New Woman as well as interviews with these and other mostly middle-class women. Her thesis is that when they marry, women give up most of what they enjoy about themselves in favor of a more conventional and proper version of themselves. The dutiful and good wife they aspire to be, she claims, is a middle-class invention first described fully in conduct books of the 18th and 19th centuries. Marriage shock, says Heyn, marks the moment of experiencing this split between what the woman is and what culture tells her she should be. That married women have a higher rate of depression than single women or married men is no accident, the author contends, nor is the fact that today most divorces are initiated by women. Excerpts from her interviews with various married women illustrate what Heyn sees as the suppression of desire and the absence of an honest relationship in marriage. Deception, guilt, and unhappiness seem to be the earmarks of modern marriage. Heyn's answer to this crisis? Revolutionize marriage. Overthrow those old-fashioned ideas about what a wife is supposed to be. Imagine marriage based on a new standard of sexual conduct in which women's desires are acknowledged as real. Think of pleasure, not self-improvement, of sexuality, not self-sacrifice. The kind of ``expert'' analysis of relationships that abounds in women's magazines, this all sounds as though it was conceived at least a generation ago. (Author tour) Read full book review >
THE EROTIC SILENCE OF THE AMERICAN WIFE by Dalma Heyn
NON-FICTION
Released: June 14, 1992

Through interviews with married women of various ages who have had affairs, Heyn, a Mademoiselle columnist who's worked in women's magazines for 20 years, takes a fresh look at female adultery— which she claims is on the rise—and attempts to explode some common beliefs about women and sex (among them, that women are monogamous by nature and that happily married women don't have affairs). Without claiming to have conducted a scientific study, Heyn draws on anecdotal material that seems to point to a new insistence on sexual pleasure for married women—whether achieved within the marital framework or outside of it. Most of the women queried acknowledge burying their sexual past when they got married and buying into what Heyn calls ``the myth of romantic marriage.'' Victims of a ``Donna Reed'' syndrome—trying to be the perfect wife—they begin to experience a loss of self. Eventually, given the opportunity, they attempt to regain their individuality in sexual affairs. Generally, these affairs empower and revitalize the women—who have no regrets. What's groundbreaking about Heyn's survey, then, is its indication that women are less willing today to sacrifice their happiness for an ideal (i.e., a monogamous marriage) that, at least in these cases, doesn't fulfill their needs. Women apparently can love two men at once, and they can love their spouse and have sex with someone else, just as men allegedly do. And an affair can act as a catalyst for positive change. What makes this book less than revolutionary, though, is that, taken one by one, something seems to be missing in the way these married couples relate to one another. And so, based on Heyn's study, one can't generalize about the limits of monogamous marriage; but one can conclude that women are less willing today to barter sexual happiness for the security of marriage. They want both. While Heyn never quite develops a coherent thesis, then, she does give appealing voice to a growing and significant phenomenon in American female sexuality. Read full book review >