LIPSTICK JUNGLE by Candace Bushnell
Looking down on the cityscape, she sees skyscrapers that seem like tubes of lipstick. Much as a lipstick tube is a phalliform receptacle containing a ‘feminine’ substance, women now dwell within the structures that men created. Men and women belong to opposing camps. It is now men who are ‘feminized’ and women who are virilized and assume sovereignty; it is women who take on all of the symbolic traits of maleness. The difference between the genders is absolute. The separation between them might be ontological, stable, fixed, but power is not. Power is dynamic, kinetic, mobile: “If you can wield it, you have it.” And now women have the power. They are ruling the world.
So goes Lipstick Jungle, the new novel by Candace Bushnell.
What is the status of a man in a universe universally dominated by women? Men are either ridiculously spineless, endearingly brainless, or flamboyantly insane. Some of them are sex-mannequins (Kirby Atwood); others are Icarian billionaires (Lyne Bennett and Victor Matrick) — falling or already fallen, paving the way for the baronesses who will usurp their place in the Lipstick Jungle. Some of them are oviphages (“egg-eaters”) (Kirby); others have a distaste for les oeufs scrambled (Seymour). And then there are the vaguely East Asian or Eastern European parasites that populate the novel like so much vermin. Bushnell’s racism / nationalism / class arrogance is evident on every other page.
Unlike Sex and the City‘s swinging femmes, the women of Lipstick Jungle do not have an enduring interest in sex. They are solely interested in power, wealth, and class. Their beauty is self-illuminated. Sex might be a pastime or a release, but it is not a goal. Nor is the family of much importance. Children are nondescript leeches and noise-makers. An infant’s first word is “Money!” If you strip away identity, what remains is the naked desire for cash, the most fundamental of human impulses. Even prior to the assumption of an identity, the human animal desires the power to purchase…
Each huntress is defined not by the men who surround her, but by the products she owns or wants to own. Nico O’Neilly’s most essential features are represented by a diamond. Victory Ford is defined by her “black American Express card” — since she, after all, is also a credit card.
Victory Ford, Wendy Healy, Nico O’Neilly — the three “protagonists” are three versions of a single self. We move from the description of one character to the next. When the narrative centers on one character, the others vanish, as if they were chimeras of her imagination.
Lipstick Jungle never critiques the culture; it repeats the values of the culture unreflectively. To say that, “Women ought to be ruling the world” is neither a revolutionary insight nor a challenge to the culture.
Seen from this perspective, the women of Lipstick Jungle are hardly women at all. This is not a feminism in which women come into their own as women. Its philosophy is a particular kind of gendered Darwinism. Women must adopt negative male traits, the book proposes, in order to achieve sovereignty, must become men in woman costumes.
Dr. Joseph Suglia