Jia Tolentino on the Story of Lori Maddox and David Bowie

At Jezebel, Jia Tolentino has written a superb essay about Lori Maddox, who recounted losing her virginity to David Bowie when she was 15 years old:

There are no precise enough words or satisfying enough conclusions to fully account for her story, or any like it. It’s easy to see what Bowie represents here: a sexual norm that has always appallingly favored men, and the abuse that stems from and surpasses even that. It is easy to denounce the part Bowie played in this, even with any number of purportedly mitigating factors: the political context, Maddox’s story, the fact that he lived with generosity and openness, the less generous fact that his synapses were perpetually blitzed with cocaine. It is less easy to turn over what Maddox evinces in this narrative, from the late 1970s to her account of it now—which is that women have developed the vastly unfair, nonetheless remarkable, and still essential ability to find pleasure and freedom in a system that oppresses them.

The persistence of that reality—that we learn to have sex not in a utopia but within and around whatever norms we are presented with—is why it matters that things were different in the ’70s. It is possible to say that there don’t ever need to be any other Lori Maddoxes without saying that there never were. It is possible for me to read all the rape stories in my inbox and still know with certainty that something enormous is different—and, that acknowledging that is the only way to credit the second-wave women who forced that change with rhetorical fervor that girls now would find insane. It’s because of them that we have both the words to identify power and, now, the freedom to do so more ambivalently. It’s their stringency that spared me from having to know how I would have played it if I’d grown up at a time when there was no vocabulary to separate a party girl from a body for the taking, when grown men said fair game at the age of 13.

Read the essay.