Many authors have tried to capture, in print, the complex dynamics between men and women, male and female. This can be a very difficult process as it can be impossible to put into words exactly what happens when two people enter into a relationship. There have been fictional stories which capture all the various stages of romance and love that can affect two people. Some stories discuss marriage, others divorce, and some the beginning of a romance. In Susan Minot's short story "Lust," a young female protagonist lists her past liaisons with young men and what she did with those youths. The story was set in the 1960s or 1970s which was a period in American history when females were breaking free from more than two hundred years of oppression by male domination in the nation. During this period, women as a gender were slowly moving away from the gender stereotypes of the societal norm and exploring their sexualities. The narrator of Minot's story serves as a representative of the women of her time period.
Women in the United States have been considered as marginalized, second-class citizens since before the time of the Founding Fathers. While still a colony of Great Britain, the social order of what would become America was established. Men, only white men at that time, were in control. Only they could vote. In most cases only they could own property. When a woman had married, anything that she had acquired in her lifetime, either through the benefits her own endeavors or through inheritance, would come under the jurisdiction of her far more powerful husband.
Following that period were fluctuations between times of limited freedoms and more stringent oppressions because of their gender. The only basis for that marginalization was their gender. In the time after the Second World War, in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, women were forced into roles of complete submission. This was the era of the homemaker wherein women were trained to be wives and mothers and could aspire to little more in their lives.
Coinciding with this domestication of women was a cult of silence and oppression. There were things that it was okay to talk about and things which were absolutely not acceptable to discuss, either in public or even within the home. Among topics which were verboten were a woman's dissatisfaction with her place in the world and any feelings of sexuality which she might have had. During this time, sex was for procreation or as a wifely duty to satisfy the husband. Women did not engage in sexual activity for their own satisfaction. Or, if they did then they were the kind of woman nice people also did not talk about. It would be logical that the psychological response to this kind of era would be a completely free and sexually experimental period.
The narrator of Minot's story seems to be a relatively young girl at the beginning of the story. From her language and vocabulary, it can be estimated that she is in her late to mid teens. She experiments with a large amount of males. Far more than a "good girl" would ever even imagine to be interacting with. What is particularly interesting is that in each instance, the narrator engages with men, but always in scenarios wherein the male is the aggressor and she is the dominated one. An example of this is one of the encounters that the narrator has with a man named Tim. She says, "Tim pinned me to a tree" (Minot 4). The girl in this instance is always the sexualized object whereas the man is always the one who demands the physical action from her. Another example is when she says of one lover, "He goes, 'Shush'" (Minot 5). The reference is in regard to a tick of one of her lovers. When she objects to the request, he silences her with the specific word, "shush." This is not only a way of getting her to allow him to do as he wants, but it is a term which is patronizing. He silences her not as a male lover trying to calm a frightened, unnerved young woman, but as a paternal figure who is silencing a belligerent child.
The narrator comments on the patriarchy of her society, although Minot has her do this in a subtle way. She says that parents are never aware of the truth of their children's conduct (Minot 5). The parents in this girl's life are ignorant, but also seemingly ambivalent. What they do know of their daughter's relationships is based upon antiquated ideas of how young men and women should interact with one another. A mother of a child of this period in time would have been a product of that post-Second World War cult of domestication. Just as it would never occur to a mother to engage in sexualized activities in her youth as it would be highly improper, it would never occur to her that her daughter could behave in any way other than her own conduct.
Women in the United States of the late 1950s and 1960s were not only battling the domestic indoctrination of their mothers, but also dealing with the patriarchal basis of the entire society. A character like Minot's narrator would feel the compulsion to satisfy her own innate sexual desires but polite society would never allow her to explore them. She would be compelled to enter the domestic cult of her mothers and to become the non-ambitious wives of one of the nation's perfect male stereotypes. The narrator's mother expects her daughter to marry and then become a mother. The daughter's goals should be the same as the mother's in the ideal world.
All of the males in the narrator's life are trying to get something from her. The society declares that members of the male gender are in positions of power over their female counterparts. Although the men take advantage of her and engage in sexual acts with her, they would still expect her to eventually become that paragon of perfect womanhood that they see in their mothers. These men would never actually deign to marry the narrator. Any girl who would allow a man to convince her to have sex with him would not be the type of woman who you would want to serve as the mother of your children. The more decent type of fellows that the narrator meets are only mentioned in passing when compared to the more aggressive type. She mentions one boy who "dared to put his arm around me, but that was it" (Minot 9). Her desire to obey the norms attracts her to these boys in that she sees security, but her own sexual nature rejects them at the same time.
One of the most difficult social difficulties for women of this period would have been if a young lady had ambitions for her future which went beyond wifedom and motherhood. The narrator says:
I could do some things well. Some things I was good at, like math or painting or even sports, but the second a boy put his arm around me, I forgot about wanting to do anything else, which felt like a relief at first until it became like sinking into a muck (Minot 6).
This narrator feels compelled to some other departments of life, such as the aforementioned math and artistic skills. Yet, her desires for sexual gratification would eclipse her hopes to become something beyond the former generation's females. This is the type of difficulty that would face any woman, no matter her age or the period in which she was living. In a society like the United States where men are the ones in positions of power and the women are socially designated as the weaker sex, the dominant will always try to force the more submissive into a mold of their design.
The women of this country, and in all nations where women are submissive to the patriarchy, they feel compelled to do things because of their society. The narrator says that whenever she would be out and about, young men would often shout out of the window at her. They would ask her out and call her names if she did not agree to a date with these random males. It did not matter if she were particularly interested in the man. The narrator says: "I'd go because I couldn't think of something to say back that wouldn't be obvious, and if you go out with them, you sort of have to do something" (Minot 7). The society and the time period that this young lady lives in demands that she submit to certain methods of behavior. Whether or not she desires to is unimportant. She goes on to say:
I thought the worst thing anyone could call you was a cock-teaser. So, if you flirted, you had to be prepared to go through with it. Sleeping with someone…