Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women is a complicated, honest exploration of the desires, relationships, and sexualities of three women – each of whom’s needs have been affected by a period of their lives.
The women that journalist Lisa Taddeo chooses as the focus of this study of female desire are quite different, and yet so similar. There’s Maggie, a 20-something who is deeply affected by an inappropriate relationship she had with a teacher in high school. There’s Lina, an apathetic housewife whose husband never wants to touch her and which causes her to seek approval outside of her marriage. And finally, there’s Sloane, a well-to-do and beautiful woman whose husband enjoys watching her have sex with other men.
Desire is not inherently tied to past experiences, but Taddeo tells the stories of women whose pasts and – at times – traumas have affected their sexual desire. Three Women is a fascinating depiction of sexuality told through a completely objective narrative that will leave you with much to consider about the nature of desire.
Please take caution while reading Three Women if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Sexual assault
Three Women is a wonderfully unique book. It is written with complete objectivity – which I imagine was extremely hard for Taddeo to do, given the subject – and in a narrative style that is deeply gripping. This is a nonfiction book, which depicts real events, people, and relationships, and knowing that these women’s’ stories are real makes the book even more compelling, infuriating, and thought-provoking.
If you’ve heard of Three Women, you likely have also heard some mixed reviews on this book. Most reviews that aren’t strictly positive take issue with the fact that they expected the book would be akin to a feminist manifesto on female sexuality and that it fell short because the women’s explored sexual desires were based largely on trauma that occurred in their pasts or were dictated by men.
So – know that this may not be quite the feminist manifesto it may have been marketed or buzzed about to be. However, I do argue against these critiques that because a woman’s desires may be shaped in some ways by negative experiences in their past or present does not mean that their desires and actions, and the book as a whole, is non-feminist. Telling honest stories of trauma, sexuality, decision-making, and women living their lives is a celebration of choice, of the differences that make women unique, of persevering through hard times, and – I argue – surely is a feminist undertaking.
The stories of Maggie, Lina, and Sloane are quite different and in differing socioeconomic classes, but one critique that I do agree with is that there isn’t much else in the way of diversity. Taddeo tells an utterly compelling story of female desire, but I would have been very interested to see stories of women/people who are not white, cisgendered, and heterosexual. I understand that every person’s story can’t be told, and I don’t knock Taddeo for telling the stories that she did, but additional diversity surely would have made the book more universal.
Ultimately, I found Three Women to be so deeply compelling and moving. Frank discussions of female sexuality are, fortunately and finally, becoming more mainstream, and I basked in the honesty and transparency of these women’s stories and desires. We need more of this – of telling our truths through lenses that are uncomfortable, unconventional, and yet still completely valid.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on Three Women. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya!