The Useless Sex by Oriana Fallaci

The useless sex by Oriana Fallaci

Do you feel happier thinking that you can do what men do and even become President? God, how I wish I was born in one of those countries where women have no worth. Ours is a useless sex anyway.

The Useless Sex plot

We’re in 1961 and Italian author Oriana Fallaci writes for the magazine “L’Europeo” when her editor asks her to write a reportage on women. She is skeptical. Is this really useful? she asks herself. Women are not a special breed, after all.
It’s the quote above, spoken by a friend at dinner, that convinces her to leave. She realizes that “men’s problems start from economical, racial or social matters. But women’s problems start from being women.”

Oriana leaves Italy for a long trip to the East, searching for a Chimera: happy women.
She is accompanied by the photographer Duilio as she flies over Asia. She starts from Pakistan where little girls, all wrapped up in fabric-like packages, marry unknown and older men. She then flies to India, the land of contradictions. In India, women throw themselves into their husbands’ pyre because it’s better to be dead than a widow. In India women also are active leaders in the country’s administration. In Malesia, matriarchs are real but endangered.
In Hong-Kong women still follow Confucio’s laws and husbands can file for divorce if “the wife is disrespectful to her parents-in-law if she’s sterile, talkative or jealous”. In Mao’s China, on the other hand, spouses must respect monogamy, protect one another and build together a new society. In Japan, women are submissive and obedient. And in Hawaii, real Hawaiian women don’t exist anymore.

Oriana Fallaci concludes her trip in New York and it’s like returning to the starting point. In the western world, women must act like men to be taken seriously.

Are women still the useless sex?

I loved this book for two reasons.
This is the second book by Oriana Fallaci that I read while in lockdown.
In March 2020 I read Insciallah but the serious topic of the novel did not make a good match with being a prisoner in my own home.

“The useless sex” is a mind-travel. Oriana Fallaci’s writing style is vivid and descriptive and it’s almost like being right there with her through the whole trip.
I must admit that the feeling was bittersweet because, as of January 2021, I still have no clue on when we’ll be allowed to travel light-heartedly again.

And then there’s the theme of the book. Women and happiness. While reading, I’ve asked myself quite a few times if ours is still the useless sex.
The answer I gave myself is not the one I’d wished for. I would have liked to reply. “Of course not! It’s 2021!
Instead, Oriana’s words were so immersive and current that I had to force me to remember that the book was written in 1961. The thought flashed into my mind like a comet, and it felt like waking up all of a sudden after dozing off.

Oriana Fallaci and Taylor Swift

I finished the book while on lunch break and immediately after I went for a walk. While preparing, I heard Fallaci’s words in my mind. I imagined having a conversation with her to tell her that, 60 years later, everything had changed.
Then I walked out and played Spotify randomly. The first song to stream was “The Man” by Taylor Swift. I quote.

They’d say I hustled,
Put in the work
They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve
What I was wearing
If I was rude
Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves?
[…]
I’m so sick of running as fast I can
Wondering if I’d get there quicker
If I was a man
And I’m so sick of them coming at me again
‘Cause if I was a man
Then I’d be the man


Just like Oriana Fallaci’s friend, Taylor Swift has everything a girl could dream of. She embodies the stereotype of what a girl should look like in our society. She’s rich, pretty, blond, tall, thin, and with blue eyes. Being “perfect” did not save Taylor from attacks and double standards. If she feels like that, you can only imagine what’s it like for us humans.

The truth is, that it’s 2021 and women are still the useless sex and we’re still bound to unhappiness. Not for a lack of means or intelligence but because we’re still overwhelmed by a sexist culture.
Taking inspiration from Oriana’s title, we could say that our sex is “Useful as long as…”.

We’re useful as long as…

Our sex is useful as long as… we reach success playing by men’s rules.
Our sex is useful as long as… our boobs are squeezed into a lace bra. But it’s shameful to show our boobs while breastfeeding.
Our sex is useful as long as… men can enjoy our vagina when they ask for it. But it’s shameful to show a vagina that bleeds blood instead of weird blue fluids.
Our sex is useful as long as… it makes the beauty industry make billions. “We are worth it” only if we have perfect hair and make-up.
I’d love to hear what Oriana would say about modern women and social media.

I’m on the edge of being 30 and it’s time I decide if I want to be a mother or not. I confess that I feel a lot of responsibility. I know that if I’ll ever decide to have a child, it won’t be easy. I was never very motherly, but I must admit that it thrills me to think that I could grow a new human being to be better than I ever was. And if that human being should ever be male, I’d like to grow a man that can take advantage of his “useful sex” to make the world a happier place for women.

I’ve let my thoughts wander way too much. I know this goes way beyond a simple book review. But that’s the power of books and of mountain huts (whether they are real or imaginary). They can make you think. And no matter how much snow should fall outside my mountain hut, my door will always be open to thoughts and growth.


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