“Nancy Friday’s successful fantasy revelations (My Secret Garden, Forbidden Flowers) have seen her placed among the feminist erotic pioneers.” Her writings argue that women have often been reared under an ideal of womanhood, which was outdated and restrictive, and largely unrepresentative of many women’s true inner lives, and that openness about women’s hidden lives could help free women to truly feel able to enjoy being themselves. She asserts that this is not due to deliberate malice, but due to social expectation, and that for women’s and men’s benefit alike it is healthier that both be able to be equally open, participatory and free to be accepted for who and what they are.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Walter F. Friday and Jane Colbert Friday, Nancy Friday grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and attended the only local girls’ college-preparatory school, Ashley Hall, where she graduated in 1951. She then attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she graduated in 1955. She worked briefly as a reporter for the San Juan Island Times and subsequently established herself as a magazine journalist in New York, England, and France before turning to writing full-time and publishing her first book, My Secret Garden, in 1973. This book, which compiled interviews of women discussing their sexuality and fantasies, became a bestseller; Friday has regularly returned to the interview format in her subsequent books on themes ranging from mothers and daughters to sexual fantasies, relationships, jealousy, envy, feminism, BDSM, and beauty. She had not written a book since the publication of The Power of Beauty (released in 1996, and then renamed and rereleased in paperback form in 1999)—despite contributing an interview of porn star Nina Hartley to XXX: 30 Porn Star Portraits a book by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders published in 2004—until Beyond My Control: Forbidden Fantasies in an Uncensored Age (2009).
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s she was a frequent guest on television and radio programs such as Politically Incorrect, Oprah, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Friday also has a web site, created in the mid-1990s, to complement the publication of The Power of Beauty. Initially conceived as a forum for development of new work and interaction with her diverse audience, it has not been updated in several years. As of 2005, Friday is currently working on her first novel.
Friday has explained how “in the late 1960s I chose to write about women’s sexual fantasies because the subject was unbroken ground, a missing piece of the puzzle . . . at a time in history when the world was suddenly curious about sex and women’s sexuality.” The backdrop was a widespread belief that “women do not have sexual fantasies . . . are by and large destitute of sexual fantasy.”
Friday considered that “more than any other emotion, guilt determined the story lines of the fantasies in My Secret Garden . . . women inventing ploys to get past their fear that wanting to reach orgasm made them Bad Girls.” Her later book, My Mother/My Self, 'grew immediately out of My Secret Garden 's questioning of the source of women’s terrible guilt about sex.”
When she returned 20 years later to her original topic of women’s fantasies in Women on Top, it was in the belief that “the sexual revolution” had stalled: “it was the greed of the 1980s that dealt the death blow . . . the demise of healthy sexual curiosity.”
Friday, like other feminists, was especially concerned with the controlling role of the images of “Nice Woman . . . Nice Girl”—of being “bombarded from birth with messages about what a ‘good woman’ is . . . focused so hard and so long on never giving in to ‘selfishness.’” However, as feminism itself developed “a stunning array of customs, opinions, moral values, and beliefs about how the world of women . . . should conduct itself,” so too it ran into the difficulty of moralism versus human nature—the fact that “feminism—any political philosophy—does not adequately address sexual psychology” eventually sparking the 'feminist “sex wars” . . . from the early 1980s” onwards. Against that backdrop, Friday’s evidential and empirical concerns continue to address the “open question of how many of their sexual freedoms the young women . . . will retain, how deeply they have incorporated them.”
“Critics have labeled Friday’s books unscientific, because the author solicited responses,” thus potentially biasing the contributor pool.
My Secret Garden was greeted by a “salvo from the media accusing me of inventing the whole book, having made up all the fantasies”; My Mother/My Self was “initially . . . violently rejected by both publishers and readers”; while Women on Top “was heavily criticized for its graphic and sensational content.”
Friday has also been criticized for her reaction to the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair, which critics interpreted as sexist. The journalist Jon Ronson writes, "In February 1998, the feminist writer Nancy Friday was asked by the New York Observer to speculate on Lewinsky’s future. 'She can rent out her mouth,' she replied."
Nancy Friday married novelist Bill Manville in 1967, separated from him in 1980, and divorced him in 1986. Her second husband was Norman Pearlstine, formerly the editor in chief of Time Inc.. They were married at the Rainbow Room in New York on July 11, 1988, and divorced in 2005.
- My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies, Simon & Schuster, 1973
- Forbidden Flowers: More Women’s Sexual Fantasies, Simon & Schuster, 1975
- My Mother, My Self: The Daughter’s Search for Identity, Delacorte Press, 1977
- Men in Love, Men’s Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love Over Rage, Dell Publishing, 1980
- Jealousy, M. Evans & Co., 1985
- Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasies, Simon & Schuster, 1991
- The Power of Beauty, HarperCollins Publishers, 1996. Republished as Our Looks, Our Lives: Sex, Beauty, Power and the Need to be Seen, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999
- Beyond My Control: Forbidden Fantasies in an Uncensored Age, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2009
- Susie Bright, "Introduction," Totally Heterotica (1995) p. 2
- People Magazine, June 30, 1980
- Friday, Nancy (2008). My Secret Garden. New York: Pocket Books. p. xvi. ISBN 978-1-4165-6701-1.
- Nancy Friday, “Report from the Erotic Interior,” Women on Top (1991) pp. 6-7
- Allan Fromme, quoted in Friday, Top p. 7
- Friday, Top p. 4-5
- Friday, Top p. 8
- Friday, Top p. 11-13
- Friday, Top p. 20-22
- Sonia Johnson, in K. A. Foss, S. K. Foss & C. L. Griffin eds, Readings in Feminist Rhetorical Theory (2004) p. 297
- Paula Gunn Allen, in Readings p. 210
- Bright, p. 382 and p. 379
- Friday, Top p. 21
- Dawn B Sova, Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds (2006) p. 281
- Friday, Top p. 8
- Sova, p. 281
- June Keith account of visiting Friday's former Key West home
- Key West Literary Seminar