Writer, Actor, Shameless Hussy

An Open Letter to Mayim Bialik

Dear Ms. Bialik,

With a meager 17 IMBD credits to my name, I am no one and you’ve never heard of me. My voice carries less weight and my platform is not as high, but I wanted to reach out, for what it’s worth.

Because I’ve heard of you. With starry eyes and a hopeful heart, I watched you on Blossom, and it made me feel like maybe I, too, could realize my dream of acting in movies and on TV. You showed me that it was possible for a “less than perfect” looking girl to be successful, recognized, and valued. It meant a lot to a chubby kid with crooked teeth and asymmetrical features; so much so that I owned an embarrassing number of floppy hats decorated with giant flowers.

Which is why it’s so painful to have to tell you this: you are part of the problem. It isn’t that your choices are wrong, but rather your inability to see the choices of other women as valid and equally deserving of respect. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what you meant by your op-ed in the Times. What matters is that you didn’t stop to think about what women like me would hear. And yes, I know “what kind of woman” I am.

I’m the kind of woman who is reprimanded for skirts that are too short in the workplace, as if that were more important than doing my job.

I’m the kind of woman who has been branded everything from Prude when I won’t give it up to Slut when I do, Difficult when I voice my opinions, and a Bad Influence when I encourage other women to openly embrace the full, beautiful complexity of their sexual selves, in any way they choose.

I’m the kind of woman who hears “no one wants to read that” about my creative work, because I write about women who love sex, unabashedly and without reprisal or retribution. And as you have so plainly illustrated, lots and lots of people are threatened by the power of an overtly sexual woman.

You may be wondering, What can this sex-obsessed harlot possibly be writing that in any way contributes to a meaningful life? Well, I am so glad you asked. I write about women who pursue passion with others and come to find it in themselves. I write about young women discovering their truth the first time they kiss another girl. I write about women who are beautiful, smart, and accomplished, because none of those things are mutually exclusive, and all of them deserve to be celebrated.

What you will judge the most, however, is the fact that I also write feminist erotic fiction. Feminist, in this usage, does not equal having a doctorate or dressing modestly. My feminism centers on fierce, unbridled sexuality without shame or apology. And also wearing whatever the f*ck we want. Like you, I am “a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer…” (Although, have you ever had a personal trainer? I did, briefly, and it was awesome. Turns out physical exercise is beneficial for every human, not just the beautiful, sexy ones.) I also do not look like a typical starlet, and I never have.

Unlike you, however, I have been harassed, groped, and propositioned on numerous occasions, both inside and outside of Hollywood.

With the rash of spotlights being shone on sexual predators, so many people are sharing their stories of assault, harassment, and abuse – men and women alike. I’ve never shared my stories publicly, but like countless others inspired by your perfunctory opinion piece, I’ve decided to share my stories with you.

I’ve been molested three times. Once by a stranger, who put his hand under my shirt, groping my breasts. Twice by people I considered friends, who put their hands down my pants and between my legs. All three times, I woke up to these things happening. I was asleep. The stranger stumbled into my tent at a music festival. One friend climbed into bed with me at a house party, in a back room where I’d gone to lie down. The other friend took liberties after I’d spent part of our evening telling him about the other instances I’ve just disclosed to you.

Obviously, sadly, this point needs to be made again and again: I was not flirting. I was not dressed in scandalous clothing. I did not ask for it. I was asleep.

Inside Hollywood, I worked on an indie film with some well-known stars. I was on set as both a PA and a stand in for the lead actress. The DP made several untoward comments about my attractiveness while lighting scenes, and I just ignored him. I wanted to keep my job, and saying anything at all felt like a risk. At the wrap party, he cornered me and said, “We should go somewhere. Let’s go somewhere and fuck.” I wasn’t in his hotel room. I wasn’t asking anyone to help advance my career. I was a 22-year-old woman who wanted to make movies, thrilled to have one of her first real jobs on set. Tragically, my instinct and priority in this moment was to not get myself blacklisted from working on other sets. I did not want to offend this highly offensive man, because his was the position of power. Instead of kneeing him in the balls, I reminded him he was married, to which he replied, “So what?” and moved in to put his hands on me. By some miracle, the asinine trick of pretending to wave at a friend across the room and slip away from him worked. I then immediately found a large male grip who I trusted, asked him to walk me to my car, and left.

As you said, women should be able to wear what we want, flirt how we want, and be as sexual as we want, without fear of what liberties people will take because of ‘our behavior.’ We should also be able to do all of those things, and pursue a career in the film and television industry – or any industry – without someone in a comfortable position of esteem and success telling us that any behavior outside of modest clothes, prim interactions with men, and private sexuality is naïve.

The proliferation of women telling women’s stories is absolutely a part of the change we so desperately need in both Hollywood and our society. Another part of that change is to champion every woman’s agency, over her work, her body, her life, and her sexuality. What we need to do for each other, as women, is to advocate for all of us to live as we choose. For you, Ms. Bialik, shopping at Talbot’s and embracing propriety are not oppressive. For me, they are. In spite of, or perhaps because of, my past experiences, I refuse to shrink. I refuse to make myself smaller, to mute my sensuality, style, or personhood to a size that will make other people comfortable.

So the next time you see a woman in a really short skirt tossing her hair while she talks to a man, I urge you to practice adjusting your attitude. It’s a simple phrase, easy to remember:

Good for her, not for me.

Only when we are all seen, heard, and valued for the full complexity of our beings – including our sexual expression – will women truly be treated as equals in our society. Equally respected, equally worthy, and equally free.

Sincerely,

 

Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin
Writer, Actor, Shameless Hussy

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Consent is Sexy, and So is Your Mom

There are a lot of pervasive myths in our society about women and sexuality. If you were to take the bulk of film, TV, and advertising at face value, you would likely assume the following:

  1. Men are more interested in sex than women
  2. Women over the age of… let’s say 35… are not sexy
  3. Women who are mothers are not sexy (and should not be sexual)
  4. Women are either deviant sexpots or chaste asexual beings
    • Yes, the Madonna and the Whore dichotomy is alive and well
  5. When women are sexual it’s solely in the interest of pleasing men
  6. Female sexuality is only acceptable when presented by and for men

Unsurprisingly, I’m here to tell you that this is all a load of bullsh*t. Here’s the truth as I see it, based on my lifelong experience as a woman (who is also intimately close to a substantial number of other women).

1 – Oh My God do we love sex. Not all of us, of course, but an awful lot of us really really really love sex.* And – brace yourself – not every man does.

2 – Most women…

Can we sidebar with the disclaimer that yes, I am making generalizations and there are exceptions to every rule and so on and so forth? Agreed? Good. Back to it.

2 – Most women are at their sexiest once they reach their 30s and 40s, for no other reason than we are at our most confident. We are more comfortable in our skin than ever before, having shed the angst and neediness of our twenties. We also know what we want, what we like, and (hopefully) how to express those desires. (Seriously, I think we can all agree that right now, JLo is the sexiest she has ever been.) Speaking of sexy mamas…

3 – I know, I know… you don’t want to think of your mother as a person who has ever been sexual. But guess what? You exist, so. Your mother has had sex.** This inability to separate a woman’s individuality from her identity as A Mother is dangerous for many reasons, but right now we’re focusing on her sexual agency. To wit:

I am a mother. I can see 40 in my not-too-distant future. I am also sensual and alluring, and I love sex.

Not only do I love sex, but I am and always have been a fiercely sexual being. When I consider creating art / working on projects / writing posts like this that embrace and celebrate women’s sexuality, there is a part of me that questions that choice, because I am a mother and according to society… 

4 – I am not allowed to be Charlotte and Samantha at the same time. I am supposed to be one or the other. But the truth is, I am both of those women. I love being a mother and I love sex. And when I consider what I want my daughter to see and experience and know in her core to be true, it is this:

Sexual Expression vs. Objectification – There is An Enormous Difference

– Rape, harassment, sexism, etc… these are not byproducts of women expressing their sexuality. It’s when women are Sexually Objectified that things fall apart. Sexual Objectification diminishes women’s agency over our own bodies and our worth as human beings.

But guess what?

If I want to start an Instagram account celebrating my sexy ass body and my love of lingerie (which is real and profound), it is not an invitation to violate me.

This is what we need to teach our children. That women are allowed to be sexual creatures, and to express our sexuality however we choose, and in a better world we would be able to do so without fear of scorn or (at times horrifying) retribution. Which leads me to my final point:

– Yes, when I express myself in a sexual way, I enjoy and appreciate a positive response. (I’m a Leo, so. Duh.) However, my sexuality is mine and mine alone. If I want to express it privately or publicly, shyly or brazenly, coyly or salaciously, these are my choices. When it comes to my own personal sexual expression, you don’t get to tell me how to behave.***

The patriarchal approach to women’s sexuality is to appropriate it and manipulate it, because – frankly – a woman solid in her own sexual power is terrifying. Patriarchal society only thrives when women are repressed and oppressed, and if you think that isn’t the case today, that we’ve reached any kind of gender parity where sex is concerned, just ask the victims of the college athletes who’ve been in the news lately for sexually assaulting unconscious women. Ask those women if they feel valued. If they feel justice was served after they were robbed of their sexual agency.

For those of you who prefer visual aids, here are some examples of Sexual Expression vs. Sexual Objectification:

Boobs = burgers = boobs are food = Objectification

Proposal = she’ll let you bone her = Objectification

Everything about this = Objectification 

As for Sexual Expression, let’s include those images right here in the post, yes? Because who doesn’t love a little sassy, saucy, sexual agency?

Dita von Teese = Burlesque = Sexual Expression

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http://www.dita.net/femme-fatale/gallery

Beyoncé = Boss = Sexual Expression

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http://www.beyonce.com/vault/?type=editorial

Gina Rodriguez = Self-Love, Acceptance, and Celebration = Sexual Expression

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https://www.instagram.com/hereisgina/

The moral of these musings, my darling rabble rousers, is simple:

Celebrating women’s sexuality and sexual expression = GOOD!
Turning women into sexual objects = BAD

Also, I may just have to start that Instagram account, because there shouldn’t be anything shocking or scandalous about a mother who can see 40 in her not-too-distant future, who is also sensual and alluring, and loves sex.

 

*We possess the only organ in the human anatomy that exists solely for pleasure, for cryin’ out loud!
**She maybe even enjoyed herself. Deal with it.
***Unless of course we have an explicit agreement to that effect, because consent is sexy.