Bound and Gagged By Their Pasts

What Women Really Think
Dec. 21 2010 3:51 PM

Bound and Gagged By Their Pasts

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Ever notice how certain stories, based on phenomena you never thought much about before, seem to start popping up in your intellectual peripheral vision week after week until you finally have to frontal-lobe the damn things? Well, I finally reached a tipping point with scattershot stories about women going public with their … flamboyant sexual exploits. Exploits flamboyant enough to cost them their jobs and, in one case, possibly her kid. Damn. Now I have to figure out whether to indulge my kneejerk reaction or actually fire up some neurons.

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The first was New York art teacher Melissa Petro who, in a Huffington Post piece , outed herself as a former Craigslist sex worker. With a quickness, she found herself spending "six hours and fifty minutes each weekday in a windowless cubicle at a generic desk designated as mine. … We who've been reassigned are scattered inconspicuously throughout the building, indistinguishable from the DOE's actual administrative employees. … For the past two months I've been paid my full salary to sit in what amounts to detention." She claims that a DOE probe cleared her of any classroom-based transgressions but doesn’t tell us when, or if, she’ll be back in her classroom.

Then it was porn queen Jenna Jameson who told W magazine that she gave up her … impressive porn empire for her twin sons. How’s she going to explain her past to them? "I really don’t think I need to say, 'Mommy was a porn star.' … I feel like they’re going to know me and think, Mommy loved us so much that she quit everything and made us her job. And that’s what I did. The moment I decided to have children, I quit. I won’t even do a Maxim cover."

Oh dear. Poor Jenna. She won’t have to say it because she won’t get a chance to, not even if technology advances no further than it has today. The boys will probably have 'everything’ pointed out to them no later than fourth grade if not sooner.  I mean … Jenna’s been busy and I feel like they’re going to know her all too well.

But it was Kendra Holliday , my St. Louis homegirl, who finally got the feminist mommy in me trying to puzzle out exactly what, how, to think about women’s public, first-person "sex positiveness" after parenthood.

Having maintained a carefully anonymous sex blog for a long time, Holliday decided (with an eye to monetizing her blog) to go public with a splashy exposé in the local alternative paper . The ex with whom she shared custody, the ex with whom she was so cool and who was even interviewed for the feature, has since filed for sole custody based on her now-public exploits. She doesn’t have the money to fight. But if she did, should she win? Is he ipso facto the better parent because he keeps his sex life off-line? Does it matter if our kids’ teachers publicize their hooker, " john ," or simply slutty pasts, and what on earth are Jenna’s kids to think of all that they’ll find on the Internet about her, let alone what others will say, goggle-eyed and perhaps priapically, to Mom in the produce aisle? What are mommies to do with their libidos, rights, and career choices in the Internet age?

The feminist and quasi-libertarian in me is all over this like a storm trooper: Past 18, anyone can choose to do anything they want. For far, far too long women’s sexuality has been punished , fetishized, exploited, yadda yadda yadda, so have at it ladies.  But that’s "woman" as sovereign individual, not as teacher, Mommy, or play-date host.

OK. A weird parallel just occurred to me, and now, by George, I think I’ve got it. I’m still ambivalent, but when in doubt, we should always return to first principles, albeit shaggy-dog style.

For a while, when I was doing lots of chick-positive talking-head TV (see: pre-kids), I kept ending up in green rooms with Susan Sarandon. She was one of the few big shots who’d deign to share space with us no-namers. She also ate like a horse while standing around talking about whatever. Here I am, chilling with the uber girlfriend from Rocky Horror , Thelma and Louise , and serious political engagement, but what I’m thinking is: I’VE SEEN YOU NAKED. I’VE SEEN YOU HAVING SEX . YOU MADE A MOVIE WITH A FAKE CHILD PROSTITUTE. I’M FREAKING OUT HERE! HOW CAN YOU STAND THERE, WITH YOUR KIDS’ INITIALS TATTOOED ON YOUR BODY, AFTER WHAT YOU’VE DONE!  ON FILM!!!!!

I wasn’t shrieking this to myself a la the Church Lady, but in wonderment. How can you face strangers, let alone your own children, when your body of work so prominently features your body? And how does that meld with her long-term political involvement, strident feminism, and cozy relationship with her kids? Then I published my memoir, along with innumerable first-person essays, in which I share experiences so personal that many of my pre-writer friends took me aside to voice their concern at my sharing such private information. I knew they’d never understand, so I never tried to explain.

Which is how I came full circle to figuring out how to think about Jenna, Melissa, and Kendra. Meeting people like Sarandon qua real people early in my career led me to believe that performers like her do the things they do on film because their art requires it. It helped free me to share the things I do because my art requires it. I never chose non-fiction and the first-person essay any more than comedians choose comedy or poets poetry. I’d snap up Sarandon as a spokesperson for any endeavor (my kids’ school included) I could strong-arm her into, and I’d have a grand old time flame-throwing any knuckle dragger who tried to use her screen history against her. Why? Because she only fakes public sex?

Smart money says that Kendra’s going to lose her daughter and likely end up with supervised visits; her case is the toughest, and I wish she chosen not to go public until her daughter was older.  St. Louis aint Paris, and middle school is hell enough without photos of Mommy being fisted on the Internet.  But that’s life.

So here’s where I come out on this, here’s why I believe in the Rule of Law wherein we develop fundamental principles when calm, then force ourselves to live up to them when not calm. The Mommies Three here, mommies everywhere, have a right to do as they please, as publicly as they please. The rest of us only have the right to protest if their private exploits affect public spaces like the classroom, the PTA, etc. We certainly have the right to privately discriminate against them, or anyone else, in terms of play dates and the like; for instance, I nudge my kids away from friendships with kids from proselytizing Christian families. (I’ve haven’t found other religions doing missionary work among the infidels.) But the First Amendment has no meaning if you lose your job, or your kid, for exercising it.

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