The Double Standard is alive and well

I was lucky enough to meet Zoe Margolis a few months ago. Zoe, aka Abby Lee, was famously outed for her popular anonymous blog, Girl with a One Track Mind. When I met her, she was doing a book reading at Sh! Women’s Shop in Hoxton promoting her new book, Girl with a One Track Mind Exposed. At the time she talked briefly about her shock and anger at being called a hooker in the headline of an article that ran in the Independent on Sunday, so I was very happy to read in Saturday’s Guardian that she had won libel damages. No one doubted that she would. The headline of the article was not only defamitory, but it was also wrong. The Inedpendent has since apologized and settled out of court.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help thinking about the big news a couple of months ago when Peter Biskind’s book, Star, How Warren Beatty seduced America, revealed that Beatty had supposedly slept with 12,775 women — give or take.

No one — even mistakenly — called Beatty a hooker. In fact the very idea is ludicrous. Men, especially handsome powerful ones, build reputations on their sexual prowess. Other men admire them, and women long to be the next notch on the bed post. Even though Beatty was referred to as a serial philanderer in one of the many newspaper articles, somehow that just doesn’t have the same impact as being called a hooker.

Seldom does a woman get admired for her sexual prowess, nor does she have to sleep with anywhere near 12,775 men before she gets labeled a whore. I’m in no way denegrating sex workers. I’m simply saying that the old double standard is alive and well, no matter how sophisticated we think we may be.

I doubt if there’s a woman writer of erotic fiction anywhere who doesn’t empathize with Zoe. Every time I publish a new story, every time I write a blog entry, there’s a frisson of fear, a small knot in my stomach, when I consider the risk. The truth is, the prudism and puritanism that’s a part of the culture we all grow up in still causes me to doubt myself, and even though I know better, causes me to fear what other people might think or say. And certainly not without cause. When women are open about sex, we run the risk of being labeled slut, whore, hooker. We run the risk that those who still think sex should be the property of the patriarchy, the church and state, will see us as fair game for verbal and emotional abuse (or worse) because we’ve chosen to celebrate our sexuality rather than repress it.

Zoe Margolis is one of my heros. She’s courageous, outspoken, and she’s making a difference for all of us who believe in the celebration of sexuality. And the world could certainly use a little more cause to celebrate.

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