Category Archives: sexuality

Carol Doda: Victim or Victory?

Debbie says:

photo by Stan-the-Rocker, 2013
photo by Stan-the-Rocker, 2013

Carol Doda died this week. If you aren’t a San Francisco Bay Area person, you might never have heard of her, but she was an iconic figure in “the City” for many of the decades I’ve lived here. A San Francisco native, she dropped out of school in the 8th grade.

“I thought the only way to make it was to be a cocktail waitress, so that’s what I did when I was 14,” she once said. “You can make yourself look older if you use your hair and makeup right.”

Many would quarrel with her life choices, but they certainly seem to have worked well for her. In 1964, she became the first well-known topless dancer of that period, and later that year she got silicone implants which increased the size of her breasts by ten sizes.


That summer, the Republican National Convention which nominated Barry Goldwater to run against Lyndon Johnson was held in San Francisco, and she was the entertainer the delegates most wanted to see. Later, after Jimmy Carter admitted that he “lusted in his heart” for women he wasn’t married to, Doda invited him to come see her act. She also put a ten-foot high picture of him outside the door of the Condor, the club where she danced for decades, under  the billboard which showed a sketch of her with bright red blinking nipples.

After leaving the Condor, she started a rock band, the Lucky Stiffs. When that faded in the 1990s, she started a lingerie shop in San Francisco called Champagne and Lace and did comedy, singing and dancing — with her clothes on — at North Beach nightclubs near where she once danced topless. She was sashaying through her flirtatious act, warbling “That Old Black Magic” and the like, until her health began to fail this year.

She often said she considered herself more of an entertainer than a stripper.

In one  narrative, she is a victim of the male gaze and the objectification of women, a woman who could have had a very different life, perhaps been the entertainer she wanted to be without such extreme sexualization, without the breast implants, without the prurience of much of her audience. In another, she’s a woman who took charge of her own life, built a career doing something she loved, and reveled in an acceptance of how people chose to see her. The obituary says that she had a large extended family in Northern California, a place to get outside of the spotlight.

She certainly made some difficult choices, almost inevitably must have struggled with some of their consequences, and in the end seems to have had a full, rich, satisfying life, substantially on her own terms. Her story complicates the question of the sex worker in American life in the second half of the 20th century. She deserves to be remembered.

Virginity and Body Autonomy: Two Women’s Stories

Debbie says:

Virginity, as Hanne Blank so thoroughly convinced me years ago, is a concept so ambiguous that it is almost meaningless. But nonetheless, it’s of deep importance to millions of people, two of whom have written about it this week, and the two posts resonate beautifully with each other.

NOTE:  Both of these posts are exclusively heteronormative; I apologize, and I hope folks for whom the heterosexual aspects don’t work will appreciate the underlying message.

Anna Fitzpatrick wrote a letter to her younger self: “Dear Anxious Virgin, Your Time Will Cum.”

Your parents are cool with letting your older sister date. Your high school has a strong sex-ed program where you’re learning that it’s okay to want sex. Your health teachers educate you about contraceptive methods. The teen magazines you consume voraciously are all run by third-wavers who challenge the word “slut.” Your friends talk openly about their experiences. You agree with these things on a political level. You are sex positive, you budding feminist you. You believe people should do what they want with their bodies. And yet, this ironically makes you feel guiltier that you aren’t doing what you want with yours.

Ashley Simpo wrote a more generalized, but still very personal piece: The Thing About Your Daughter’s Virginity.

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

Instead we teach our daughters that despite having wet panties and perked nipples and all the necessary emotions and “equipment” needed to engage sexually, that they should hold off — not because perhaps she doesn’t have the time to deal with the physical realities of sexual activity (i.e. remembering to take a pill, having your naughty-bits rubbed raw on occasion, having to maintain a new standard of personal hygiene, keeping up with your menstrual cycles and knowing what questions to ask a potential sex partner) but because the boy won’t respect her, or Jesus won’t like it or she may end up pregnant or itchy or dead or sad.

The two pieces, one about a white girl growing up in Canada and one about an African-American girl growing up in East Oakland, can almost be read in counterpoint. Fitzpatrick’s experience of believing she should want sex but not being ready for it balances Simpo’s experience of wanting sex against the advice of people around her. Here’s Fitzpatrick:

You invite him over. You initiate the makeout. You bring him to the bedroom. You start undressing first. “This is it,” you think, “this is when you finally get it over with.” (The fact that you think of sex as “getting it over with” should tell you all you need to know.) And then you lie on your back and he starts to enter you and even though he is very nice and even though you thought you wanted this, you start to PANIC and hyperventilate and he gets up and gets you a glass of water before even getting dressed (bless him) and you are considerate enough to wait until he leaves before you start spewing your guts out while hunched over the toilet, feeling the opposite of sexy.

And here’s Simpo:

No one ever told me that my body belonged to me and that I could do with it what I pleased.

And so within the act of feeling liberated and stirred after my first few sexual encounters, I also felt dirty, disrespectful, deceitful and disappointing. No one tells young girls to do what they want with their bodies because they know that at some point young girls are going to want to have sex. And God forbid a girl should open her legs and explore her sexuality….

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

What makes the connection between these two pieces so strong is that Simpo’s recommended advice works as well for girls like Fitzpatrick as it does for girls like herself. If both of them had taken the same advice–consider only whether you want to have sex with him–they would almost certainly have made different choices, but both of them could have made the choice with more confidence, less self-blame, and less baggage.

“Your body belongs to you and you can do what you please.”

Wouldn’t that message change the world?

Thanks to Lizzy for the pointer to the Simpo article.