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PHOTOGRAPHY: ELIZABETH WEINBERG

Lena Chen puts her feet up

identity was revealed on a notorious forum, launching a letterwriting campaign to the Harvard sociology department, where he is a teaching assistant, accusing him of raping Chen. “A lot of what they took issue with was not my writing but rather my lifestyle,” she says. “They thought that I was ruining myself for the rest of my life and I would never be able to find a husband. Like, a lot of this came down to: what man would ever want you, given that you write this blog and given that you have been very open about the fact that you had a lot of sexual partners? And that was hurtful, partly because there’s a grain of truth. People do think that way.” Margolis encountered similar slut-shaming when the U.K.’s Sunday Times published an article exposing her identity three days after her book was published under the pseudonym Abby Lee in 2006. To this day, she doesn’t know how the tabloid found out her real name. The press hounded Margolis, her parents, friends, neighbors, and colleagues for weeks, offering money to “dish the dirt” on her, causing her to lose her job as an assistant director in the film industry. But what hurt the most was the sexist propaganda complete strangers hurled at her for writing about her sex life. “When the newspaper outed me, I was gobsmacked by the antifemale approach the paper took,” she says. “All I had done on my blog and [in my] book was to write openly about my sex life and the feelings and thoughts that this had raised. But the newspaper felt like they had to chastise me for it, calling me sordid and seedy and shameless, as if there was something negative about my being a sexually active woman.” Although Margolis publicly laughed off the volume of sexist and misogynistic hate mail she received, it privately upset her. It’s a sentiment shared by Jessica Cutler, 32, who lost her job as a staff assistant for a Republican senator on Capitol Hill when she

was exposed as the writer behind the blog Washingtonienne in 2004. She had been anonymously entertaining readers with flippant tales of her active sex life, including having anal sex with a co-worker and accepting money for sex from men, one of whom was a high-level federal employee. After blogging for less than two weeks, her identity was uncovered and publicized by snarky political blog Wonkette. “Losing my anonymity was hard,” she says. “The first time I saw my name associated with Washingtonienne, I was devastated, but I pretended not to be. I didn’t realize that working on the Hill and having a sloppy sex life were mutually exclusive activities. There is hard-core scheisse porn on the Internet, but my blog—which was just words on a screen—was being scrutinized like it was [disturbing-image shock site] Rotten.com.” Schoolteacher Petro recalls feeling similarly upset by people’s visceral reactions to her past when the New York Post article was published. “I couldn’t really see why so many people were so angry at me. It was a terrible feeling. I don’t like it when people are angry at me. That made me feel ashamed. So I really had to focus on the fact that I hadn’t harmed anybody doing what I had done. And if there was any harm being caused, it was that machine, that out-of-control [press] machine that was causing the harm. And I just knew not to feed it.” Margolis, however, decided to take the machine to task when a British newspaper, The Independent, ran a first-person piece she’d written with a headline referring to her as a hooker. Ironically, she had mentioned in the article that she hoped to “dispel stigma and stereotypes” about just such a thing by being a sex blogger. “It was and always has been of huge importance to me to challenge the idea that female sexuality is in any way tied to the sex industry, and because of this, and the fact that the newspaper had implicated me and my writing in this way, it meant I was left with no choice but to sue the newspaper for libel,” she says. The Independent was eventually forced to print an apology stating, “Ms. Margolis is not and never has been ‘a hooker,’” pay damages, and make an official court statement for the permanent public record. For some sex writers, the lines are a bit blurrier. Both Petro and Cutler write about accepting money for sexual services, and Cutler posed for a nude Playboy pictorial in the wake of her scandal. “I’d lost my income,” she says. “I was lucky enough to get an offer from Playboy and a book deal a few weeks later. If I didn’t need the money, I wouldn’t have pursued either opportunity, but I didn’t have anyone paying me not to do those things. So it was not a tough decision to make.” Petro was offered $60,000 (her annual teacher’s salary) to pose for the low-rent porn mag High Society. She turned it down, though she wasn’t surprised by the offer. Courted or not, sexual objectification seems to go hand in hand with being a woman who writes about sex. All of these women have had their appearances and bodies subjected to scrutiny that is rarely seen directed at male writers, even those who deal with explicit personal experiences. (Nobody ever offered Tucker Max—the notorious “dude” writer whose online stories include “Tucker Tries Buttsex” and “The Blowjob Follies”—a nude photo spread, nor have Henry Miller or Norman Mailer ever been vili-

Profile for debbie stoller

issue 67  

issue 67, portis de rossi

issue 67  

issue 67, portis de rossi

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