Sex show draws crowd
By Sharon Schiff
The Virginia Gazette
Published February 14, 2007
WILLIAMSBURG — Topless women weren't the only thing keeping students at the College of William & Mary focused Monday night at the Sex Workers Art Show.
Sparkling nipple adornments, feather boas, bare bottoms, erotic dances, striptease music and sex toys entertained a crowd of more than 400 who were packed into the auditorium of the University Center. Another 300 were turned away. The show attempted to empower the actors by portraying the realities of their careers.
Jo Weldon shared her story of how a stripper job helped pay her way through college and graduate school. She regaled the audience by doing a skit that revealed the questions strippers commonly face. She used a male student to ask the questions.
"Are they real?" he asked.
"Real expensive," she answered.
Other performances were more risque.
A woman named Dirty Martini did a striptease. Weighing in at well over 200 pounds, she finished her routine wearing only a G-string and pasties.
Cono Snatch Zubobinskaya, clad initially in military fatigues, gave a theatrical performance that included a dildo shaped like a gun. Her anti-war message was that sexual favors would be given if "doing so can end the war. Just don't force me."
"It's just so out there and expressive," said Josh Campbell, a member of Lamba Alliance, one of six student groups to sponsor the event. "It's hip, it's in your face, and it's exciting."
In addition to curiosity, the show also aroused some opposition.
Ken Petzinger, a physics professor, was outraged to learn that the college had permitted such an event. He found out about it last Friday, too late to stop it.
"I think it's a totally inappropriate use of student funds," Petzinger said. "It's in conflict with other values the college has."
President Gene Nichol issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, perhaps hoping to preempt inevitable criticism tied to the Wren cross.
"I don't like this kind of show and I don't like having it here," he said. "But it's not the practice and province of universities to censor or cancel performances because they are controversial."
Most of the money for the event, which cost about $1,800, comes out of student fees. The Office of Student Activities helps disperse the money for all kinds of campus-wide events. The Department of Women Studies donated $200 to help pay for the show.
The show visited W&M last year, but advertising was by word-of-mouth only. It drew about 250 people. Administrators thoroughly reviewed the proposal before allowing it to return.
"How many came here to see naked ladies?" asked Annie Oakley, the organization's founder. The response was less than enthusiastic. "It's okay to like naked ladies," she said. "Usually they are only allowed to be naked ladies."
Her message was that sex workers, which include strippers, escorts and prostitutes, should be taken seriously. Some of the entertainers have retired from sex-related professions, but don't regret their experiences. Amber Dawn celebrated two years of retiring from prostitution during Monday's show.
Kirk Reid, a Virginia native, told the audience about his life as a male prostitute. "Every job has its shadows," he said. Cater waitering? Now that's exploitation.
Reid grew up in the Shenandoah Valley. He considered himself an outsider, finally revealing he is gay.
"I went to the same high school as Pat Robertson," he said. "I feel like part of my karma in life is to balance out Pat Robertson."
Oakley, who introduced the performances, made reference to the obstacle students encountered to reprise the event on campus. "They struggled a lot with your administration to make this happen," she said.
Senior Sean Barker, a black studies major, led the effort. He felt it important to bring back such a unique perspective to college students.
"Last year's successful event was a big part of it," he said. "The walls didn't come crashing down."
Barker felt the provocative performances and crass anecdotes don't encourage promiscuity or promote sexual activity.
"It serves to deconstruct some of the assumptions we may have about sex workers," he said. "It's just exposure to a different world."
The event is part of a month-long national tour, which included a stop at Virginia Commonwealth University on Sunday. It serves to give sex workers an opportunity to explain how they view their own work. They don't sugarcoat the details.
Campbell sees value in that.
"It's from them and not how society perceives them," he said. "You really have to hear it from them. It opens a door and sheds light on a sector of society that is often too taboo to discuss."
Virginia Walters, who helped Barker organize the event, wanted to clarify a few things for those who didn't attend.
"A really important aspect of this particular show is that it's not pornography," she said. "People also confuse 'sex positivity' with sex all the time, and that's not what this is about. It's about making your own choices."
When posters went up to promote the event, John Foubert, a professor in the School of Ed and faculty sponsor of One in 4, a student organization devoted to battling sexual assault on college campuses, felt compelled to give people more information.
Last week he created four varied fliers with quotes by feminists opposed to pornography. He tacked up hundreds of fliers next to posters announcing Monday's show. One quotation by Susan Brownmiller stated: "Pornography is virulent propaganda against women. It promotes a climate in which the ideology of rape is not only tolerated but encouraged."
Foubert is heavily involved in the correlation between pornography and sexual violence. He's written several scholarly articles on the topic as well as a book. He was teaching a class during the time the event was held, so he didn't get to see for himself if what occurred would be defined as pornography.
"I would say that I am against the promotion of the pornography industry," he said in an interview Tuesday. "From what I see on the website for this show, it seems to me that the show promotes the pornography industry. If that's true, then I would be against the show."
Walters is smart enough to realize that everyone won't be able to interpret the event in a way that they'll get something out of it.
"I fully understand that it's not appropriate for everyone," she said.
"Sure, there are folks who are quite sensitive to this matter," said W&M provost Geoffrey Feiss. "It is controversial, but universities exist to evaluate and deal with controversy. If we aren't doing that, then we probably aren't doing our job."
Feiss also explained that the administrators consulted with other universities that had hosted the event in the past. They wanted to understand the goal of the show and the content. The college also checked in with the attorney general to see what was legally permissible.
A 75-year-old man, who wouldn't give his name, was in attendance with a group of people accompanied by a faculty member. He was bothered by what he saw.
"It's shocking they had this type of event for impressionable young people," the man said.