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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Jill Soloway on Lady Party IV, 2/23/08

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There are few things that bring sex workers, old-school feminists and modern-day Hollywood together under one roof. But thanks to Jill Soloway (right), writer and co-founder of the feminist group OBJECT, this seemingly impossible dream of yore will be realized on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m.

It’s called Lady Party IV, and it’s definitely all about the ladies. Hosted by OBJECT, Lady Party IV will feature Obie Award-winning playwright Heather Woodbury performing her one-woman show "The Last Days of Desmond 'Nani' Reese: A Stripper's History of the World," followed by a performance by singer-songwriter-pianist Nellie McKay. Men--the bold and unafraid--and women alike are welcome.

Jill, a former writer for "6 Feet Under" and author of the book "Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants," took some time out from preparing dinner to talk about OBJECT, strippers, censorship, and more.

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JP: First, can you tell me about Lady Party, and what it’s all about?

JS: Yeah, it’s an event hosted by OBJECT, and OBJECT - you can also pronounce it OB-JECT, depending on how you feel that particular day - is this group of women in Los Angeles. It’s based on the idea that feminism has come to this crossroads, where there’s sex-positive feminism, stripper-positive feminism, porn-positive feminism, and then there’s the old feminism, you know, anti- all that.

And I think feminism has come to this stopping point where sex-positive feminism or pro-sex-worker feminism gets slapped down when we’re looking at stuff like Britney and Paris and this world of, “Well, look at what the sex-positive feminist movement has brought us.”

We’re in this world now where sex-positive has turned into this like, slut of the week. A lot of us don’t know where to stand on some of this, there’s stripper aerobics classes, and the world is obsessed with Britney and it’s hard to figure out where to be as a woman these days. I find.

JP: Yeah, it definitely is. So is that the focus of OBJECT?

JS: That’s the focus of OBJECT, exactly. That’s why we don’t know, like, if we say OBJECT or ob-JECT, because we’ve decided that we don’t really have any answers but we love the conversation. We decided that the confusion can be fun.

If you think of women who like to talk and think, that’s the point of our gatherings, to discuss these things. [At] Lady Party III, we had people debating what the Lindsay’s and the Britney’s meant about our country, these sort of fallen whores and our obsession with them. Whether it was a post 9/11 way of getting the country hard again, so to speak. If the country was a man, and 9/11 had made it feel impotent, the idea of all these kinds of broken prostitutes is a way of making the country feel stronger, better about itself again.

One that we’re hoping to do shortly which I’m really excited about is about plastic surgery. To get some people talking about it, not even having a position that it empowers us or de-empowers us, just ask the questions about what it means for us as women. To me, that would be a fun evening.

JP: It would be. Do you have differences along generational lines? I know that traditionally, the feminist movement a long time ago came to a halt and split over porn and sex work. So do you feel like, the younger people in your group maybe embrace it a little bit more, or is there any kind of divide that way?

JS: Well, I think yeah, the younger people definitely embrace sex workers and porn where the older women, sort of the NOW contingent, still feel like, as an issue, of course we have to support the idea of sex workers, but actually we all feel sorry for them in our hearts.

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There is that modern version that we can have it all and be strippers and sex workers, but then some of the most interesting conversations in OBJECT that I’ve had have been with women who want to go beyond the OK-ness with that and try to talk about a culture of boundaries that’s about dignity instead of about repression.

That’s kind of the juice of it. Trying to figure this out by having small, interpersonal conversations, big things on stages with lots of speakers.

JP: Did Heather (below) approach you or did you approach her about doing the show?

JS: She’s been involved with OBJECT, and I was trying to figure out a good event for February, and it just sort of came together really easily. The reason we’re doing this with Heather’s show is that Heather’s show basically is this conversation. She plays both parts. It’s a sex worker and a women’s studies student having a conversation in the future.

JP: And she actually used to be a go-go dancer, right?

JS: Yeah, she actually was a stripper, back in her day.

JP: That must make for a good layer.

JS: But it’s more than just like, the Diablo Cody, Hey, I was a stripper and I’m not anymore, now I’m a writer. The kind of, isn’t it kitschy and fun to have been a stripper, that stripper-positive culture that exists especially on the eastside, you know, if you haven’t worked at Jumbo’s, you’re not really cool.

Heather brings to it, this really deep, multi-prisomed way of understanding femininity. The women’s studies student is able to discuss women selling themselves as a way of proving their power to themselves, or taking power, whereas the sex worker who’s like 106 years old and had been in burlesque, and had done it all, discusses selling herself as a means of survival in the face of being raised by a prostitute herself.

JP: There’s a lot that goes into it.

JS: Yeah, I think one of the ways that we talk about it all the time is moving from object to subject in a story. As a stripper you’re the ultimate object, and to be able to own that, and to have your own story as it’s happening is, I think, the first revelation in doing it. I don’t belong to these guys, actually I belong to me. This is my story. Then beyond that, to be able to explore all the different versions of who we can be, and not have to pick sides. That’s what OBJECT’s really about. Not having to pick sides.

Admitting that the sides and the fight is fun, that the argument is fun, and we want to have it.

JP: Right, and respectfully. That was one of my favorite lines on your blog, when you say, “OBJECT advances the belief that women and girls need not pick sides.”

I’m curious what you think about stereotypes of women who live in Los Angeles. Obviously the rest of the country has a lot of stereotypes about us. Do you think that they’re justified, and do you think that because of those stereotypes, it’s more important that we have these conversations?

JS: I think it’s a lot worse in LA. I was in Berkeley, for example, reading at a bookstore there. None of [the women] wore makeup and they all had like, medium-length bobs, and all the grey was coming in, and they didn’t seem to be questioning, “How sexy do I need to be every day to be myself?” And so it’s definitely an LA question, even more so that in New York. I think in New York, it’s not whether or not you want to be sexy, it’s more whether or not you want to be fashionable. I think if I went to New York it would be more that question of, am I wearing the right Marc Jacobs dress? And am I shopping in the right places? Whereas in LA, I think maybe it’s because of Hollywood and porn, I don’t know, but the question of how sexy to be seems like a much bigger, it seems like it’s more real around here.

JP: It’s totally different, I noticed that the last time I was in New York. And you also worked with Jessica Valenti, so did you get that kind of East Coast/West Coast…

JS: Yeah, she’s awesome! She’s so interesting, she’s working on a book right now with this chick in Boston named Jaclyn Friedman called “Yes means Yes.” And they’re talking about dismantling rape culture, by promoting a version of sexually —a sex positive woman. It talks about things like, enthusiastic consent! Which sounds so funny to me, like being able to be like, Yes! I DO want to have sex with you! I am enthusiastically consenting! Right now!

But yeah, Jessica is I think one of the most forward-thinking feminists out there. She is introducing feminism to young women, and it’s in really simple terms. Do you feel like shit all the time because you don’t feel like you’re thin enough? OK, well you’re a feminist, cause you’re dealing with this question. Did you wish you had more power in your life? Well then, you’re a feminist.

JP: Yeah, I read her blog from time to time, Feministing, and I think being from the East Coast I’m curious about the sort of East Coast vs. West Coast feminism, because I do think it’s different.

JS: I don’t know, I think maybe Jezebel feels more LA, because they’re more obsessed with image and they have a little bit more of a sense of humor about walking the double line, between wanting to complain about it and bitch about it and knowing that you have to be on time to your waxing appointment as well.

It’s such a hard question, but I actually believe that getting this solved for women and moving past the dyad that women have had to be in the wife or the other woman, the Madonna or the whore, the good girl or the bad girl, getting past that and allowing women to integrate those parts of themselves into one person is such, well, women need to be able to all be as powerful as they can be to be able to take on the outside world.

Women waste a lot of time, hating other women or competing with other women.

JP: That’s true, and I also think that feminism has a history of that too, which is why I was so intrigued by that not taking sides idea, of, are you a feminist or are you not a feminist, and you have to adhere these really strict guidelines, you know, which is sort of an old-school way of thinking.

JS: Right, and if you say the wrong thing, which doesn’t align with the particular group that you’re dealing with, then you’re sort of on the wrong side...

JP: Or even if you wear lipstick - I think there was something on Feministing about the lipstick police or something like that. So I know lately, people are backing away from calling themselves feminists. Do you get that question a lot, sort of outright, are you a feminist?

JS: I don’t think people really ask me that because I so clearly am, I’m so obvious about it, any chance I get I make sure that I’m proud to say that. But yeah, I have heard that, I have a friend who is a lesbian who refused to call herself a feminist. Because it’s so old-school. It was like, yeah, I’m cool, I’m a lesbian, I’m not a feminist.

Like women under 30, it sounds gross to them, it doesn’t sound sexy.

JP: Why do you think that is?

JS: I don’t know, a lot of people blame Rush Limbaugh for coming up with the word feminazi, [but] again it’s that side-choosing thing. It’s like, if you want to be a feminist then you don’t get to be attractive. You have to pick - there’s been this historical lean towards women having to pick one or the other.

In any book you read, the man is the subject, and women are kind of on one side or the other of his journey. But women taking their own journey and being at the center of things, it’s very very rare. This idea of "Juno," for example, this chick in the center of things, making her decisions, it’s just so rare. It's so much more movies like "My Best Friend's Wedding," movies where it's about, I’m the good girl and he likes the bad girl, I’m the bad girl and he likes the good girl. So it’s very natural for women to put men in the center of things and to split around them. I think that anywhere that we can split, we will. Anywhere that the dominant culture can split us, they will. They’ll split any body.

JP: And we do split, I think sometimes too easily, women turn against each other.

JS: It really starts with personal integration, with integrating those sides of ourselves. It’s always a struggle for me to decide how much energy I want to put in to how I look. When I look at myself growing old, and what it will mean to be 60 and 70, all I want to do is be Fran Lebowitz, so I don’t get ignored at the party! I won’t be interesting to people anymore sexually any day now (laughs), but I want to have a lasting impression as a writer, because I want to be vital and important forever.

What happens to women is when they’re not sexually interesting to men anymore, they’re not part of the story. And it motivates me. It motivates me to be important for things other than that. I need to be important for things other than being cute. You have no idea how cute I actually am (laughs). It’s so easy to make that part of your repertoire, to be sexually attractive and have power that way, and of course it works, but it’s like…

JP: It works and then it’s easy to rely on, and then I think it’s easy to panic when you realize that it’s not always going to be like that. I’m also very adorable (laughs). It’s hard.

JS: It’s fun, but its not going to last forever.

JP: Who co-founded OBJECT with you?

JS: It’s me and this chick Lindsey Horvath (right), who is the president of Hollywood NOW, and she is into like a lot of the same questions only she’s like 24, and looks like an adorable, Girls Gone Wild sorority girl.

JP: Even though that’s not the most important thing about her.

JS: No but it actually really is, because she’s a total politician, but she’s super hot. So it’s not the most important thing about her, but it’s something that really draws people in.

JP: It’s not the face they’d expect.

JS: Exactly.

It all sort of started when there were these horrible billboards up in LA for the movie Captivity. We all got together originally to get those billboards taken down, and then once we had done that, there was this kind of critical mass of women who wanted to be active. [But] it was going in this censorship direction, and protecting our children from x-rated movies and MPAA, and I realized I didn’t want to go down that road. The thing that I liked about it was getting together with the women and feeling like we were powerful and we were able to change things.

JP: I remember those billboards, they were pretty awful. But you’re right, it is a fine line to walk between saying, this is not OK, but I don’t want to go down the road of censorship.

JS: Yeah. And there was a lot of discussion about what the point was, especially as a writer myself. I wrote on 6 feet under, and I’ve written quote unquote erotica, even though it’s not really, people consider Courtney Cox’s Asshole [that I wrote] erotica, so I’m not really the one to be out there talking about what should and shouldn’t be made. We were talking about what should and shouldn’t be up on a public street in front of children.

Lady Party IV
The Bang Theater
436 North Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, 90036

Saturday, February 23, 2008 8 p.m. (suggested arrival time: 7:45)

Tickets: $15
Reservations are recommended: 323-653-6886
Admission to the after-party only: $10 (may be available on a very limited basis beginning at 10 p.m.)

Photos courtesy of Jill Soloway and OBJECT

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