An Irishgirl abroad — New York life through a European lens

Week in brief: former doms & feminists

Posted in Culture, Relationships by Frieda on November 4, 2009

The week’s real kick-off was on Wednesday at The Richardson in Williamsburg. There I met a friend who formerly (it turned out) worked as a dominatrix in the Dungeon of Mistress Jasmine in Manhattan — I’ll call her D. It’s funny because D. is so sweet — innocent and smiley, with short hair and a retro style, and a mere 26 years old. She teaches, and at one point this year, her students were joking about her private life. “I bet you’re a dominatrix,” one suggested, thinking it miles from the truth.

I had intended to grill D. about her experiences, but she had already quit, after just six weeks or so at the Dungeon. Her boss refused to pay for condoms, with which the girls covered some of the sex toys; nor could they bring their own. They had to buy them from him. Not only that, but  he allowed more and more girls work in the dungeon, so the staffroom became crowded. The clients themselves were creepy; one saved up all his dole money to pay for a monthly hour. Sex with clients was not meant to happen at the dungeon, but the newer girls were inexperienced, and more likely to cross that boundary. All in all, it doesn’t sound like fun.

Second, I went to the launch of a book I’ve been awaiting for a long time. Girldrive, by Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein, charts two women’s trip across America. They were little more than girls when they made the journey, just 22 and 23 (Emma has since died tragically through suicide, last December). Girldrive is replete with gorgeous images taken by Emma. The pair interviewed hundreds (I think 200) women across the States, to find out what they thought about feminism.

Nona, who I interviewed on Thursday, does a great job of bringing the story together — writing most of the sections of the book that explain what they did, and where they went. The most surprising thing about is not the number of women who reject the term “feminist,” but how embattled many are. One 16-year-old, who was raped, tries to comfort herself by saying, “in God’s eyes I’m a virgin. I’m still pure.”

When I spoke to Nona, over our lunch at Balthazar, I expressed my shock: I’d always thought (very naively, I admit) that the most of the US was fairly liberal and cool. “You thought America was progressive?” Nona laughed. ” No offense, but I kind of hate when Europeans are so high and mighty about how progressive they are because realistically it’s a lot easier to be progressive when you have less deep-seated racial situations going on. It’s difficult to get through all the bull-shit in the United States. We have such a fraught history.”

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