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Necro-Feminism: Dialogue and Call for Papers

D.A. Clarke and Juliette Cutler Page

The San Franciso Bay Guardian recently published an article entitled "Some Like It Cold: The Joy of Sex With the Dead," excerpted below:


...if playing dead isn't easy, it can certainly be fun. Witness a group of hot,
 naked, wanna-be dead chicks who reside, predictably enough, on the Internet, 
at www.NecroBabes.com. Billed as "A Friendly Place to Play Dead" and 
administered by Vicki (who, not incidentally, makes a hell of a fetching 
stiff), NecroBabes offers - you guessed it - necrophilia porn. Professional 
photographers take shots of attractive young women posing in various states of 
postmortem repose - for example, stretched on an aluminum autopsy table or 
sprawled nude on an apartment floor outlined in chalk. With its still 
photographs divided into "The Morgue," "Crime Scenes," and "The Funeral Home," 
NecroBabes raises the fetish for cold flesh to an art form.

There are other erotic sites that focus on death, but it's usually mingled with 
cannibalism, torture, and murder. NecroBabes and Rob's Necrophilia Fantasy 
(www.burknet.com/robsfantasy) are about the only Web sites that spend a fair 
amount of time on actual dead folks, as opposed to how they got that way. There 
has yet to be a club formed, even in pervert-heavy San Francisco, for people 
who want to play dead. (Any takers?) 

Vicki's interest in NecroBabes' subject matter stems from her own desire to 
play dead. It's a little harder (though certainly not impossible) to level 
charges of exploitation when Vicki admits freely on the NecroBabes site that 
her fondest sexual fantasy is to be dead - in a sense, totally helpless, and 
totally available. "The turn-on, I would have to say, is the idea of having a 
woman who is letting the guy do all the work as she plays dead," Vicki says. 
Asked whether that fetish might translate into any actual necrophilia, Vicki 
has this to say: "I don't have much insight into anything 'real.' Our site is 
strictly fantasy. This is just about girls playing dead. Or perhaps Sleepy 
Girls," she adds, referring to an associated fetish, popular on the Internet, 
for passed-out, drugged, or sleeping women. NecroBabes links to a site that 
features numerous photo stories and still photographs on that topic. 

As far as the demographics of their members/viewers goes, Vicki says, "I would 
take a stab here and say they're mostly European, but we have many members from 
Japan. These are guys who were turned on by the girl next door when they played 
cowboys and Indians and she played dead. Or seeing the covers of the detective 
magazines with the model posing in a crime scene. Anything real is a turnoff." 

There are other erotic sites that focus on death, but it's usually mingled with cannibalism, torture, and murder. NecroBabes and Rob's Necrophilia Fantasy (www.burknet.com/robsfantasy) are about the only Web sites that spend a fair amount of time on actual dead folks, as opposed to how they got that way. There has yet to be a club formed, even in pervert-heavy San Francisco, for people who want to play dead. (Any takers?)

Vicki's interest in NecroBabes' subject matter stems from her own desire to play dead. It's a little harder (though certainly not impossible) to level charges of exploitation when Vicki admits freely on the NecroBabes site that her fondest sexual fantasy is to be dead - in a sense, totally helpless, and totally available. "The turn-on, I would have to say, is the idea of having a woman who is letting the guy do all the work as she plays dead," Vicki says. Asked whether that fetish might translate into any actual necrophilia, Vicki has this to say: "I don't have much insight into anything 'real.' Our site is strictly fantasy. This is just about girls playing dead. Or perhaps Sleepy Girls," she adds, referring to an associated fetish, popular on the Internet, for passed-out, drugged, or sleeping women. NecroBabes links to a site that features numerous photo stories and still photographs on that topic.

As far as the demographics of their members/viewers goes, Vicki says, "I would take a stab here and say they're mostly European, but we have many members from Japan. These are guys who were turned on by the girl next door when they played cowboys and Indians and she played dead. Or seeing the covers of the detective magazines with the model posing in a crime scene. Anything real is a turnoff."

I don't read the SFBG, for reasons that are by now obvious, but a local radical feminist brought this article to my attention by her post on the Feminista! message board:

Some may say that the Bay Guardian 
decided to underplay feminism a long time ago, but they have really 
crossed the line this time. In the issue dated March 15-21 there is 
an article on page 24 entitled "Some Like It Cold: The Joy of Sex 
With the Dead" which is accompanied by photographs from a web site 
called www.NecroBabes.com. These photographs appear to be police 
photos from murder sites, but are actually posed. ... If you live in 
the San Francisco Bay Area, PLEASE read as much of the article as you 
can stomach and CALL and write the Bay Guardian. Their number is 
(415)255-3100.Tim Redmond is the executive editor and Annalee Newitz 
is the features editor.

So I looked at the article, which certainly reads more like advertising for necrobabes.com than like journalism. I mean, "hot naked, wanna-be dead chicks"? "a fetching stiff"? So I sent off a letter to the senior editor of the Guardian, Tim Redmond, and Annalee Newitz:

Dear Bruce B,

Honestly, when will you people grow up and take some responsibility 
for what you publish?

You can be sure I know that the SF Bay Guardian doesn't support 
feminism, or even take a thoughtful stance on the use of women's 
bodies and lives that it promotes through its classified section, and 
throughout the publication in general.  But your article on "Sex with 
the Dead" in the March 15 issue really is the last straw.  Showing 
photographs of "dead" women meant to serve as sexual turn-ons, and 
promoting web sites that do so, is a terrible offense to women 
everywhere.  Your article completely ignored the sociological context 
of these sites and photographs.  What a surprise -- yet another 
shallow piece from the Guardian!

Yeah, yeah, you want your male readers to have a good time.  Who 
cares if it's at the expense of more than half of the world's 
population?  Jesus, I'm so fucking sick of it.  You can bet your 
white male ass that I'm not going to read your publication anymore. 
Free? Big deal.  In the Guardian's case, you truly get what you pay 
for.

I'm sure it's a great surprise to you to hear that someone believes 
that using dead women as sexual turn-ons is potentially a problem. 
Well, it's not my job to educate you about feminism and the use and 
abuse of women.  Read a book, if you give a damn, which you clearly 
do not.

Juliette Cutler Page
pissed off radical feminist
1388 Haight Street PMB 30
San Francisco CA 94117

Annalee Newitz responded:

Dear Juliette, 

I'm the editor who solicited the story on necrophilia, and
I'm also on a couple of e-mail lists where I see your name a lot. I got
your e-mail about Thomas' article, and wanted to assure you that not only
am I an ardent feminist, but so is Thomas. The necrobabes.com website
featured in the article is also run by a woman whom I've met, named Vicki,
who enjoys consensual acts of admittedly rather unorthodox sex that
involve playing dead.

*All* of the images we included with the article are of women who chose,
consensually and playfully, to engage in taboo acts that they find
sexually arousing. Although not all forms of sexuality make us
comfortable, I think it's important that women be allowed to express their
most intimate fantasies (safely!) without fear of reprisal from other
women who want them to conform to some kind of politically correct sexual
ideal in the name of feminism.

I hope in the future that you won't assume that a sexually-themed article
can't be feminist simply because it strays from mainstream notions of the
erotic. Moreover, if you read the article with an open mind, you'll see
that Thomas goes to great pains to present his topic with both objectivity
and humor.

Feminism comes in many forms. That's what makes it a great -- and diverse
-- movement.

Annalee Newitz
Features Editor, San Francisco Bay Guardian
415.487.2559 - cell: 415.378.4498
annalee@sfbg.com

At first I thought this was a truly clueless letter, though at least she was polite about it. (As you can see from the article in this issue on bike advertising, not everyone confronted with their sexism responds as politely!) So I tried to be reasonably civil in my response:


Dear Annalee,

I hope you will consider the fact that just because some of the women 
photographed claim they don't mind doing so, doesn't mean they are 
equal to men -  the men viewing their pictures, the men having sex 
with them, or the men in their workplaces.  Following that,  one must 
recognise that these women (as with all women) do not enjoy the same 
freedom of choice as do men.   I hope you are familiar with the 
literature on pornography and prostitution, and the statistics that 
note how many women in these situations are victims of sexual abuse, 
often as children.  Women are driven to support themselves in these 
ways out of poverty, frequently.  Women do not get rich by doing this 
-- often, it is how they survive.  Pornography and prostitution are 
not glamorous or, for the most part, sexually fulfilling for the 
women who are involved, regardless of what your friend may say is her 
experience  (not exactly a scientific survey).  The situation is 
completely different for men.  If the playing field were equal, I 
might feel differently about pornography.  The article mentions none 
of these things.

Further, this article was not only about pornography, but about 
visualising sex with dead people, and about people whose primary 
sexual thrill appears to be gained by either pretending to be dead 
(and thus not responsible -- how empowered is that?) or fucking 
people who are pretending to be dead.  Or fucking dead people.  Can 
corpses give consent?  I suspect that even male corpses cannot.  The 
idea of murder (and the photo on the website was clearly meant to be 
that of a murdered woman) -- of anyone -- giving sexual pleasure is 
extremely problematic to me.  Sex with dead bodies would cause pain 
if it were known, to the corpse or the corpse's family.  Perhaps you 
think that's a silly concern.  You may believe that the fantasy of 
having sex with corpses always, without exception,  limits itself to 
viewing websites and pictures, and therefore, that this behavior is 
just good clean fun.  Or maybe you think any sex is good clean fun, 
as long as someone is having fun doing it, regardless of its deeper 
meaning or effect.

I have read countless articles about sex in SFBG without complaining 
(though sometimes it's been difficult); I beg you to rethink your 
position that I (and radical feminists in general, perhaps) object to 
anything but "mainstream" sex.  In fact, I object most strongly to 
the posturing and abuse involved in "mainstream" sex, and the sex I 
promote is sex between equals.  Not much of that in the "orthodox" 
world, like it or not.  I also hope that you will think more about 
your belief that any intimate fantasies should be able to be 
expressed without "fear of reprisal".  Would you encourage 
pedophilia?  Murder for sexual pleasure?  Where does one draw the 
line? Where does personal responsibility begin?  Where does society's 
responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves begin?

I do not believe that anyone who promotes the subjugation of women 
for men's pleasure (anyone's pleasure, really) is a feminist, whether 
he or she claims to be or not.  The word must have some meaning.

Juliette Cutler Page

I corresponded with other feminists after this exchange and had several interesting discussions and some afterthoughts. More than one woman pointed out that Ms Newitz's letter was not so much thoughtless as a careful piece of spin control. Trish Wilson remarked:

The way she used the word 'safely!' tipped me off. She used a 
popular propaganda technique --  citing spokespersons from the 
victimized group to "prove" that the site is on the up-and-up. 
Just because a woman created it, and some women "like" it, doesn't 
mean they or the site is feminist. I'd be curious to know if 
NecroBabes and SFBG have some kind of bartering system going. 
Say, did NecroBabes get a discount on an SFBG ad, or did SFBG 
employees get discounts on Necrobabe/Necrodudes memberships? 
There might not be a bartering system going, but it would be 
very interesting if there was.

It certainly would be interesting.

Unfortunately I failed to address several things from the original article, most obviously the whole issue of "sleepy girls". If this phenomenon truly exists, the light-hearted mention of it in the SFBG is one of the most offensive things about the piece. "Sleepy girls" is another name for raped girls. Drugged, unconscious, asleep. And Annalee thinks she's an "ardent feminist"? At this point Feminista! contributor D. A. (De) Clarke and I started an extended conversation about the NecroBabes, and her remarks are interleaved below:

(De:)

But that is such a well-known method used by
date-rapists -- it's incredibly tasteless and cruel
of SFBG to toss off a jokey reference like that.  The 
callousness and arrogance are unforgivable.

Imagine the feelings of a woman who had been betrayed and
raped by this particular method, if she read this article.

Now imagine that the SFBG publishes an article in which they
casually mention how much amusement people get out of
other people's disabilities, how funny disabled people are
to watch.  Can you imagine they wouldn't get an avalanche
of mail chastising them for their cruelty and tastelessness?

Somehow women are always at the back of the line for being
taken seriously, no matter how many times the line re-forms.
We have somehow trained large numbers of the public to think
twice before they insult a person in a wheelchair, but
rape is still a big nyuk nyuk...

The idea of sex with dead women is just an extension of the fantasy of sex with drugged, unconscious, sleeping women. Who is more unconscious than the dead? The article in the Guardian does make a weak attempt to state that, of the few people they asked in mortuaries or medical schools, actual cases of sex with dead bodies were rather rare. However, the article stopped with mortuaries and medical schools, places where necrophilia is in fact rather impractical. But there are plenty of sexualized murders. There are -- unquestionably -- men who get sexual pleasure from murder (the chase, the kill). As Dr. Lili Pintea-Reed, a forensic psychologist with twenty years experience, has noted, their personality structure is such that these men would feel validated and encouraged by such an article. Would the Guardian feel any responsibility for this?

Literature, and writing in general, including journalism, is all about the sharing of ideas. One reason that this is so wonderful is that others' ideas can influence us and have an effect on our lives. We can learn about how others behave, what the norms of our society are, and learn new ways of relating to others. With this sharing of ideas ought to come the responsibility to at least consider what effects our words will have on others. With free speech comes responsibility. The responsibility not to shout "fire" in a theatre, for example, or incite others to riot. Just as it is not desirable or responsible to speak ill of groups of people, so might it not be desirable to encourage some forms of behavior. And "encouragement" doesn't only mean explicitly telling people to do something.

(De:)

it can also mean creating an atmosphere in which
it seems OK to do X, or X is first thinkable, then describable,
then depictable, then somehow acceptable.  This can be a positive 
thing, as in the first interracial kiss on TV or the inclusion of 
gay characters on sitcoms... or it can be a darned scary negative 
thing, as in the publication of 'American Psycho' and the proposal 
to make a film of it...  surely there are some things that 
should be shocking, should remain shocking, no matter how 
sophisticated we think we are.  Brutality, selfishness, blatant 
disrespect of persons... molesting a dead body, for example... I have 
the gravest concern for a society in which people become desensitized
to the awfulness of truly awful behaviour.

And what on earth is it with all these "ardent feminists" who wink at or even promote the sexual abuse of women (it doesn't get much worse - murder for sexual pleasure)? It was bad enough when so many feminists supported Bill Clinton against all the women who reported his sexual abuse of them. I figured they were doing it because he was a Democrat and they were afraid of the alternative. But it's gone beyond anything I can explain. Who are these "sex positive" (read: abuse positive) feminists? Who are these "feminists" who pimp and pander for necrophiles, pedophiles, and molesters? And why are they calling themselves feminists?

Perhaps while these women want to make as much money as men, and be treated equally in court, on the street, and in the workplace, they are still afraid of men finding them unattractive. After all, the sterotype of the feminist has long been a fat, ugly woman with hairy legs. So these "feminists" react by defensively trumpeting their compliance, both to modern beauty standards (shaving, being thin, wearing heels or babydoll t-shirts) and to male sexual fantasies, without discrimination. Remember (well, I don't, but you know what I mean) in the 60's when any woman who wouldn't have sex with any guy who happened to want her was "uptight"? That was sexual liberation for women then, and this is sexual liberation for women now.

I imagine that some women are going to be angry at me for confronting "other" feminists, for "horizontal hostility" or "infighting". But I don't think it's appropriate to stand by and watch the term "feminism" become ever less meaningful as it's co-opted by women whose motives I can only guess at. It seems that lately, the term "feminist" has become popular among women who want everyone to know that they just love sex! sex of all kinds.

(De:)

remember that in the early years of the women's
movement, "liberated woman" was co-opted in exactly
the same way, used by men to mean "easy lay".

I've noticed that these "feminists" need to talk about sex a lot. I guess so that men will know they're not like those "other" feminists -- they won't object to being a sex object. Anything goes in the bedroom, it seems, regardless of what the behaviour in the bedroom says about us, about our lives, or about the society that taught us to express ourselves in these ways. What does it say about someone that he requires his partner to play dead (or be dead)? That he can only have "intimate" relations with someone who is a nonentity -- not responsible, not present, not breathing?

What kind of feminist would I be NOT to criticize Annalee Newitz for seeking out and publishing that piece on necrophilia? Are these "other" feminists my allies? Certainly not. Annalee Newitz was quick to call me "politically correct" (I should have called her "socially corrupt", as Jack Straton put it in his wonderful article). Even liberals are using this as an epithet now! What a terrible thing to care about other people's rights. God forbid my face should get in the way of someone else's precious fist.

The new epicureanism of liberals baffles me, in which pleasure is the primary goal, regardless of how many bodies it leaves in its wake.

"Sex positive" feminism, at its root, is really just another manifestation of patriarchy, because it fully supports men's "rights" to seek pleasure wherever and however they wish. Sex is the most closely guarded bastion of patriarchy, and now the "post-feminists" have stepped in to help the men ensure that nobody (women) is permitted to criticize anyone else's (men's) behavior, because all sex that men want to have is by definition healthy, and repressing their sexual desires could only cause them harm. Women's realising how some sex expresses denigration of them would be detrimental to men's sexual pleasure. So, in step the "sex-positive" feminists, assuring men that they'll always be there for their sexual pleasure, whatever form it takes.

Women "empowering" themselves by disempowering themselves, whether it takes the form of playing dead or calling themselves bitches, cunts and whores, is about as smart as having unprotected sex, or gay men calling themselves faggots. OK, in San Francisco maybe you can get away with the latter, but in many areas of the country, folks will look at you and think "yup, he's a faggot alright" or worse yet tie you to the back of a truck.

We are not in a position to "empower" ourselves by using these words, because they are still code words for "someone who it's ok to beat the shit out of." (Of course, no code words are necessary for men to identify women as targets.) These "reclaim the terms" women seem to think we're beyond that -- that sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, and simple sexism don't exist any more -- or that if they do, it's only in isolated instances, committed by a few sick men. But our society is still built around sexism, founded on sexism, and however post-feminist these "feminists" they think they are, society is not.

De submitted her own essay on this problem.

Feminista! concurs with De that the start of the 21st century is a good time for us to take stock and consider what it means to be a feminist today. We invite essays on "The Ardent Feminist," or "The F-Word: what does it mean today?" for inclusion in the June issue. Please send your submissions by May 15, 2000 to editor@feminista.com.





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