Monday, 18 September 2017

Women and the Hollywood Star System


Hollywood quickly adapted once it realised the power A-list stars held over box office revenue. Within the first two decades of American cinema, a well-oiled machine known as the Star System had been created. Producers and Hollywood Executives would find an actor and mould their personality and talent into a product that could be sold and marketed. If someone wanted to “make it big”, they needed to adhere to a strict set of rules and guidelines. The stress took its toll on many. Some turned to drugs, some turned to wild partying and others became self-destructive. Studios put up huge sums of money to pay off journalists and media outlets not to run stories that could be damaging to their star’s image, such as Rock Hudson’s coming out as a homosexual. Women had little control over their personal lives and their bodies were forever the subject of scrutiny.

The Early Years

The first silent films had no credits and the public didn’t know actors’ names. Audiences started noticing the familiar faces of actors in short films and nicknamed them. Florence Lawrence was “The Biograph Girl” and Florence Turner was “The Vitagraph Girl”. The early studios – The Biograph Company, Edison Studios and Vitagraph Studios – started receiving fan mail and autograph requests. At first, they were reluctant to divulge who their stars were. It wasn’t long before studios started advertising stars in films and ticket sales skyrocketed. An actor became a brand.

The first studio to do this was the Independent Moving Picture Company (IMP) in 1910. Producer Carl Laemmle paid Florence Lawrence an undisclosed amount for her to come work at IMP. In a scripted turn of events, Laemmle leaked to newspapers that Lawrence had been killed in a car accident. He waited for the news to have its effect and then announced that she was well and was now employed at his studio. This was one of the first movie marketing and exposure ploys.

Florence Lawrence in The Players (1912)

Studios were still careful not to give their stars too much freedom. Feeling constricted and unable to express creativity, Mary Pickford and a number of others formed United Artists in 1919. Their goal was to create a studio where they, and other independent filmmakers, could make films without the restrictions of the big Hollywood studios.

Mary Pickford in a United Artists Publicity Photo

The Rise of the Star System

By the early 1920s, Hollywood was dominated by five major film studios (Fox Film Corporation, MGM, Paramount, RKO and Warner Bros.). Each invested in talent scouts who would go to theatres, nightclubs and vaudeville acts searching for potential stars. Lana Turner was signed on the strength of a screen test alone. Contracts were offered to up and coming actors, with it only to be taken away at the last moment because the studio lost interest or got cold feet. If an actor was lucky enough to obtain a contract, the process had them under go further training in acting, voice coaching, singing and dancing. They were moulded into what the studio wanted. Studios placed greater priority on appearance than actual talent. Many had their names altered. Lauren Bacall was screen credited as Lauren Bacall, but was born Betty Joan Perske.

Lana Turner

A standard contract lasted seven years with reviews every six months. If a film performed poorly at the box office, studios had the ability to release actors prematurely. Studios regularly leased stars out to other studios with the individuals having little say in what projects they were in. The 1930s saw many actors being typecast into certain roles.

Responsible for introducing the Production Code censorship, Will H. Hays also had studios build morality clauses into actor contracts. Women could not be seen in public without makeup on. They were also continually sexualised, objectified and controlled. Jean Harlow had a section in her contract forbidding her to marry.

Jean Harlow

The Hollywood Star System life took its toll on many. Elizabeth Taylor, who was signed at nine-years-old, detested it. Clara Bow argued that she had no private life. Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis even took Warner Bros. to court on separate occasions to void their contracts. Many women traded sexual favours for advancement within the industry. It is rumoured that Joan Crawford and Judy Garland had abortions at the studio’s request. Garland already suffered from body image issues and this only added to her trauma. Loretta Young refused to have an abortion and secretly gave birth to Judy Lewis. The child was put up for adoption, but Young, having a change of heart, opted to raise her daughter instead.

Loretta Young

The End

The Star System had dissolved by the mid-1960s, the same time as the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Audiences were becoming more sophisticated and wanted greater realism and grittier substance in their films. Actors are still contracted by studios today, but have more freedom in the roles they choose to pursue. Hollywood has come a long way since its early years but still has further to go for total equality. Bette Davis campaigned for equal pay rights for women in the 1930s and Jennifer Lawrence (among others) is still fighting for that today.

Jennifer Lawrence in Serena (2014)

By: Matthew J. Healy


Classic Hollywood’s Secret: Studios Wanted Their Stars to Have Abortions (
Classical Hollywood Star System (
How Bette Davis Became a Hollywood Icon By Refusing to Conform at Every Turn (
Olivia de Havilland: The actress who took on the studio system and won (
Star System (
The Hollywood Studio System During the Golden Age (
The Star System (

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Feminist Client

Something was awry. And not just the fact that I was being hospitalised for my levels of emotional distress. This new psychiatrist was altogether too interested in me. He started stroking one hand with the other, a suggestive movement which recalled to me the letter I’d sent the mental health staff which included a reference to an orgasm-free masturbation session I’d had which had gotten me thinking about the deeper reasons behind me being hospitalised.

No stranger to sexual predators, I offered him my complete silence, and a defiant stare. I let him know, nonverbally, that I knew what he was up to, and I was not going to fall for his trap. It worked. He was fuming by the time he ended the session with me.

I relaxed a bit, but not much. For a mentally vulnerable 22 year old woman, the ward was a place full of menace. Some of that was from the patients (like the man who addressed all the females of the ward by the c word, volubly, and who made to harm one of the female nurses; like the man whose advances I resisted who would punch the wall immediately above my head), but mostly it was from the mental health staff.

It was the nurses I had the most contact with, and I was disgusted by their dehumanising attitudes towards me. I convinced myself that I would keep record of every injustice, every slight. In the end it proved all too much: it was all day, every day. It was the way of life of a system that is beginning to die out, but persists in reproducing itself to this day.

Psychiatry seems to me all about distrusting lived emotional experiences. I have spoken to client after client, and there isn’t a single one without a horrible story of abuse and/or neglect to tell. Instead of providing clients with immediate access to intensive psychotherapy, they are immediately drugged with powerful, usually sedative, neuroleptics, and enclosed within a small space with fifty-odd others who are similarly going through some of the worst experiences of their lives. Here’s the fun part: to get out of there you are forced to demonstrate “compliance” to this abusive system, and show that you are sufficiently social by opening up to the other clients, some of whom might lash out to you if you inadvertently trigger them. (In my time at Kiloh, I had a piece of wood thrown at me, and generic hospital dessert smeared across my back.)  

But let’s go back to the realm of emotions, that part of human experience which is so deeply distrusted by psychiatry. There is a long-standing tradition within Western philosophy to associate mental processes with masculine energy, and the emotions with feminine energy. Just as the dominant class of men detests women and treats them as an underclass, the psychiatric class loathes people who express socially unacceptable emotion. Instead of treating deep emotional distress as a symptom of a flawed society, psychiatrists use their power to obliterate the unique, organic emotional journeys of those who have been harmed by unequal power structures and the abuse inherent in such structures. Instead of honouring our emotions and validating our experiences, we are treated as abominations at worst and inconveniences at best.

The way the mental health system treats its clients is inhumane, and is an open secret that needs rectifying. Pioneer communities within countries such as Finland and Norway have implemented a much more humane system called Open Dialogue, which treats a person who presents with deep emotional distress as the biggest authority on themselves. They are asked about their experiences and listened to, within the context of their family, friends and community helpers, who are also present for the sessions. The focus is not on the individual as a biological error, but how their interaction with wider society has led them to a crisis point. Medication is a last resort.

Open Dialogue is a bright point in my experience in this world. It convinces me that somewhere, out there, my emotions matter. My experiences with deep emotional distress are meaningful and I am valuable to society. 

The good news is that there are the beginnings of Open Dialogue taking hold in Australia. While it is not available to anyone who presents with deep emotional distress, if things keep moving in the right direction, it very well might be. But we cannot rest idle and wait for “the inevitable” to happen. Nothing is inevitable. We have to make it happen, by educating our friends, colleagues and people around us. To let them know about the deep perversion of justice current psychiatric practices enact. To make them aware that everybody has the right to be treated as though their emotions are based on something real – because they are. 

By: Epiphanie Bloom

Editor's Note: For further reading on the sexist treatment women receive from medical institutions, check out the following: How Sexism and Implicit Bias Hurt Girls and Women’s Health  and How Doctors Take Women's Pain Less Seriously

Monday, 4 September 2017

Can You Be a Feminist AND Submissive?

A sexually submissive feminist activist sheds light on why being a sub doesn't conflict with being a bad ass feminista.

(An abridged version of this piece was published in Cosmopolitan Magazine on Monday 4th of September, 2017.)

Discliamer: The views in this piece reflect the opinion of the author. Feminism is diverse and there are many differing opinions on this subject.

Q. There’s a common viewpoint that you can’t be a feminist and submissive as it goes against everything feminism is about. Can a person be a feminist and a submissive?

Yes I've heard these comments on many occasions before, expressed by both men and women who when they learn of my sexual submissiveness in conversation after also knowing I'm a strong feminist activist, tell me things like "that's an oxymoron" or "you can't be a feminist and submissive. That's just being a hypocrite”, or even “how does that work?”  But you most certainly can be both an impassioned and empowered, unashamed and unabashed feminist whilst also being a delightfully servile submissive in the bedroom. I only know this because I am!

I feel extremely dominant in my everyday life, in my actions, in my thoughts, in everything from the way I look, to the way I speak, walk and behave. I've been described as "intimidating" far too many times to count, and I was even once told by a superior at work that I had an "imposing energy" and that I needed to tone myself down and "be softer". No-one would ever guess upon meeting me or by simply looking at me that I am a submissive. In fact, (people easily fooled by media-depicted stereotypes) assume I'm a dominatrix, what with my nearly six foot stature and strong disposition....I live in a constant state of empowerment in my general life. I'm confident, bold, outspoken and courageous. I'm decisive and always taking charge. And that is exactly why, in the realm of sexual expression, I delight in the opportunity to be able to relinquish power and allow someone else to take control for once. It's not only physically euphoric for me but it is also therapeutic and cathartic. It's an emotional and spiritual release as much as it is a sexual one.

And no, being a submissive does not go against anything that I believe in as a feminist, because as a feminist I have the right to determine exactly what I want in my sex life, and the art of submission is my choice. As a sex positive feminist I believe I not only have the right to, but that's it's essential for me, to be able to communicate specifically to my partner exactly what I want to experience sexually. People make the mistake of thinking submission means anything goes and you surrender, and consent goes out the window. On the contrary.  "Safe sane and consensual" is at the core of practicing BDSM. The submissive expresses exactly what they want the dominant to do, and it's all discussed in advance, prior to the scene, on an equal playing field with no power disparity. It is incredibly empowering as a woman, to communicate to your partner specifically what you want them to do in order to give you supreme sexual pleasure, and then have them obligingly carry out your desires. Why? Because for so long in history, women were taught to be silent about what they wanted sexually, that their desires were unworthy of consideration and that a 'good woman' needed to forgo her needs to pleasure and satisfy the man. Me telling my partner exactly what I want in bed is in and of itself, a rebellion of the patriarchy, because I'm saying, 'I have my needs, these are what they are, and I expect you to fulfill them for me'. I'm speaking up for what I want and it's coming from a place of confidence, power and strength.

Q. Is it only women who can be sexually submissive?

No, a person can be submissive irrespective of their gender. My best friend is a gay man who's 6 foot something and weighs about 110 kg. He owns two successful businesses and has a commanding and dominating presence when you meet him, and if you talk with him for a minute, you'll see straight away he's not one to suffer fools. But guess what? In his sexual life, he loves to be sexually dominated by a man!

....I also once knew a successful judge who loved to be belittled and humiliated in bed by women, and to be told he was "insignificant", "inferior" and "nothing", because all day at work and in the community he was revered and respected, and thus the stark contrast appealed to him in the bedroom. Why? Because it's creates the ying and yang balance. It's a powerful and pleasurable outlet to express parts of yourself you cannot in other areas of your life.

Q. Is it a preference for you that a man is in control in the bedroom?

I can enjoy equitable sex (with no power play) on a purely physical level, but it is when a man asserts dominant behaviours in the bedroom, then the sexual experience is taken to an entirely different level which amplifies pleasure in a way that's incomparable to vanilla sex. And it's not just the sensations, it's the mental stimulation and the psychology behind the actions that heightens the feelings and the experience for me. In fact, it doesn't even have to always be about sex at all. A subtle power play that's relatively non-sexual, to not-at-all-sexual, can awaken powerful responses within me.

Q. What is it about submissive treatment that appeals to you? Are there aspects of submission you specifically love?

Submission to me is a freeing experience that takes me to a different place. It lets me abandon my everyday self and activate a secret aspect of who I am. It allows me to be timid and docile, compliant and helpless, all of which I am not in my normal life. I've never been that sort of character...even as a child I was a strong and fearless girl who never cried and never showed she was scared. So being able to express emotions that I normally don't get to convey, and access elements of my personality that normally don't see the light of day is a liberating and nurturing experience that leaves me in a state of ecstasy. And again, it's got nothing to do with the sex act itself, because it doesn't even need to be about sex. It can be a simple instruction completely unrelated to sex such as telling me what to do or teaching me something.....or authoritative words whispered in my ear softly to remind me of my place or my purpose. These seemingly insignificant gestures can leave me utterly breathless....

Q. Is submission a role you would enact with a man you have just met or is it only within a relationship?  

I only have an interest in engaging in sexually submissive acts that put you in a very physically vulnerable position, with men I'm in a relationship with that has been long-term enough for me to entrust them wholeheartedly. This also applies to my enjoyment of sexual degradation and humiliation. I would never want a man who wasn't committed to me and didn't love me, to tell me sexually degrading sentiments. I couldn't have a one night stand or a causal date say devaluing things to me as it would not appeal to me and I would find it offensive. I'd only want that from someone who I knew didn't mean those words at all and whom I knew loved me and cared about me in real life, and was just acting out a fantasy for me. 

....But in general I will always try to create a power imbalance with the man I'm dating, whether it be a first date or a long term relationship, and of course I only seek out potential partners who seem to embody at least some sort of dominant characteristics.

Q. Have you ever experienced disapproval from others for having a submissive side?

I have found some people who lack open mindedness to be quite uncomfortable and concerned when I have revealed this sexual preference of mine. I've been told that engaging in BDSM is abuse, which is a very outdated and incorrect stereotype based on total misinformation and ignorance of the scene. I've also been asked things like: "how can you want someone to do that to you? " and "wanting to be treated like that is a form of self-harm stemming from low-self esteem".  But no, in fact it's the opposite for me.- I find myself being treated so well by people in my everyday life, adored and always taken care much so that I need a little bit of consensual "mistreatment" played out so I can balance all the princess-like treatment out. Consensual minimising and devaluing in a sexual setting serves as a lovely contrast.

Q.Could submission be perceived as positively feminist because you're asking for what you want sexually, as opposed to pleasing the man's sexual desires?

Yes I do thinks it's positively feminist because I've had boyfriends in the past who did not identify as dominant at all, but just enacted the role and the dynamic purely to please me. My ex of four years was a terribly submissive man by nature and when I revealed to him my need for him to be dominant in bed with me, it took him quite a while to adjust to the role. It certainly wasn't his preference but his desire to please me and create a sexual dynamic that provided me with maximum eroticism, was what motivated him to play the part accordingly. I would never do what the man wanted unless it was what I wanted too. I would never do anything I wasn't comfortable doing, and I'd never do what I didn't want to do. I did that when I was in my very early twenties, and none of that was BDSM, that was sexual coercion and abuse.

Q.What submissive behaviours are most pleasurable for you?

Positions where the man is in control, definitely. I want to feel powerless, helpless and trapped. I want to feel his heavy weight against me and I want to feel like he's having his way with me.....I like to be disciplined......Choking excites me greatly. -Even someone placing their hand softly and subtly at my neck is extremely erotic to me. Then also, as mentioned earlier, it's in the words they use, the commands they issue, and the power they assert......I love being physically messed up by a man and I love rough sex. I need the man to sexually overpower me and create a scenario where I feel I am being ravished and taken by force. (Consensually of course, because I want to clarify that again).......It doesn't mean I don't like loving sex. It can start out that way but the power imbalance is essential for my deepest pleasures and psychological fulfillment.

*Everything detailed in this blog was discussed in the context of consensual behaviour. Consent is essential in all BDSM contexts.

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