"Better dead than coed." That was the protest slogan du jour at Oakland's Mills College in the early '90s when the school administration announced its plan to admit male undergrads into the venerable women's college, which boasts distinguished alumnae such as Rep.Barbara Lee and Hip Mama creator Ariel Gore. A few students protested the move to a coed campus by shaving their heads; some even shaved their legs. In the end, school officials backed off and Mills retained its rep as a place where members of the ruling patriarchy are not welcome. Since then, the war between the sexes at Mills has stayed at a steady simmer as the school administration has expanded the coed graduate program. But that simmer has erupted into a boil, thanks to an article written by a former male grad student in the September issue of Hustler.
The one-page story, "Crashing the Fetish Ball on an All-Girl Campus," was included in the smut mag as an installment of its regular "On Campus" feature. It was written by Sam Ospovat, who earned his master's degree in music from Mills earlier this year before the article came out. Ospovat sounds like a typical horny 25-year-old dude who happily discovers, upon infiltrating the annual Fetish Ball, a sex-themed event sponsored by the queer student club on campus, that not everyone at Mills is a man-hating dyke. He describes making out with a hottie bartender wearing a micromini, licking whipped cream off his dance partners' boobs, and reports that a male friend got laid at the end of the night.
While the story was tame by Hustler standards -- this is, after all, the same mag that once jokingly suggested that the Reverend Jerry Falwell lost his virginity to his own mother -- it created an uproar at the college. "The response from students, especially undergrads, was shock and dismay that Mills' name would appear in Hustler magazine," says Robin Isenberg, Mills' legal counsel.
For a few students, though, the horror went beyond just seeing the school's name in Hustler to seeing their faces in the mag. The story is accompanied by a snapshot from the Fetish Ball (submitted by Ospovat, but taken by an anonymous shutterbug) of some scantily clad students. Isenberg criticized the magazine for not getting permission from the pictured ballgoers. Hustler's lawyers have told school officials that the magazine didn't need permission to run a photo taken at a public event, Isenberg says.
In a letter to the Mills College Weekly, the school newspaper, Fetish Ball organizers Lauren White and Tiffany Bennett considered the possibility of banning men from future balls. "We firmly believe that women, not men, own our sexuality, and that it is our right to identify and express ourselves as we choose," they wrote. Late last month, student groups held a forum to discuss gender relations on campus, where women outnumber men approximately twelve to one. Many of the twenty women who came to the forum were more interested in talking about the Hustler article, according to the Weekly. "The misogynist, homophobic aspects of the article is what offended me," the Weekly quoted one attendee as saying. An earlier Weekly story had singled out "derogatory" phrases in the Hustler piece, such as "slutty go-go dancers" and "serving wench." Ospovat's essay concluded with a swipe at Mills, invoking its rep as a militant lesbian reeducation camp: "It's enough to make even the loathsome glares of hairy dykes bearable."
In response, Hustler critics displayed their own propensity for intolerance. Someone posted a message declaring a desire to bash in Ospovat's head with a Maglite. Longtime porno critic and Mills professor emeritus Diana Russell attacked Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, telling the Weekly, "I wish that this evil, misogynist man had died in his mother's womb."
Feeder tracked down Ospovat to see what he had to say about the whole thing. He says he wrote the story after a friend who worked for Hustler asked him if he might have any material for the porn mag. Hustler made an offer that Ospovat, a starving musician type, couldn't refuse: $750, or more than a dollar a word, a generous rate for a novice writer (or any freelance writer, for that matter). "I didn't think anyone would see it," he says. "They saw it and they freaked out." Ospovat, however, says his editor made life worse for him by adding offensive language to his draft (such as "hairy dykes") without his permission. "The original was PC," he says, adding, "Mine contained no pejorative terms for women or homosexuals."
Ospovat says he complained to Hustler about the changes after the piece came out, and says the mag will run an editor's note admitting the unauthorized tweaks. Ospovat also is writing a follow-up for the magazine's February issue, which will accompany a bigger "investigative" story on Mills written by another freelancer. It's a safe bet that it won't be a flattering story. From what Feeder is told, same issue will name Diana Russell as the magazine's "Asshole of the Month." Hey, at least "asshole" is a gender-neutral term.
The Mayor's Bitch
There's persistent chatter in Oakland City Hall that mayoral press secretary T.T. Nhu abruptly left her job because a woman came between her and Mayor Jerry Brown.
A real bitch, in fact: Brown's black Labrador retriever, Dharma.
The circumstances around Nhu's sudden departure are a little fuzzy, and no doubt the reasons are far more complicated than a fight over the affections of the mayoral canine. But there appears to be something to the dogfight speculation. After leaving, Nhu told friends that she had to go because Dharma, whom the mayor reportedly brings to the office a couple of times a week, liked Nhu more than she liked her master. Friends figured Nhu was joking, which she most likely was -- to a point. Three City Hall sources close to Brown said they'd heard that Dharma had caused a rift between Nhu and Brown. Sources say Nhu, who has a dog of her own, bonded with Dharma and even was spotted taking the pooch for walks near City Hall. Dharma apparently grew quite attached to Nhu, which, as the gossip has it, caused some friction between Brown and Nhu.
For her part, Nhu says she has long vowed to leave the country if George Bush got reelected and was merely keeping her word: She leaves for her native Vietnam next month. As for whether there was any tension between her and Brown over Dharma, Nhu insisted, "Not as far as I'm concerned." As for Jerry -- well, through an aide he issued a nondenial denial: "Whoever said that is smoking dope. It's absurd." Unfortunately, Dharma couldn't be reached for comment.
Albany High Knows Dick!
More evidence that we live in the deepest blue region of the largest blue state in the union: This week, the Albany High School PTA -- as in Parent-Teachers' Association -- is cosponsoring a showing of the 1996 documentary, You Don't Know Dick: Courageous Hearts of Transsexual Men, at the school.
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