Girl Wonderland

The gurls: a multilayered selfie by Petra Collins

I was recently part of a round-table discussion about modern feminism and pop culture for Wonderland mag. Talking with me were three amazing ladies: artists Petra Collins and Phoebe Collings-James, and sex writer Tea Hacic-Vlahovic (aka “Sugar Tits”). You can read our conversation below. Tea wrote the intro :)

Phoebe, Karley and I met for the first time in Milan several years ago, when we were less blonde, more fat and Petra was still in diapers. We’ve collaborated with each other overseas but this is the first time we’re all together in Petra’s apartment in NYC (because hers has a stripper pole). It’s an important moment, like when Geri left the Spice Girls.

Karley Sciortino is the brain behind Slutever. She’s written and made videos for magazines like Purple, Vice and Dazed, is currently writing a column called “Breathless” for Vogue, and has interviewed all your favorite porn stars. Phoebe Collings-James hates when people mention her looks before her work, but she’s so beautiful you don’t want your boyfriend to see pictures of her until you have to tell him that story of when you bought hair extensions in London and saw her face on the package. She could be a supermodel but instead she’s a successful artist, using sculpture, illustration, performance, video and mixed media to provoke viewers into existential crisis. You can find her blogging on CUNT TODAY between exhibitions and probably fighting crime at night. Petra Collins is the new it girl of photography, if “it” stands for “incredibly talented.” She recently gained fame for her menstruating vagina t-shirt and a self-portrait featuring pubic hair which caused worldwide hysteria, but mostly she’s known for taking photographs that make you wish you could go back in time and attend whatever high school exists in her mind. I’m Tea Hacic-Vlahovic, known as “Sugar Tits” on Tumblr, the columnist for Vice and Wired Italy who makes too many fart jokes and an above-average Tweeter, according to my mom. 

Tea: Have y’all seen Gaga’s new video? It got millions of views the first night and half were mine. She’s the only celeb I’m jealous of after Rihanna.

Phoebe: Rihanna is incredible because she just has fun, doesn’t give a fuck, and also talks openly and honestly about sex and why girls should use condoms. She doesn’t beat around the bush, she’s like, ‘make sure you’re respecting yourself and having a good time, but also be protected.’

Karley: Without being like, “wait for the right person!” It’s an important message–we all know we should be safe, but we’ve also all been in the situation of, “fuck, I forgot to use protection again.”

Phoebe: I don’t think I’ve ever done that sober. 

Tea: I don’t think I’ve ever had sex sober! Unprotected sex is like drunk-eating: “I’m going to hate myself tomorrow but I don’t care, ha, ha!” I’m always worried I have some disease, regardless of getting tested.

Karley: Sexually successful women should worry about that! There aren’t enough good sexual role models like Rihanna. 

Petra: Just listen to Rihanna’s lyrics. She says, “I love it, I love it, I love it when you eat it” over and over again. I made a piece dedicated to that for my solo exhibition. 

Karley: I’m writing an article about compulsive sexual behavior and talking to this psychologist about how the media never shows hypersexual women having happy endings. The slutty character in movies always gets punished–she either gets murdered, raped or ends up alone. The harlot is never the hero.

Tea: And that often proves to be true in real life. Like the Duke porn star who got ousted by another student and responded by writing eloquent letters about why she’s empowered by sex work and how it’s unfair that people watch “college girl” porn but don’t want those girls in college. She had to drop out because she was getting death and rape threats.  

Phoebe: I participated in a talk recently about Page Three, to discuss if it should exist. A woman on the panel teaches preteen boys and asked them about the girl in an issue and they said, “I’d bang her and ditch her, she’s hot but not a girlfriend,” and that’s so problematic.

Tea: It’s a classic double standard. He’d never date a stripper or prostitute but he frequents strip clubs and prostitutes.

Phoebe: Has writing about your sex lives and using sexuality in your work affected people you dated? 

Petra: I modeled for Richard Kern a bunch of times and I remember when this one bondage photo came out, my ex boyfriend was not happy at all. He shamed me so hard, like, “this makes me less attracted to you because everyone can see it.” He was mad because it wasn’t just for him. 

Karley: I surround myself with highly intelligent, liberal guys and I wouldn’t date someone who doesn’t support what I do. I feel the problem is those who don’t know me. Everyone knows I’m a sex writer and have seen pictures of me naked, but most of them have never read anything I’ve written. In a recent piece about me in the Sunday Times, the first paragraph’s like, “she’s peed on guys, had sex with a Hasidic Jew and been a dominatrix!” I know it’s all true but so is, “she wrote an in depth piece about transgendered oppression.” They didn’t add that because it’s easier to just say I’m a wild ho. 

Phoebe: Have you seen Nymphomaniac I? I met one of the actresses and she said all the hype was terrifying her parents so she just made them watch it and when they did, they understood it and were proud of her. The idea we have of things we don’t know is always more extreme.

Karley: Nymphomaniac is a good example of a woman who’s hypersexual and ashamed about it.  She’s telling her life story and feels so guilty. The guy she’s talking to asks why, stressing that she just went after things she wanted and got them. She insists she hurt people along the way, which is true, but if the anecdote were, “I’ve been ruthless in my career and screwed people over but now I’m successful,” that narrative wouldn’t have been so shameful. 

Tea: I didn’t watch that because I feared it might send troubling messages and piss me off. Like, why is it that in GIRLS the only likable characters are boys?  

Phoebe: Lena gets so much criticism. Last year some magazine wrote a headline, “the New Face of Feminism” and under it was the cast of GIRLS. That’s when a black blogger started #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. I don’t think she was blaming Lena Dunham, but she was a part of it. What’s interesting is it didn’t turn into a huge fight. Everyone’s response was really eloquent. 

Karley: So it was about how women of color are often excluded from “mainstream” feminism.

Phoebe: They talk about class as well. GIRLS didn’t do anything wrong but I felt like Lena started reacting to the pressures to make it more multi-cultural and when she did it became even more offensive. I don’t think she should have been criticized in the first place because she made the show based on her life and about a very specific group of people. 

Petra: It’s almost worse when there’s a fake multi-cultural situation. It often makes caricatures of people. 

Phoebe: If you’re making a sitcom it should be diverse but if you’re trying to tell a real story that’s going on it should be told as it is.

Karley: And it’s a story about annoying, white, rich girls! 

Petra: They’re horrible characters and they’re supposed to be.

Tea: People should learn to step down rather than get defensive over something they don’t know. Like when Femen’s all, “be free, take your clothes off!” I was always naked in Milan but nobody was going to kill me for it. You can’t just tell someone to be free when you don’t understand what freedom means to them.  

Phoebe: Experience is valid. You can still bring that into critique but essentially you can’t tell someone that it doesn’t feel a particular way to walk around in their shoes. 

Karley: When people argue about whether something is offensive or racist, if the person experiencing it feels it’s offensive, it is. There’s no reason why people would want to create false oppression. Not everyone’s struggle is the same. The struggle of a 25 year old white girl in America is not the same as a 25 year old girl of color in America.

Phoebe: A good example of the hashtag is, “when piercings, tattoos and pink hair are on a white girl it’s quirky but on a black girl they’re ghetto.” 

Karley: Another was, “When Femen gets to decide Muslim women’s attire.”

Tea: I respect all people but I don’t respect religion. If your religion oppresses me or others, why should I? America’s constitution was based on separation of church and state, so why are we all tiptoeing around Catholics and Mormons when their policies hurt me? When a pharmacist can deny me birth control because of some book he reads? 

Phoebe: Respecting religion is tied into respecting people. 

Tea: But it affects everyone negatively. Most religions express the concept that women should cover up because men can’t help themselves otherwise. Isn’t that insulting to men as well? 

Phoebe: If you look at rape culture and the idea of asking for it, it’s the same everywhere. Either you’re showing flesh or acting in an irresponsible way. 

Tea: That’s why there’s nothing more punk than a slutty girl. It’s the most rebellious thing a girl can do. Even Courtney Love said Miley was punk rock in a weird, sex way. 

Phoebe: Who wants to fuck Miley? She’s obviously pretty and has an amazing body but I feel the way she’s sexualized herself isn’t to inspire desire. Like, you never heard boys wanting to screw Madonna, which is partly why she’s so powerful.

Tea: Miley’s not serving the male gaze. What she’s doing is similar to what you do, what Molly Soda does by posting nudes, what Petra does with her photos. You can see Katy Perry shooting icing out of her tits but she does it in an infantile way. The way men want us to be sexual: unintentional yet intentionally for their pleasure. I’ve taken my clothes off in every club in Milan, not because it would attract attention from men, but the opposite. They were embarrassed for me and afraid of me. Men are confused by girls acting sexy for their own sake. Of course, when I did the same thing at strip clubs, they loved it. 

Petra: I’ve had so many weird confrontations with art boys because I feel I am one of those hot, often naked, non-submissive sexual powers and I’m entering their little boys art club. They don’t know what to do with me!

Tea: They’re especially threatened by you because you’re taking photos of naked girls and actually saying something by doing so. So many men are “photographers” but all they do is bland Black & Whites of Tits & Ass. And they usually make it creepy.

Petra: When I was younger I would get in situations where guys would take these photos and it escalates until you feel like you have to keep going further even if you don’t want to.  

Tea: All my shoots with hetero men ended in sexual harassment. Yes, everyone should see my butt but not everyone should touch it. Of course I’d rather have a girl photograph me! 

Karley: You’re stealing the men’s jobs.

Tea: Speaking of which, the internet’s been accused of “killing subcultures,” since everything can be found online, meaning nothing is exclusive. Do you think the new subculture is Internet Girls? Like Petra, Molly Soda, Tavi, Slutever, etc.? 

Phoebe: I remember trekking to Brighton for Le Tigre and seeing JD had a mustache, which was a revelation at the time. But when you think how many people were listening to them or cared that she had a mustache, it’s nothing compared to the amount of people who have seen Petra’s pubic hair come out of her knickers! Your impact is massive yet welcoming. The internet invites participation while subcultures are elitist. Tumblr is grassroots.  

Tea: And most subcultures exclude women. In my experience, you must be a girlfriend or groupie to be accepted into a music scene. To be taken seriously you have to be “one of the guys.” You have to be sexless or strictly for sex. I read a great piece in Rookie about how music preferences and opinions of girls are considered irrelevant. Whatever teenage girls like is “silly.” But now we have girls speaking for themselves and creating their own audiences online and it’s clear they’re shaping our preferences, changing the way we communicate on social media and influencing how we dress, talk and behave. They are cool.

Phoebe: It’s so easy to connect on Tumblr with people who think the way you do. How is someone who doesn’t know how to approach academic text supposed to read the Second Sex? Now a teenage girl’s blog can teach you as much. 

Karley: And you don’t even need text! Sometimes things are better said without words, like Petra’s work, which translates profound messages through images. I think new feminism is less about talking about what to change and more about just doing it. Like, I know Beyoncé sampled that feminist speech and that’s great but it’s not as powerful as Rihanna’s attitude. Just be a smart, brave, badass bitch. 

Petra: We don’t have to wait to be accepted anymore. In university everyone was like, go to school, wait to graduate and then wait to get invited into your field. I didn’t wait or ask. My whole career exists because I connected with other girls on the internet. Tavi started Rookie on her own! That’s how I did my collective art show. Like, “I have no platform for this so I’m going to make it myself.”

Sugar Tits: Teach Me How To Do It

Images taken from the Sugar Tits Tumblr

Recently I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming a stripper. The inspiration came when I was in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago: some friends and I went to a strip club–my first since I was sixteen–and I was so in awe of the strippers and their ability to use their bodies to hypnotize an entire room that I could barely speak. And then suddenly, as I was slipping a $5 bill into a stripper’s thong, I thought Oh my god, THIS is my true calling. THIS is where I belong! It was like a revelation or whatever. So then when I got back to New York I excitedly applied to a few strip clubs. However, when it came time to audition, I got cold feet. The thing is, I know I’m good at taking my clothes off (duh), but I have no clue how to pole dance. Or really how to dance at all. I felt I needed a mentor.

So… I decided to enlist the help of my favorite sex blogger, Sugar Tits. You probably already know Sugar Tits from her anonymous slut blog where she writes about her various S&M relationships, giving out blow-jobs in the public bathrooms of Milan, and (more recently) her life as a stripper. She even wrote about having orgasms mid-striptease… wtf? She’s also written some stuff for Slutever, like this article about her Master buying her her first dog collar, and this article about getting into the stripping business. Below you can read my discussion with her about stripping, romance, and why being treated like shit can be such a turn on.

Why did you decide to become a stripper?
Sugar: Well, last October I went out to a strip club with some friends and one of the strippers invited me onstage, and after dancing to “Marry The Night” I realized how lolz and fun it could be. And also being treated like a whore is a real turn on for me.

Where did you work?
It was this really shitty club way out in the ghetto of Milan where they claim Led Zeppelin went once–they call it “Lap Zeppelin”. It was the trashiest, most perfect strip club I could have ever dreamed of. I thought they were going to make me audition, but when I showed up the guy was just like “OK you’ve got small tits but a nice face and you know how to talk so you’re fine, you start tomorrow.”

Were you nervous that you were going to suck at it?
So nervous! Right after that I went home and watched all these Lindsay Lohan stripping videos to try and prepare myself, because I was clueless, and the next night I went in and all these girls were flipping around on poles and I was freaking out. Then eventually the DJ called me onstage (I used my real name because I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to), but I didn’t realize that the DJ actually directs you–like first he tells you when you can strip, and then when to take your bra and underwear off–so I went up and just took everything off at once and was sashaying around and touching myself or whatever. Then a few minutes later I got bored and walked offstage, and the other girls were like, “Bitch, you have to finish your fifteen minute set!” so then I had to retreat back to the stage like an idiot.

Yeah. And I also didn’t realize that when you get offstage you have to go to the dressing room and put your clothes back on, so I was just prancing around naked until someone yelled at me. So that was embarrassing. The first night was kind of a disaster. But then little by little it becomes easier, and drinking makes it more fun, and stripper shoes are amazing and help you to slide around. By the end I was at least Lindsay Lohan ‘I Know Who Killed Me’ level.

The reason I think I’d like stripping is because the power dynamic seem so hot. Like you’d think the guys are in control because they are paying you to be the whore and take your clothes off, but then the act of paying to see naked girls is sort of pathetic in itself, and the fact that they clearly want to fuck you and can’t means you are really the one in control… ya know?
Yeah, exactly! It’s actually really complex and enlightening, because as you know I’m really submissive sexually, but stripping was the first time in my life that I actually felt sexually dominant. Spending a night in a room full of men that are willing to pay to just look at you naked is such an ego trip. I felt more powerful in that job than I ever have, but also more fucking degraded at the same time–it was amazing, the perfect mix of strong female and slut.

So is it true that you would cum while stripping? That’s so crazy! Kitten Natividad–one of Russ Meyer’s vixens–who I interviewed recently also talked about cumming while stripping; she became famous for it. She said she loved watching guys lust after her.
Honestly Karley, I was cumming like five times a night, it was amazing. And that’s crazy for me because I almost never cum during sex. Mostly I would cum while giving dances in the private rooms, so like I’d be dancing and touching myself but some gross man with a huge boner would be touching my butt at the same time, so it was perfect.

That’s insane. So can you pole dance? I recently got an audition at a strip club but I didn’t go because I was scared I was going to fall off the poll like an idiot.
No I can’t, but it didn’t really matter because in Italy it’s more about seeing a girl naked than about watching her dance. It’s very classy here! In Italy the guys can do whatever they want to strippers–they can lick your pussy or put their fingers in your ass or whatever, they just have to keep their pants on.

Whoa. Most clubs here girls don’t even get fully nude–they wear thongs.
I’m sure you can find some trashy, totally nude place where they won’t care if you can dance. That’s the thing: if it’s more about nudity and touching then they care less about the dancing, and vice-versa.

What was your favorite type of guy to dance for?
The gross ones, for sure. My favorite client was a disgusting old bald guy in a wheelchair. Not that wheelchairs are gross, but definitely the most unlikely male prospects were my favorites–like the really fat guys who you know never get laid. The young hot guys who would come to party would normally be jackasses. And also it was like, if I wanted to fuck a hot guy then I’d just go to a bar and find a hot guy, ya know?

Were you making a lot of money?
OMG, so much money.

So why did you quit?
OK, so I told everyone that I quit stripping because it wasn’t fun anymore, and I haven’t even written about this on Sugar Tits yet, but the truth is that I liked it so much that I had to cut myself off. Like Karley, at the end of it, I was giving out blow-jobs to guys in the private rooms for free because it turned me on so much. Like if I really liked a guy, or if a guy was super pathetic and disgusting, I would just suck his dick. I felt like such a whore, it was so amazing. But the next day I would feel bad about myself, firstly because I was being “unprofessional” or whatever, and also because the whole club could get in trouble if I got caught. And as I started doing it more and more I started having so many personal issues with it that I had to quit. I was afraid I was becoming obsessed with stripping.

But seriously it was one of the best experiences of my life and I have no regrets. I think I’ll start again after I graduate from university, but I think if I’d kept going the way I was I would have ended up getting into trouble.

Sugar Tits: I know who she is and you don’t, haha! :)

So going back to when you said you almost never cum during sex…
Yeah, it’s hard for me. Like I’ve fucked about 100 guys and only my ex-Master–let’s call him Jake–and a handful of others have made me cum.

How did your relationship with Jake start?
Well the story is really interesting and kind of romantic. Basically, I always knew there was something missing in my sex life, and I think that’s probably why I was so promiscuous–because I was “searching for something” or whatever. Then one day about two years ago Jake came up to me at a party and asked if I wanted to model in a shoot for this art/porn magazine that he publishes. So I said yes, and a week later we were at the shoot and I was lying there being fingered by the male porn star, and then out of nowhere Jake walked up and just slapped me in the face. It was the first time anyone had ever slapped me and I loved it. And then that whole night we were making out, and on our second date I asked him, “How did you know I would like that, considering I didn’t even know?” And he was like, “I could see it in your eyes, you’re just that type of girl–you just needed someone to slap you.”

Wow, that is romantic. Tell me about the first time you guys had sex.
It was at a swingers club; he brought me as his date. It was this really disgusting place full of young and old couples drinking, and then he took me downstairs and there were a bunch of differently themed rooms and a dungeon, and we fucked on a bed while these gross guys watched us.

And you ended up having a pretty intense Dom/sub relationship with him, right?
Yeah, I was his slave. He introduced me to that whole world, and it changed my life. The only fights Jake and I ever had were about where “the line” was. See, I wanted there to be specific times when I was “the slut”, but the rest of the time I wanted him to respect me, but it’s hard to draw that line with guys because they’re mostly dumb.

So how did you work it out?
He ended up buying me a dog collar, so whenever I had the collar on I was “his”, and whenever I didn’t he couldn’t control me.

Were you in love with him?
Yeah, I became totally obsessed with him and our breakup really destroyed me. And I hate to admit that because it makes me sound so helpless and weak, but for him I was. I guess there’s always that one person who you’re just a dumbass for. Sometimes I regret Jake being the first guy I had that type Dom/sub experience with, because I think I wasn’t good enough at it yet. When I look back I think, God, I should have been more patient, or not been so needy, or not cried when he whipped me a hundred times or whatever…

Yeah, but if you were more patient or didn’t give a shit then it would have made his restraint less effective. The fact that you wanted him so badly was a huge part of your dynamic.
That’s true.

When I was younger I used to fuck this really dominant older guy, and I swear he liked not fucking me more than he liked fucking me, just because he loved watching me beg. He loved to see me desperate. I remember once he invited me over, and I hadn’t seen him in weeks and was so excited to fuck him, and when I got to his house he tied me up and left me there for hours while he went and did some work, and then when he finally came back he just jerked-off on me and then sent me home. It was SO frustrating, but to be honest I’ve been masturbating to that memory for like four years now.
OMG Jake was the same! He would only fuck me like once a month! And I’d be like “Please, please!” and he’d be like “Shut up, bitch.” But you know, they do it for you. They want to fuck you, but they know that you want to feel like a greedy whore, and that you want some man to be like “You can’t have this cock!” because that’s so opposite to what actually happens on a daily basis.

So true.
And after he ties you up and makes you wait forever, when he finally does come and fuck you it’s the most amazing thing ever, because you want it so badly.

So, so true. Gosh, mind games really work, huh?
I hate to say it but they really do. I think I told you this once, but your story just reminded me of the time that Jake invited me over his house for dinner, and I was all excited, like, “Aww he’s cooking for me! Wow!” And so I showed up and he just tied me up under the kitchen table and made me wait there while he ate by himself, and kicked me under the table the whole time.

But the things about these sorts of relationships is that you need to know that the Dom actually cares about you in order for it not to fuck you up. There’s a fine line between role play and real life.

I think the idea of being submissive is a turn on for a lot of people, and you can fantasize or watch porn with that dynamic, but once you actually experience good S&M sex it changes your sex life forever. Like after fucking that older Dom guy I was scared I’d never be able to enjoy normal sex again.
Exactly! It ruins your life kind of! That’s why I was so hung up on Jake for long–because of the sex. Since Jake, what used to be “good in bed” just doesn’t cut it anymore. It sucks! And I’ll ask guys to slap me and stuff, but they just get really freaked out. We are the minority I think. Like it’s surprising how many guys just want to have vanilla sex, even on a dirty one night stand. It’s like, “Dude, I’m not your wife, I’m some bitch that you picked up on the street that you’re never going to see again and I’m begging you to beat the shit out of me and you won’t do it!”

What is wrong with everyone actually?
Also, if you have to ask someone to spank you it kind of defeats the purpose. Like in theory if you ask a guy to pull your hair he should tell you to shut the fuck up and then do something a lot worse.

You should give men lessons on how to abuse women.
Lol… I wouldn’t say no.