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Hot Mamas

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Buh-bye, Britney. C.U. later, Christina. Hardly knew ye, Hilary/Lindsay/Ashlee/whatever. After bubblegum dominated turn-of-the-millennium media, the moment of the teeny-bopper hottie has passed. Sure, a cute young thing will always peg on the babe-o-meter, but now, to be sexy and au courant, you have to be over thirty. No wait, make that forty — with a few kids, to boot. Pitch in a husband or two (or three), and voila, you’re at the top of the hot list. The hour of the MILF is upon us.
   For those out of the pop-culture loop, MILF is the American Pie-born acronym for Mom I’d Like to Fuck, and suddenly they’re everywhere — television, tabloids, books, and the Web. After several years in which high-gloss teen queens teased us by pretending they didn’t know they were teasing us, the public imagination has grown tired of what seems so manufactured and manipulative, favoring instead something more complex and mature. The most visible bellwether of this transformation is ABC’s Sunday night soap-noir, Desperate Housewives. Already the focus of a Newsweek cover story, two TV Guide cover pieces and countless op-eds, the show focuses on the comfortably middle-class women of Wisteria Lane. DH has posted huge ratings, proving popular with female and male viewers alike (if not all Nerve readers). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a huge hit in the purportedly proper red states.
   Like loyal fashionistas tagging after the hot trend, every talk show has gotten in on the act — from Montel and Maury to Oprah and Dr. Phil, who recently ran episodes on “Secret Sex in the Suburbs” and “The Real Lives of Desperate Housewives." Playboy, usually a bit behind the curve, has made a stab at being current by issuing its own call for hot

To baldly state that grown women have longings that exceed the boundaries of domesticity falls somewhere between bad taste and heresy.

suburban mamas to strip down in an upcoming issue of the magazine. (Perhaps the recent layout featuring actress Denise Richards, a new mom, whetted the appetite). In 2005, look for the books To Love, Honor and Betray: The Secret Life of Suburban Wives and Undressing Infidelity, both of which promise to expose this newfangled breed of adulteress.
   These new chronicles of bourgeois sexual angst have ample precedent: think of The Graduate, Peyton Place and Judy Blume’s not-so-young adult novel Wifey, while TV’s most recent attempt to pull the covers off suburban sexuality was HBO’s short-lived The Mind of the Married Man. While competently written, the series floundered because it failed to deliver anything new: Men feel trapped in their marriages? They want to have sex with woman other than their spouses? STOP THE PRESSES.
    But something that reveals these escapist urges in woman? Well, that is news. To baldly state that grown women have longings that exceed the bounds of conventional marriage and domesticity falls somewhere between bad taste and heresy, and that irreverence is from whence the interest comes. Add in the fact that the primary medium for this message is television — the ultimate means of reinforcing conventional wisdom — and you’ve got a bit of prime-time subversion on your hands.

In fairness, long before hot mamas became trendy at the TV studio and printing press, porn led the MILF brigade. Proof of the sheer, staggering volume of porn sites exalting maternal hotness is only a Google away, with MILFhunter.com being arguably the most influential (and popular) of the lot. But exaltation of mature women’s sexuality predates the digital age. Crack open any old-school book of male sexual fantasies like Men in Love, and you’ll find it densely populated by men who have made older women and moms (sometimes their own!) the focus of their fantasy lives.
   The eroticism of motherhood seems like a contradiction in terms in our culture, which keeps women’s roles so rigidly stratified. (Sex? Yes! Motherhood? Absolutely! Together? Uh . . . let’s tuck that matter under the receiving blanket, shall we?) In an essay about how pregnancy affected her own sexuality, Susie Bright wrote, “It’s an awesome feat of American puritanism to insist that sex and pregnancy do not mix. It is the ultimate virgin/whore distinction. For those long nine months, please don’t mention how we got this way — we’re Mary now.” And that attitude continues long past the baby’s due date.
    Still, if you’re past the flimsy-but-tenacious cultural dictate that women tone down their sex appeal after thirty and/or childbirth, you’ll find obvious hints to the contrary. How else could a song like “Stacy’s Mom” become a smash, not to mention the video for Maroon 5′s “She Will Be Loved,” in which forty-two-year-old Kelly Preston plays a mom who eclipses her daughter in the eyes of the band’s ultra-emo singer? Consider also the suggestively titled (but ultimately chaste) Wife Swap and Trading Spouses, and the new MTV series Date My Mom, in which a young male suitor chooses from three anonymous bachelorettes based on a date with each girl’s mother. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson: your archetype has clearly taken hold.
   Frankly, for some of us, the idea of older women being sexual takes a while to warm up to. At first, they seem so . . . old. Then you date someone who’s a parent, or your friends start having kids, and you realize that they’re just as juicy as any young, gravitationally defiant singleton, and they have the experience and empathy that can deepen the experience. I’m not saying it’s better — the neophyte blush does pack its own special erotic wallop — but when you find your sexual horizons expanded beyond the eighteen-to-twenty-five-year-old age range, it’s remarkable.
   If the Sex and the City girls shed light on the romantic and sexual travails of freewheeling thirtysomethings, Desperate Housewives puts the yearnings of domesticated fortysomething females on the

Yes, their faces are freakishly “maintained.” But it’s best not to look a gift MILF in the mouth.

map. Amid the constant barrage of messages that “younger is better," is it any wonder that a show depicting lusty, imperfect, fully adult women is a huge hit? Yes, the actresses’ lovely faces are a little freakishly “maintained,” and their Pilates bodies are whittled down to the low single digits, but that’s life in a society that treats female aging and weight gain like twin pathologies. Given the paucity of acknowledgment for the emotional complexity and longing of women “of a certain age,” it’s best not to look a gift MILF in the mouth.
   Ultimately, what makes the MILF the sexpot du jour is her familiarity. MILF’s may seem groundbreaking in youth-obsessed Hollywood, but in real life, we’ve all known women like this. Sure, the hijinks of the Wisteria Lane ladies border on satire, and the average MILF is likely far less exhibitionistic and acrobatic than a porn site might suggest. Still, their domestic dilemmas are ours writ camp, their sexual exploits are triple-X exaggerations of what lurks in our own dreams. Both women and men can relate.
   The MILF phenom breaks new ground by audaciously illustrating the obvious — that wanting and being wanted doesn’t stop after "I Do," and being a wife and/or a mom doesn’t mean your fulfillment comes solely from baking pies and scooting off to Brandon and Katie’s soccer games in the minivan. And it emphasizes, by default, the performance aspect of being a wife and mother: here’s Betty Bourgeois, now co-starring in The Happy Family! It gives lie to the notion that women are neutered, if not denatured, by marriage and motherhood: the one fiction in which both liberals and conservatives seem inordinately invested.
   Today’s Desperate Housewives, MILFs and hot mamas represent the footnote to Happily Ever After, and it’s small wonder so many people are caught up in their knotty tangle of G-strings and apron strings. They show us what we have known to be true, yet didn’t dare speak aloud. They point to what’s going on in our own houses, reminding us that perhaps nothing is more seductive than a room with a once-closed door cracked open. Captivated by what might be contained within, we draw closer expecting to find something mysterious and exotic, only to look inside and see, most intriguingly, ourselves.  

©2004 Lily Burana & Nerve.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lily Burana is the author of Strip City: A Stripper’s Farewell Journey
Across America
(Miramax Books). Now resigned to wearing leopard-print
spandex and false eyelashes solely for Halloween parties and Nerve photo
ops, she spends most days inoffensively dressed, writing for
GQ, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other
publications. She lives in New York.

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Too Hot Mamas? The Problem with Sexualizing Women’s Sports

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Too Hot Mamas? by Joanna Cagan  


This is the true story of an American women’s sports fan who grew up under the great promise of Title IX watching one of her teams finally emerge as a national presence and feeling utterly betrayed. This is a story of a fan

turning against her own players, of how I learned to stop worrying and love the Women’s World Cup — by rooting for the Chinese.


    

It all started with the Americans’ ponytails. I saw them everywhere: in commercials, in interviews, during games. Shiny bouncy ponytails, pulled high on their wearers’ heads, that looked more appropriate for cheerleading practice than an international sporting event. Ponytails that allowed delicate little wisps to fall gracefully from their bunches, as if a Hollywood makeup artist had stepped in and tugged gently on them to create an appealing image of sweaty women’s hair.


    

Attached to the ponytails, of course, were human beings. Young white ones, with names like Tiffany and Brandi, Mia, Julie, Cindy and Tiffeny with an “e.” Each had a preassigned identity in the press — Mia was shy but ferocious, Julie the class clown, Tiffeny a rebel. They were like an installment of The Babysitter’s Club, nary a nappy head (okay, one or two) or peasant body among them. They had white straight teeth and slim strong bodies and a gee-whiz air despite their impressive athletic prowess.


    

Disarmingly prim and perfect, they were instant media darlings. I began to ask myself what would have happened if they didn’t look like a 90210 casting call, or if they were all black or latina, or had an average weight closer to 200 pounds, like the 1996 gold-winning women’s basketball team that never really

caught the nation’s eye. Well, no fear of that. The newspapers drooled while the television cameras lovingly panned the crowd of suburbanite fans (more WASPS than a mud nest, to paraphrase Sports Illustrated). The nation swooned. I got cranky.

    

At first I fought my grumpiness. I dismissed my frustration as jealousy. I thought that if I could only get over the nagging feeling that these were the girls I knew and hated in high school, then I could cheer along with everyone else. But by the Cup’s second round, frustration had given way to full-blown irritation. That was about the same time we were learning that the members of the U.S. soccer team were apparently in possession of as much non-threatening good ol’ American sex drive — as defined by good ol’ American men — as they were winning spirit. There were frequent, not-so-subtle reassurances that the women were straight. During games, the names and cheering images of various players’ husbands, boyfriends and children were broadcast more than any opposing team members’ stats. One U.S. player even posed for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with her man. It was as if the media was saying, “Don’t be threatened by these women. They can be athletes and traditional sex objects, too.”


    
And then there was Brandi Chastain, the team’s stellar defender, in the pages of a sophomoric men’s magazine — crouched, slickly naked, clutching a soccer ball and wearing nothing but cleats. “I am strong, I am a dominating player,” she seemed to say, “but still I await you.”


    

This green-eyed blonde with abs of steel represented — I was helpfully told by some — a healthier, more empowering naked image for women than the typical supermodel waif. Funny how I missed that memo — the one that said if you slap some sharply defined muscles on a pretty woman who’s been thrust in a raunchy position, it’s progress.


    

David Letterman loved the pose. He started calling the U.S. team “soccer mamas” instead of “soccer moms,” and proudly displayed the photo they took of themselves wearing nothing but Late Night T-shirts. I got crankier and crankier.


    

This was not the first time I’ve found being a female sports fan and athlete emotionally rough. Since so many sports fans are men, women have to struggle for acceptance — for the ability to share in a mutual pleasure and appreciation and passion for sports, without all the second guessing (about motivations, expertise, sexuality) that accompanies their attempts to play or watch.


    

There aren’t many times I’ve felt really and truly understood in life. Joyously celebrating a play with a fellow fan (so often a guy) is among the best feelings ever — an egalitarian moment in a divided world. But then when

the media — or my friends — leeringly notice the attractiveness of a female team, or a female athlete takes her clothes off, all that equality goes out the window. Women are back to being objects, and I’m back at square one.


    

Of course, Chastain and company are not the only ones to blame for the glamification of women’s sports. Among recent examples, take Anna Kournikova, the Britney Spears of the tennis world with a slavish following achieved almost solely because of her crotch-high skirts and adolescent prettiness. And Amy Acuff? The U.S. high jumper has reportedly put together a calendar of fellow female track & field stars in girlie mag poses. Let’s not forget good old Gabrielle Reece, queen of the sellout, whose commercials have erroneously convinced a nation that volleyball is a sport of babes in bikinis. Any time female athletes choose to play up their looks, rather than their talent, they help push women’s sports away from the sports and toward the women themselves, in all the most regressive ways.


    

It’s funny about sports and sex. There’s some component to watching sports, or taking part in any athletic activity, that’s very nearly sexual. Besides sex, sports is the most physical thing that many of us do or watch or enjoy.


    

But are athletes sexy? I don’t think I’d use that exact word. “Sexy” doesn’t quite capture why a great athletic performance evokes so visceral a reaction. Michael Jordan was exquisite when he froze, seemingly in mid-air, and slammed a ball through a net. So is Brandi Chastain when she rises on her strong calves and heads the soccer ball away. She’s beautiful to watch. But so too was Secretariat, all rippling muscles and perfect lines, crossing the finish line a zillion lengths ahead of the next horse. Hell, so’s that lion on the Discovery Channel, the one who uses his mighty tail to reverse in mid-hunt, powerful haunches launching him at an antelope. And that graceful antelope? Don’t get me started.


    

I guess I just always believed that the charge I got watching a great baseball player was the same as one I’d get watching a female tennis star, and that the same would be true for all my sports buddies, male and female. Every so often I get a jarring reminder that this isn’t necessarily the case. Like the time a male colleague suggested that putting spandexed cheerleaders on display at

halftime was only fair to men watching a Knicks game, since women fans had the players to ogle. Why couldn’t he see physical beauty in a John Starks jump shot? Spending all your time deciding who should be turned on by sports and who shouldn’t keeps fans from being unified in the shared pleasure of the physical moment, regardless of who’s playing. That unity has always been central to my experience of being a spectator, and I was sad to see it threatened.


    

The over-sexualization of sports also undermines my reason for being an athlete. In a lifetime of fluctuating self-esteem and crippling body image,

sports has facilitated the few times when I am too happy and preoccupied to run my normal painful analysis of my body and how it rates on the old sexy-meter that drives Hollywood and New York City and the brains and libidos of otherwise intelligent young men. If I pick up a glove, a bat, a basketball, I am judged on what I do with them — not, for once, on how I look using them.


    
So you’ll pardon my frustration with Brandi and the gang. I loved seeing women’s sports on the front pages of the press, but boy, did I hate what they were talking about. So maybe there was a way to cheer on the concept of the Women’s World Cup, while still acknowledging my frustration in the coverage and behavior of the U.S. team.


    

I figured it out when the U.S. was getting ready to play Brazil in the semi-finals. The underdog Brazilians were led by Sissi, a brilliant ball-handler with a shaved head. A shaved head going up against all those perky pigtails! I was sold. Add to that the fact that Sissi’s teammates were brawny and dark-skinned — far darker than Cosmo or Glamour has ever been cool with. Some even had hair gracelessly pulled back in ’70s-era bandannas across their foreheads. I couldn’t imagine David Letterman calling them soccer mamas, because I couldn’t imagine David Letterman — or any other nudge-nudge, wink-wink soccer fan — calling them at all.

    

My new favorite team lost that day, and as the team got ready to take on China in the finals, I buckled down for more embarrassing media behavior — like

the ESPN anchor lamenting his discovery that Mia Hamm was married. Meanwhile, Chastain was defending her pose, since she ran her “ass off” to get the body she bared. Of course, for all I know swimsuit model Rebecca Romjin-Stamos runs her ass off for her body and Cindy Crawford works out like a mad woman. Saying that you strive hard to be objectified is not, truth be told, the most persuasive of defenses.


    

And so I rooted for the Chinese. Some had unflattering boxy haircuts and boyish bodies. All were apparently devoid of prom queen personalities — what else could I gather from the lack of media coverage? Who was the sassy one? The mom? The class clown? They seemed homogenous in the way that women from communist countries are so often portrayed. But they sure put up a fight. In the end, I was forced to witness one of the painful lessons of high school come true on the world stage: The pretty girls always win. They even get to go to Disneyland.


    

What did I get? Another round of lectures about how good the World Cup team makes us women feel. Newsweek said the women on the team had been objectified but to a good end. The L.A. Times called them talented and sexy. No less an alternative authority than the Village Voice told us that the team offered something for all gals, from “tomboy to tease.” The team marched on. The nation cheered. The media fawned.


    

Since then, I’ve tried to stay away from it all — this joyous celebration of girl power turned inside out, like a bad dream. Somebody wake me when it’s over.





©1999 Joanna Cagan and Nerve.com