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The Grandma and the Stripper: On Double Standards and Female Desire

With Dad a few months ago in the Palisades. You gotta love him, even when you wanna throttle him.
With Dad a few months ago in the Palisades. You gotta love him, even when you wanna throttle him.
The recent New York Post story about 85-year-old Bernice Youngblood stuffing singles in the briefs of a male stripper allegedly hired by staffers at West Babylon's East Neck Nursing and Rehabilitation Center reads like The Onion. The son's lawsuit against the facility borders on farce, but alas, it's all too real. 
 
Anyone who spends time with an octogenarian in reasonably good shape knows that turning 80 doesn't extinguish sexual desire, even if at that age sex remains largely (if not entirely) a matter of imagination. 

My father, 89, figures prominently on my Facebook page and Victorian Chick blog. I could never write a character in a novel funnier or more complex than my larger-than-life dad, a B-24 pilot in World War II and later, a formidable but ornery federal bankruptcy judge and national panelist. 

My friends get a kick out of Dad's "selective macular degeneration," as I've taken to calling the strange phenomenon whereby he can spot a great rack (read: big knockers), but can't read street signs, newspapers or the Time Warner listings on his 42-inch plasma TV. 

Dad is a native Angeleno married 48 years this August to my mother, 74, also an LA native. He's Jewish and staunchly secular, first-generation American on his father's side and second-generation on his mother's. While his parents were extremely poor in his first seven years (he was a foster child for about a year during the Depression), they gradually ascended the socioeconomic ladder and ultimately became quite comfortable businesspeople as well as fixtures of the ballroom dance circuit in the days of Ciro and the Trocadero. 

Mom's mother was a Mexican immigrant who translated for the studios and briefly roomed with Myrna Loy, my mother's godmother in her first two years of life. Her father was a writer born somewhere in the UK, but no one knows where because he was orphaned at some point and refused to speak--sober or drunk--about what was unquestionably a heinous childhood. 

In the mid-1930s, my paternal grandparents owned Barney's Beauty Salon near the legendary Wiltern Theater (so named because it sat on the corner of Wilshire and Western Boulevards). It was one of three or four salons in LA which catered to both well-heeled women and bonafide stars like Carole Lombard. My great-aunt Jean was in fact Lombard's manicurist, and she was as fond of practical jokes as all the stories have led us to believe. 

Far from wealthy (or even routinely solvent in the case of my mother's family), my parents were both steeped in Hollywood's Golden Age, when double features were a nickel or a dime. People were horrified when it went up to a quarter. And Hollywood has always been about beauty and glamour. Stars from Clara Bow to Irene Dunne would regard as bizarre and incomprehensible modern feminism's hostility to physical beauty. 

"Of course a woman's looks are part of her overall appeal and value," they'd say. Some would no doubt add, "As they should be." It never ceases to baffle me how any feminist scholar or popular feminist literate in the British or American Canon (or classical Greece, for that matter) fails to realize the inter-generational significance of a woman's looks. Helen of Troy, after all. You'd think Botox revenues alone would convince them that Virginia Hill (as brought to life by Annette Bening in Barry Levinson's Bugsy) was right: "Looks matter if it matters how you look." 

Soldiers in WWII fantasized about pin-up girls and movie stars. A novelist I know in Sacramento wrote about a picture of me on the Fourth of July with WWII re-enactors in downtown Santa Barbara: "Let me show you what you're fighting for, boys." His reference is of course to Bob Hope, a tireless, generous, and patriotic supporter of American troops from WWII to the Gulf War.   

My mother, in addition to being an historic female lawyer (the third female U.S. Attorney and first LA County Counsel, among other firsts) is exceptionally beautiful even today. Mom had serious acting aspirations and did quite a bit of theater, both at Hollywood High in its heyday and at UCLA, where she didn't attend class overmuch. 

Working and acting took priority over lectures, but Mom is brilliant and did well enough to get into UCLA Law, from which she graduated in 1965 as one of a dozen women in a class of 350 or so men. Had she not lost a couple significant and potentially breakthrough parts, she might have stuck with acting. But she didn't want to replicate the instability of her childhood and adolescence, and by her first year of law school, she had wholeheartedly embraced law as her calling. 

As an undergraduate, Mom briefly taught modeling at Nina Blanchard and covered the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles for Newsweek at the tender age of 20. She'd been active in the Junior Journal at Hollywood High, an unusual and impressive high school publication, and as the daughter of writers, she always wrote well. Mom also paid for college by typing at night, a less glamorous but relatively well-paying gig. 

Dad claims to have fallen in love with Mom at first sight when she worked as office manager for a group of small, two-man law firms in Beverly Hills. Dad was one of the lawyers and instantly knew this was the woman for him.  It was a great job which not only paid for tuition and living expenses, but allowed her to graduate debt-free and to gain valuable, real-world experience.  

My mother is the whole package: brilliant, nurturing, stunning, and easygoing (by 50, most men realize that this trumps the other three). And perhaps Dad would have fallen for her had Mom not been a bombshell built like Sophia Loren. But a half-century later, Dad is no less conscious of Mom's physical virtues. Mostly he loves old movie stars but he has a few modern screen loves, including Julia Ormond in Sabrina, Rachel Griffiths in The Rookie, and Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham.

A few months ago, I drove Dad to his pulmonologist in the Saint John's Medical Center complex in Santa Monica. Through the elevator doors walked a short, long-haired blonde in a tight, gray, cashmere sweater dress and five-inch knee-high suede boots. 

Dad's eyes immediately widened. He wasn't the only one; the phrase "built like a brick s***house" comes to mind, and I couldn't help staring at her chest either. It was just that noticeable because beyond the rack, the woman--whose eyes were glued to her iPhone and who seemed oblivious to her impact on those around her---had a compact body as svelte as a Soul Cycle devotee.

I complimented her on the navy suede boots (which were truly sensational). I frequently compliment women on their jewelry and clothing, but in this case I think part of me felt that if she were actually reading the passengers' minds, she would be relieved by one "appropriate" response to her appearance.  Dad's fan club on Facebook loved this story. "He's not blind, dead or gay," wrote one friend. "I love your old man! God bless him!" wrote another. 

Our elevator moment gets at the heart of the (over)reaction to the grandma and the stripper in Long Island. A hardcore Second Wave feminist would likely regard my father as a dinosaur, if not a neanderthal, who objectifies women and still uses the word "broad." Such a view would surely be more compelling if Dad were not indescribably proud of his famous lawyer wife and hadn't for years referred to himself as "Mr. Andrea." 

A few years ago, we were picking out a bottle of Prosecco at Gelson's for a friend (an upscale supermarket chain in Southern California with no precise New York equivalent). The price points were quite disparate and Dad went with the more expensive bottle, noting in a faux blasé tone, "I have a working wife. I  recommend it highly." 

But Dad is a gentleman with consummate manners (well, unless he's having a temper tantrum and that's entirely unrelated to the dynamic I'm discussing).  Whatever response he has to a woman's appearance when we're out and about he expresses in the privacy of my Saab, Mom's Acura or their home. 

Dad came of age in the late 1930s and early 1940s, while Mom is a product of the prudish, uptight 1950s. As a result, Dad, a lifelong Democrat, is far more personally frank and liberal about sex than my politically liberal mother who is quite personally conservative and traditional. For seven years she dated (and lived with) an older actor best friends with Jim Sikking at UCLA's MFA program and she's been with Dad since 1965. In almost Biblical fashion, our family revolves around my father and his needs.   

Dad's always been free with judgments about women he sees both on TV and in everyday life (and I should note he's equally judgmental about people's competence and intellect). He's particularly scathing about weight, but now that he's 89, he can get away with murder. By contrast, Mom doesn't even say the word "fat": she prefers "a little squared off." This one piece of information goes a long way to explaining their diametrically opposite personalities.

Coming from Dad, comments which would be highly offensive if uttered by a man 30 or more years younger, are merely devilish and endearing. Generally, Dad's statements elicit a smile or giggle in conjunction with, "You're terrible!" He inevitably comes back with, "Yes! And I'm getting worse every day!" 

Dad's age grants the freedom to be risqué and even slightly bawdy. But a female octogenarian who acknowledges her sexual desire--even if this remains entirely visual and unconsummated--is immediately dismissed as mentally incompetent, as in the case of the Bernice Youngblood.

If Dad didn't have a veritable entourage of family and employees at his beck and call (and don't think he doesn't love every minute of it!), and lived instead at a nursing home, you can bet he'd be arranging regular visits from a beautiful, buxom broad, preferably one who sings like Dinah Shore and dances like Ginger Rogers or Cyd Charisse with the demeanor of Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man. 

This I know because some thirty years ago, a lawyer buddy of Dad's surprised him on his birthday or some special occasion in his chambers with a scantily clad (but not of course topless or naked) woman. He was around 60 and we still have the dashing framed picture in his dress shirt, suspenders, and silk tie. It's one of a dozen or two photographs taken over his lifetime in which you see his relaxed, genuine smile instead of his frozen, fake picture one. 

I submit that if the East Neck nursing home incident had involved one Bernard--rather than Bernice--Youngblood, it never would have made headlines or the local TV news. Certainly, the son wouldn't be filing a frivolous lawsuit against the nursing home. 

If the son had found a picture of a female stripper "bumping and grinding" against his father, the response would have been one of bemusement rather than outrage: "The old man's still got it!" As it stands, the son claims that his devout Baptist mother has been "defiled" by this "vile" encounter with the fine specimen who entertained Bernice and her buddies. (The son believes the staffers were laughing at, not with, his mother, but his other statements strip him of all credibility--no pun intended-- and I'm inclined to believe it was all in good fun.) 
 
Anyone who's read my work on Victorian Chick, the Huffington PostThe Weekly Standard, or The Patch, knows that I am a fan neither of Cultural Studies nor academic feminism--in or out of literature. Thus my initial reaction to the Duke porn scandal (which has changed over time) was: "Good Lord! A double major in Women's Studies and sociology? As if Women's Studies weren't bad enough on its own? Shoot me now." (Alternately, it occurred to this former English Ph.D. candidate that sitting through four years of lectures in those two disciplines would be roughly on a par with shooting even the most exploitative porn.) 

Predictably, I liked Gloria Steinem's message much better 25 or 35 years ago--when she focused on reproductive freedom and workplace equality--than I do today with her insufferable New Age, Oprah Winfrey platitudes and ponderous talk about economics and race. The first cheapens the important messages of the Women's Movement; the second dilutes them beyond all recognition. Beyond that, all her fulsome gushing is just plain embarrassing. (And this from a highly self-reflexive or autobiographical critic who daily walks the tightrope between brave self-disclosure and over-sharing.) 

I disagree with Steinem about pornography and find repellent the word-policing she countenances as part of the larger war on language. Steinem has some downright insane views about gender and nature which lie beyond the scope of the present discussion. But if I hadn't known better, I would have thought she was stoned because some notions were so off-the-wall (something about no right angles in nature), I can't imagine a smart person who wasn't stoned, formulating and then voicing such positions. 

I often disagree with Camille Paglia politically, but she's a rigorous and often truly astounding thinker, not to mention a "kick in the ass" as Dad would say. Paglia speaks at lightning speed and she's endlessly entertaining. Only once during her October, 2012 lecture at the 92nd Y to kick off her Glittering Images book tour, did I need to stifle the urge to scream. (I felt she took some cheap shots at literary criticics instead of making the tougher, as well as less funny, argument.)
By contrast, I wanted to scream or tear my hair out for at least half of Steinem's touchy-feely talk, in spite of her inherent likability and still significant physical appeal when divorced from the talk's content. 

Much to my surprise, my blog about Steinem's sold-out February 13th lecture at the Arlington turned out to be one of my most popular in Victorian Chick's three-year run. The Steinem piece was a kind of companion to my most liked and shared blog ever (not counting my Huffington Post debut about the selfie or the e-cigarette piece on the Beverly Hills Patch) about a silly and irritating feminist blogger in Oregon to whom, it is true, I showed no mercy. 

But a story like Bernice Youngblood's triggers my most fundamental feminist impulses. Over a lifetime, a man can have three times the number of sexual partners a woman can and merely be considered a stud. The word "player" has negative connotations, but I'd argue that this designation has less to do with numbers and more to do with how a man handles (and juggles) his women. A man can play the field discreetly and respectfully, or he can do so piggishly and cruelly. Cheating is like everything else in life: you can do it well or badly, thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, and yes, it makes all the difference. 

Even if single (that is, unmarried) and unattached--which are not of course the same-- a woman with a high sex drive and/or a desire for variety is considered a "slut."  Married or unmarried, an attached man who cannot or will not be monogamous is, well, "just not wired that way." A woman similarly situated and equally resistant to monogamy is really more than a mere slut: she's a monstrous degenerate with a disordered sexuality and quite possibly a psyche of questionable integrity. In a word, nuts--or worse, sick. 

Bernice Youngblood's sanctimonious ingrate of a son would prefer publicly to label his mother "crazy" than acknowledge her as a sexual being. And for all I despise about feminist theory, criticism and campus shenanigans, it's stories like this which remind a reluctant feminist like myself that we haven't come close to finishing the work of the Women's Movement. Until women can without stigma make the same sexual choices men do, there's work to be done.

Work, I might add, which banning the word "bossy," blathering about objectification, denying the reality of biology, and equating verbal innuendo with sexual harassment, does precisely nothing to advance. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

marsha April 09, 2014 at 11:00 PM
"inane self-congratulatory trivia"....that would be Miss Ordin, when she is not engaged in a full-frontal attack on some woman, for being fat, old and unattractive.
concerned citizen April 09, 2014 at 11:00 PM
Sheet2 girl since you speak of knowing facts then I am sure you know the fact that there are different levels of dementia and it is progressive. If her dementia is so far advanced as her son claims, some may find it interesting that she is able to recall how she felt two years ago when this took place.. Just saying
Krystyna Baranowska April 10, 2014 at 09:56 AM
Congratulations that your father can still enjoy life. Unfortunately, the majority of residents in East Neck, where my mom was for a little over a year, are severely handicapped mentally. The decision to hire this stripper was voted on by a group of 16 residents who are physically but not mentally impaired. My mother was also a very vibrant woman. She was the backbone of our family. The one who helped us when we needed help, who gave us a kick in the butt if she felt we needed it. This vibrant woman had Alzheimers dementia which took her life away long before she died. So don't preach how wonderful it is for your dad to still enjoy looking at a busty woman. Visit someone in a nursing home and really open your eyes as to what the majority of the patients are going through. My mother, if capable of making a decision, would never have enjoyed this entertainment. In looking at the photograph of this woman with the stripper, I looked at the lady in the background who seemed to have no idea what is happening. So save your preaching as to how we should let older people enjoy their lives. I would have loved to have my mom enjoy her life, remember her children and grandchildren and get to meet her great-grandchildren. I could keep writing, but I'm getting angrier and angrier reading comments and "stories" from people who just don't get it.
lmm April 10, 2014 at 01:54 PM
Sheet 2 girl: you speak as if you were in the room with ms youngblood. the lawsuit is completely frivolous and it is based on greed on the sons part. how dare he put his mother on display placing money in a strippers pants and then claiming she is humiliated by the picture. he put it out there all over the news and even tmz. thats the sad part. and his girlfriend brought the mother to the event and was shown in the picture having a good old time. concerned citizens statement hits the nail on the head. also i personally spoke to an employee in the nursing home who i happen to see on a regular basis who stated that this womans son is not a nice man and is very rude to the entire staff. he went on television and clearly denied that the other woman in the picture was his girlfriend. he kept saying how obvious it was that it was a nursing home staff. how bad did it get that they need to sue now?? no one looked like they were having a bad time. just saying. one more thing, if she is so humiliated, then why did the family not take her out of this environment to live elsewhere???

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