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Hustler Controversy to Continue with Second Article

Tracy Clark-Flory

Trumpeting a college
exposé, bold black letters read “Mills College’s Fetish
Ball” next to a voluptuous platinum-haired porn star on the cover
of the September issue of Hustler magazine.

The controversial article,
hidden among the magazine’s glossy photo spreads, caused an uproar
on student-news this summer that has since quieted. But it seems
there’s more to come.

The article, titled
“Crashing the Fetish Ball at an All-Girl Campus: Report from Mills
College,” was written by Sam Ospovat, who graduated from Mills’
graduate music program this year. It details his experience at the
2002 Fetish Ball, an annual student event. The article was paired
with an amateur photograph of a group of unidentified students at
the ball, which was published without their permission.

The flood of heated
responses on student-news captured the interest of Hustler editors,
leading to a substantial follow-up article, focusing on the student
body’s reaction and gender dynamics on campus, which will be
published in an upcoming issue, according to Mark Cromer, features
editor at Hustler.

“Hustler’s interest [in
writing the article] is, of course, the First Amendment and free
speech issue,” said Cromer. “We think it’s rather hypocritical that
certain individuals and, in fact, it seems the campus climate at
Mills, is such that there is free speech but you better watch what
you say.”

The magazine solicited
Thayer Walker, a 26-year-old freelance writer living in San
Francisco, to write the follow-up article. In his research for the
article, Walker conducted a number of interviews with Mills
students and believes that the administration is partially to blame
for creating an atmosphere of gender conflict on campus.

“As far as admissions go,
a lot of the students I talked to [for my article] said the
administration was presenting it as an all-women’s school but lo
and behold there’re all these men here,” said Walker.

President Janet Holmgren
said the college is upfront about the co-ed graduate program and
believes Walker is misled.

“I don’t believe we have a
gender conflict on campus,” Holmgren said. “In most of our graduate
programs, we have great harmony.”

Cromer, who said Ospovat
received “menacing, if not outright threatening” e-mails from
students, is critical of an official statement made by President
Holmgren in which she said that the on-going dialogue at Mills was
“consistent with the thoughtful, vigorous exchange of perspectives
that characterize student discussion at Mills.”

“Mills professor Diana
Russell has repeatedly come within a hair’s-breadth of calling for
the murder of Larry Flynt,”said Cromer. “Does ‘PJ'[President
Holmgren] consider such consistent commentary coming from a Mills
faculty member to also be a part of the ‘vigorous exchange’ at
Mills? If so, can she then please describe the fundamental
difference between Mills and the Islamic madrasas that turn out the
Mullahs who call for the murder of all those who speak out, write
or create images they find offensive?”

In reaction to Cromer’s
statement, Dr.Diana Russell, professor emerita of Sociology at
Mills, said, “I believe that Flynt’s many pornographic publications
are as for causing thousands of rapes, thousands of cases of child
sexual victimization, millions of cases of sexual harassment, and
very likely, many cases of torturing women, and some murders of

“Flynt has done
irreparable harm to women and children, and continues to do so
every single day of his existence,” said Russell. “Of course, I
wish that this evil, misogynist man had died in his mother’s

Walker said that while
he’s geared his article towards Hustler’s audience, it’s a fair
account of the current gender climate at Mills.

“Hustler is a magazine
that always has a certain slant – any magazine has a certain
agenda,” said Walker. “I tried to tell it in the fairest possible
way while still writing for this publication.”

In the interviews he
conducted, Walker found that a number of students held views about
Ospovat’s article that dramatically differed from those expressed
on student-news.

“There are a lot of
intelligent women on campus who realize that the uproar around it
was kind of hypocritical,” said Walker. “If you look at the pages
of Hustler magazine and you look at what’s happening at the ball,
to quote one woman I talked to, ‘It is Hustler-worthy.'”

Ospovat’s account of the
Fetish Ball included a number of derogatory phrases, such as “hairy
dyke,” “slutty go-go dancers” and “serving wench,” which
particularly upset students, but Ospovat said that an editor at
Hustler added the words without his consent. Cromer supported his
claim and said that the editor has since been fired.

While Ospovat posted the
unedited version of his article on student-news, a number of
students failed to see a difference in the tone and were still
offended by what they viewed as insinuations that the lesbian
population hates men and that the straight population is
promiscuous and desperate for male attention.

Ospovat, who said he had
hoped that no one from Mills would read the article, said that the
edited version of his story portrays Mills women in a negative
light, but believes his original version

“I kept in mind who I was
writing for and used a tone that I thought might suit that, but
since I knew it was gonna be published under my name I wrote
something that was a pretty honest and straightforward account,” he

One of the hot topics on
student-news was whether the College or the students in the
photograph he included with his story could pursue any legal action
against Ospovat or Hustler magazine.

Robin Isenberg, legal
counsel for Mills, said the administration looked into when the
photograph was taken and found that it came from the 2003 Fetish
Ball, while the article was written about the 2002

“From a legal standpoint,
even though it might breach some journalistic ethics, it’s not
necessarily illegal,”said Isenberg.

“[Larry Flynt] and
[Hustler magazine] both have a reputation for being extremely
aggressive in defending what they consider to be their First
Amendment rights,” said Isenberg. “My assessment is that they were
probably willing to take the risk because it added a lot of impact
to the article.”

Michele Fisher, one of the
women pictured in the photo, is bothered by the fact that Ospovat
submitted the photo without her permission.

“It bothers me that Sam
Ospovat apparently had no care for how I, or the other women [in
the photo], would feel about being pictured in Hustler,”said
Fisher, who graduated last spring. “It also bothers me because, in
my four years at Mills, it seemed like I was perpetually defending
myself against people’s stereotypes that students of women’s
colleges are either man-hating lesbians or easy, man-starved
straight girls. So there is this huge sense of betrayal that
someone who actually went to Mills wrote this article that gives a
false credibility to those stereotypes.”

While Ospovat stands
behind the original draft of his article, before it was changed by
a Hustler editor, he has had misgivings about including the
photograph without the women’s permission.

“I kinda regret submitting
the photo,” said Ospovat. “I don’t regret writing the article. I
was seriously in financial straits and it might have been sort of a
moment of weakness on my part.”

The article saddened many
students who are happy to have male graduate students on

“We’d like to think that
the guys here are gaining something from being at a women’s
college, that they are broadening their minds, their perspectives,
that their experience here would make them the last people on earth
to do something like [Ospovat] did,” said Kasey P. Lindsay, a
senior. “So the fact that Sam has done what he has done has perhaps
made us suspicious of the other men, and worried that they’re
capable of the same kind of action.”

Lindsay feels that future
precautions should be taken to protect students at the ball, but
doesn’t feel that students should be pressured to change their

“I think Fetish Ball is a
very important Mills event and I feel that none of us have any
reason to be ashamed or embarrassed of anything that goes on
there,” said Lindsay.

President Holmgren said
that the administration has no plans to cancel future Fetish Balls
and she feels that Hustler’s interest in Mills shows “how
threatening strong women’s institutions and organizations are to
the status quo.”