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Mouthing Off! On Saving the Fetish Ball at Mills

Dear Editor,

As both organizers and supporters of Fetish Ball we feel
compelled to finally contribute to the ongoing, impassioned debate
surrounding Sam Ospovat’s Hustler article. First of all we would
like to explain what the Mills’ College Fetish Ball has
historically been, and hopefully will continue to be, for us. The
ultimate purpose has always been to create a safe space where
feminine sexuality, in all of its forms, is expressed and
encouraged by the women organizing and participating. Mouthing Off,
the Mills College queer alliance, is the originator and continual
initiator of Fetish Ball. As queer women we aim to embrace and
reinforce positive images, roles, representations, and expressions
of women and their sexuality/sexualities. We firmly believe that
women, not men, own our sexuality and that it is our right to
identify and express ourselves as we choose. Therefore, we are
committed to providing an arena in which this can safely and
effectively transpire.

We worry that Sam Ospovat’s article has threatened the safety
and essential design of this event. This is not to suggest that we
disagree with Ospovat and Hustler’s right to free speech, only that
it is unfortunate the way in which our event was portrayed and the
consequences that have come from it. Since this article was put
into the public sphere, we have had to reconsider the way we will
need to approach future Fetish Balls. Rather than taking it for
granted that our need for a safe space will be understood and
respected by all, we must now assume that not everyone values the
purpose of the ball. We are offended by the article especially
because of the threat it poses to the event and the necessity for
it. Rather than using his right of free speech to celebrate the
underlying principle of Fetish Ball for women (and even his
supposed benefit as a result of this principle), he wrote it in an
exploitative way. He used our venue and the women at it to make a
buck and enjoy the approval of his peers.

If this was an isolated incident, if Ospovat was the first man
to take advantage of female sexuality and use it against women for
his personal enjoyment/benefit, perhaps we could understand why
many question our criticism of his actions. However, taking into
consideration the historical context in which this incident is
imbedded the effect is profound and could certainly be viewed as a
step back for us at Mills College. At the very least we are
offended by the fact that Sam Ospovat used the most unimaginative
methods of objectification and commoditization of women to flaunt
his sexual conquest(s).

Now, as we begin to prepare for next semester’s Fetish Ball we
must take all of these factors into consideration. How do we create
a space where women are in charge of defining and exhibiting their
sexualities without the threat and imposition of unwanted
exploitation? Do we prohibit the use of cameras, and in turn police
a fetish? Do we go one step further and exclude men from the dance
altogether, thus ignoring the desires of straight and queer women
and those of the transgender community? How do we ensure that
everything that happens at this year’s Fetish Ball is consensual?
Never before have we doubted the inclusion of men at the Ball as we
have, up until now, felt supported and respected by those that
attended. It is unfortunate that we must now confront this issue
and consider limitations of any kind, but the main concern of
Mouthing Off is providing queer women with an atmosphere where they
can feel secure. At this point we are in the process of planning a
town hall meeting open to everyone in order to answer these
questions and discuss these issues.

Lauren White

President of Mouthing Off!

Tiffany Bennett

Vice-President of

Mouthing Off!