On July 28th, I attended the premiere of Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm at Lincoln Center. This new documentary by Emiko Omori & Wendy Slick has what seems like a rather esoteric topic as its subject matter: the history of the vibrator. But the filmmakers do an extraordinary job of placing this history within the context of feminism, by examining the different ways that women’s sexuality and pleasure have been viewed over the years. The movie is based on a book of the same name by historian Rachel Maines, and the filmmakers enriched that story by incorporating interviews with several women who themselves made history. They did so by making vibrators available to women, and by actively teaching women that they could have orgasms, even if they weren’t getting them from their partners, or if they had no partner. To my immense delight, some of these women were there at the opening, and participated in a brief Q&A after the screening. Alongside Professor Maines, the directors, and the comedian Reno (who provided some of the film’s funniest moments), stood Betty Dodson and Dell Williams. Betty Dodson is well-known for her books & workshops, which together have taught countless women how to masturbate (without guilt). Dell Williams facilitated that process by opening Eve’s Garden, a store where women could buy vibrators & be educated about their use in a safe, non-sleazy environment. Now, we take these things for granted, but back in the 60’s & 70’s, this was very, very radical stuff, bound up intrinsically with the women’s rights movement. Betty and Dell are in their 70’s and 80’s respectively, and while Betty in particular continues to be very active and Eve’s Garden is still open, it was absolutely wonderful to see them there, at the premiere of a movie that places them in their proper historical context. Unfortunately, one of the women whose story was featured could not be in attendance. This woman, the most solid citizen you can imagine, sold vibrators in Texas, one of four states which still prohibits the sale of sex toys. Without giving away all of her story, I can tell you that it ended badly, and the filmmakers told us that they have no idea where she is today.
You can read more about the film, and buy a copy of it, here:
For more on Betty Dodson, see her website (note: contains explicit sexual material some may find offensive):
And to explore Eve’s Garden: