“I’m 73 and he’s 26, and I have never been more compatible with a man in my life,” said Betty, referring to her boyfriend Eric. “Yes, a lot of people think it’s disgusting that I have a young lover. Well, I don’t give a rat’s ass!”
The fiery Betty, who has spiky blondish hair and favors black leather jackets and lavender eye shadow, is one of several libidinous ladies profiled in Still Doing It: The Intimate Lives of Women Over 65 , a documentary film about older women and their sex lives that is currently being shopped around for U.S. distribution.
“To me, sex is pure joy,” 75-year-old Harriet explains in the movie, her long gray tresses swinging. “Even bad sex is better than no sex. Yes, I still feel sexy. All the time . And I’m horny as hell.”
If listening to post-menopausal (albeit well-preserved) Medicare recipients recount their erotic adventures causes a twinge of squeamishness, you are not alone.
“I had approached one of the major networks, and this executive producer said to me that the topic-older women’s sexuality-is about as taboo as pedophilia,” said Diana Holtzberg, Still Doing It ‘s producer. “I said, ‘Pedophilia is doing really well these days. Look at Capturing the Friedmans .'”
Old-lady sex is positively radical, as Still Doing It ‘s filmmakers are learning as they shop the documentary around. Many TV executives who have grown hardened to gangster killings, girl-on-girl action, prison rape and extreme plastic surgery admire the film but find it too scandalous to broadcast.
“A&E hasn’t seen it yet. We are waiting to hear back from HBO and a few others,” continued Ms. Holtzberg. “At a newsmagazine at one of the other major networks, the executive producer and the executive editor loved it and said to me, ‘We’re on board, but we have to find a correspondent and producer to do the story around it.’ Then they called me back and said they realized that this is ‘network’ and this is ‘family entertainment’ and it’s a little ‘out there for us,’ and they couldn’t find a correspondent to do it, and they were sorry.”
The producers have sold TV rights in Denmark, and an early version was broadcast on Canadian television last November to positive response. The movie is also making the film-festival rounds, and was recently screened at the New York Museum of Television and Radio’s documentary festival, where Sex and The City actress Kim Cattrall stood up and expressed her sympathy for the film’s sex-hungry subjects. But they still need funding to complete the project.
“The people who are loving it are men of all ages. We’ve had 17-year-olds come up to us and say things like, ‘I can’t stop thinking about the film,'” said Ms. Holtzberg. “I’m talking about it with men in their 30’s and 40’s, and one who is 50. As well as young women, ranging from university students on up. They say it’s inspirational.”
“My sister was turning 40, and she was so depressed , and it was like life was over as we know it,” said Deirdre Fishel, Still Doing It’ s director, who started the project five years ago, when she was 37. “It was just amazing to me that it happened so early-I started feeling this pervasive dread about getting older.”
Through ads in The Village Voice and word-of-mouth, Ms. Fishel assembled the spry group of women subjects.
In addition to Betty and her boy toy Eric, who have a penchant for photographing themselves naked, there is Frances, an adorable 87-year-old granny type who moved into a “home” after she broke her hip, and who met the love of her life when she was 80.
“Since I’ve been in the nursing home, I have had sex,” Frances say in the film. “It’s been limited sex, but nevertheless it’s sex. Consummation is very difficult here, because our quarters are cramped here, but we do what we can do, and we’re happy with what we can help each other achieve.”
And viewers might note that The L Word hardly captures the full range of lesbian life. As 68-year-old Ellen tells the camera with a smirk, “There are times when Dolores and I walk down the street and we are thinking, ‘These folks here, the people who get up and give us a seat on the bus, they have no idea what hot numbers we are in bed.'”
“Sex is getting better all the time-which is terrible, because I’m not getting what I need,” says “horny as hell” Harriet, expressing a common lament among the women about the shortage of available men their age. “It’s a need, like food …. Thank God for those little vibrators-they’re marvelous.”
The ratios won’t be improving, unfortunately. The film reports that half of women over age 65 are widows, and that by the year 2030, 64 million people in the U.S. will be over 65, and two-thirds of them will be women.
“What we think sex is about in America is a joke,” says Betty on camera. “If we’re going to live in a world where you can only have sex if you’re young and beautiful, it’s pathetic.”
Bush Gets a Peek
Elizabeth Eve never thought of herself as an exhibitionist. But these days, the 33-year-old history professor with the gold nose ring can barely contain the urge to lift her skirt and flash her skivvies.
“There is something so liberating and exciting about it, you’ve got to try it out,” she said recently as she fidgeted, fully clothed, on the couch in her friend Tasha’s Manhattan apartment.
“I was teaching a class on imperialism,” she continued, “and I was delivering all this material that was kind of new and upsetting, and everyone was getting all worked up and upset, and I was getting all worked up and upset, and all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was flash my underwear! It was crazy,” she said with a throaty giggle.
That’s because she wasn’t wearing just any panties. Elizabeth is part of Axis of Eve, a fledgling group of rabble-rousing feminists and anti-war activists who have taken to flashing their undies as a form of political dissent. The Eves, as they call themselves, are on a mission to sex up protest. They take to the streets wearing “protest panties” which come emblazoned with anti-Dubya double-entendres like “Expose Bush,” “Lick Bush,” “Give Bush the Finger” and “Drill Bush Not Oil.” When the Eves flash them at rallies, the effect is somewhere between a 1970’s love-in and George Bush’s worst, frat-addled nightmare of a panty raid gone awry.
“The panties have this way of just mobilizing, energizing, inspiring,” said Tasha Eve, a cultural anthropologist who co-founded the Axis with one of her best high-school buddies, Zazel Eve (as an act of sisterly solidarity, Axis members all use the last name Eve when they are in Axis mode).
Tasha, who is 33, was presiding over a late-night panty powwow with Zazel and Elizabeth. As Elizabeth perched on Tasha’s couch, Zazel sprawled on the floor in a cream-colored body suit and lavender “Lick Bush” thong.
“I think sometimes verbal discourse is insufficient as a mode of expression,” Tasha said, as if she were delivering a lecture for her fellowship at a prominent New York university. “There’s something raw and wonderful and gratifying about the more gestural expression of the flash. By putting on these bold, outrageous displays, we want to inspire others to also be bold.”
Boldness, of course, has its limits. Though they’re willing to strip down to a string in front of a crowd of hundreds, they’re not yet willing to go fully public by using their full names. “We’re in this double-bind, because we’re engaged in this campaign of exposure, but we can’t expose ourselves,” said Elizabeth. “I mean, I’m a college professor. Can you imagine what the mothers would be like? ‘No, you can’t teach our daughters!'”
Tasha and Zazel began plotting the Axis of Eve in late January, exactly two years after George W. Bush famously branded Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the pivotal points of another Axis. The two women had been feeling angry about the “dishonesty of the Bush administration” and “frustrated” by the “dominance of the family-values discourse,” Tasha said. Their solution: “Expose Bush”-literally and figuratively.
“At first we were worried a little bit about having Bush down there , because a lot of us hate him so much,” said Zazel. “But now, when I have to go into my corporate job [as a photo editor], it makes me happy to have them on, because I have to assume a certain persona there.”
“The panties were very efficacious in shifting Zazel’s mood,” added Tasha. “They’re spirit-lifting.”
Throughout the winter and early spring, Tasha and Zazel worked to “spread the panty word.” They launched a Web site (www.axisofeve.org), developed their own “panty lexicon” (replete with terms like “pantiology” and “pantificate”) and set up a nonprofit, Daughters of Eve, so that proceeds from their sales could go toward a voter-mobilization video called “Take Back the Vote” that Zazel is working on with the NAACP and ACLU. And they became walking billboards for their panties, traipsing to every lefty bash and book party in their thongs and fishnets in an effort to hawk their wares.
The elastic really began to snap when Tasha, Zazel, Elizabeth and their fourth core member, Caitlin, went to Washington, D.C., with a troupe of Eves for the April 25 March for Women’s Lives. Wearing their signature undies under frilly spring skirts, they installed themselves at a strategic spot outside the Mall and began to flash. With each flick of their skirts, they would chant: “The panty line has been drawn! Which side are you on?”
They needn’t have asked. “It was like Century 21 on a bad day,” said Zazel, describing the frenzy as marchers jostled for a pair of $10 panties.
“It really turned into this contagious panty fever,” said Tasha. “Three of us were taking orders, and it would be like, ‘O.K., can I please have two mediums in a “Lick Bush,” a large “Weapon of Mass Seduction” and a small “Down on Bush”?’ We sold out our entire inventory in one hour!” Even the SWAT team laughed.
Needless to say, the Republican National Convention-which the Eves described bitterly, and biblically, as “when the snake comes to the Garden”-will be a prime panty-flashing opportunity. The Eves are plotting a racy panty performance for Sept. 1 featuring 100 women dressed in white trench coats and their signature matching panties. “At 3 p.m.,” the Axis Web site advertises, “Eves will perform a group FLASHING in order to create a media spectacle and send a political postcard: we will not tolerate lies and cover-ups!”
“Sometimes we do wonder, ‘Is this weird? Is this a turn-on or a turn-off?'” said Elizabeth, shifting again on Tasha’s couch. “But universally, it seems to be a turn-on. So many people are drawn to us.”
Except for one group of hold-outs: “We haven’t sold any panties to Republicans,” Tasha admitted. “I guess we haven’t converted anyone yet.”
In any case, the Axis has been doing a brisk business. The most popular model by far, said Tasha, is “Give Bush the Finger.”
And they’ve also designed panties for first-time voters that read “My Cherry for Kerry.”
“We think Kerry needs a little help in the sex-appeal department,” said Tasha. Elizabeth and Zazel nodded vigorously.
If ordering takeout is the closest New Yorkers get to preparing dinner most nights, tipping is the equivalent of a sink full of dirty dishes: a burden that comes with the territory. It was with these miserly Manhattanites in mind that online grocer Fresh Direct announced its radical policy of forbidding its delivery people from accepting tips in September 2002. The inner cheapskate in New Yorkers responded, from the Lower East Side to Park Avenue to Prospect Heights.
Several customers have recently noticed, however, a new line on the company’s Web site: “You are under no obligation to tip but have the option of providing a nominal tip if you feel that you’ve received exceptional service.”
It turns out that Fresh Direct started phasing out tipping ban in December. Penny-pinching gourmands are wondering where this leaves them (“So, will the driver think I’m a tool if I don’t tip?” one chatroom-board foodie asked). Generous outlaws who violated Fresh Direct protocol are patting themselves on the back for being ahead of their time. Others, like Sandy Rindner, a fiftysomething dog-groomer, are crying “bait-and-switch,” saying part of the appeal of the Fresh Direct was that she felt she wasn’t being soaked twice with a delivery fee-which is $3.95 for every order-and a tip.
“Now I’m thinking I might avoid them all together,” she said.
But according to Fresh Direct founder and chief financial officer Jason Ackerman, shoppers always wanted to tip.
“You’d be surprised at how many feel uncomfortable not tipping,” he said. He said each of Fresh Direct’s 220 delivery people received more than three hours of body language and communication training to prevent them from appearing to solicit tips-which is still forbidden.
“We’re not telling you to tip; we’re telling you if you’re a tipper, you can do it,” he said.