Wendy Slick (Interview)

San Francisco Bay Area filmmakers Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori have taken on the battle for women’s orgasm and placed it in a fascinating and bizarre historical context. Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm is a powerful new documentary about female pleasure, feminism, and vibrators. Taking as its starting point Rachel Mainz’s book The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, Passion and Power covers the development of the vibrator in the 1800s as a physican’s tool to “treat” women suffering from any number of maladies from arthritis to nervous tension to depression and malaise. Turns out it worked pretty well.

The film briefly takes on the stag film era, when vibrators started showing up as sex toys — leading physicians to discontinue the clinical application of female orgasm as part of medical practice. But as amazing as the historical background is, it’s that much moreso when placed in the context of the case of Joanne Webb, a Texas woman who was arrested for possessing vibrators with intent to distribute. A schoolteacher, in her off hours Webb gave “passion parties,” sort of like a Tupperware party but a lot more fun, to other women who wanted to learn about and purchase sex toys.

Webb’s case became a cause celebre for sexual liberation activists across the nation; unfortunately, it’s also an ominous and in some ways bizarre warning that women’s orgasm is still the possession of the state. Since charges against Webb were dropped, no precedent was established, so the Texas law remains on the books.
Through interviews with Dr. Mainz, Betty Dodson, Eve’s Garden founder Dell Williams, performance artist Reno, Joanne Webb, and others, Passion and Power takes on the Texas case and the broader history of vibrators with equal gusto, forming a funny, scary, and inspiring portrait of the battle for women’s orgasm. The film has its West Coast premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 6, and also plays October 13.

We caught up with filmmaker Wendy Slick for a chat about the film and the politics surrounding it.

Read more at Eros Zine.

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