Katharine Hepburn (born 1907) is one of my favorite actresses.
She starred in a poignant movie, On Golden Pond (OGP). The movie debuted in 1981 and is the story of family, generational conflict, and of healing. Ms Hepburn plays the elderly wife (Ethel) of an 80 year old curmudgeon (Norman), played by Henry Fonda. They both won Academy Awards. He died shortly after the film was produced. Good Lord, I love that movie. That it was filmed near the Lake Winnipesaukee vacation home of my own family made it seem even more familiar. These details aren’t totally relevant to my article, but I cant bear to delete them.
Friends of Ms Hepburn described her as outspoken. She was thought of as a rebel because she was known to wear pants instead of a skirt. Imagine the audacity of a woman in pants (make an astonished face as you read this, ok)! The roles she played were of women with their own mind. She refused to play what she called “The Hollywood Game”. Her stunning facial features and elegance always struck me, and I like how she spelled her first name, with the second ‘a’ instead of the more traditional ‘e’. She had her own style, beyond fashion.
She died on my birthday in 2003, in Old Saybrook.
Old Saybrook is one of the oldest towns in Connecticut and is where the Connecticut River meets the Long Island Sound. Old Saybrook has a small town feel, with gorgeous vistas and beach property. Its history dates back to the 1600s and is where Yale University was founded. My grandparents used to take my sisters and I to Old Saybrook to visit my grandmother’s cousins’ summer home on the Sound. This is another reason I felt like I ‘knew’ Katharine Hepburn, even though I never met her.
Last week, Robbie and I passed through Old Saybrook for lunch. We ate at a restaurant alongside quaint shops on one of the main streets. Fancy cars filled the parking lot. The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center is in the same neighborhood. After lunch, we decided to head home. A store caught my eye, about a block or two from the restaurant. The sign said something like “Adult Oriented Establishment. Must be 18 to enter.” A sex shop in conservative, Yankee Old Saybrook? Yowza!
We parked the car nearby and walked over to the toy store. We made a few jokes as we nonchalantly approached the store. Robbie held the door open for me, with a wide grin and raised eyebrows. I walked in, feeling intrigued.
There were four rooms.
Room 1: The walls had shelves of dildos and vibrators of all shapes and sizes. Some of the merchandise looked very confusing. With a few of the items, I thought, “How”? “Where would that go?” and “Huh”? Thank goodness for Google.
Room 2: A store clerk was surrounded by BDSM props, including whips, chains, cuffs, paddles, and fetish gear. There was lingerie and a sexual health section that included male and female condoms and dental dams.
Room 3: Hundreds of DVDs and videos, books and magazines lined the walls. The centerpiece of the third room was an anatomically correct doll named Lupe, with a price tag of $7,677.56. I did a triple take to see where the decimal point was on the price tag. That was the sale price, by the way. It had been reduced from over $8,000. There was also a 17 inch dildo with the name of Dick Rambone. Its price tag was less than $50.00. I had questions about Lupe and Mr Rambone. I didn’t ask any of them. Thank you again, Google.
Room 4: Dark curtains hung at the entrance. A sign said the room was available by the half hour for rent. The store clerk said that in the room are viewing booths and DVD players, which can also be rented for half hour increments. We didn’t venture beyond the dark curtain. Room 4 was where we drew the line.
Perpetually curious and without any smidge of shyness, Robbie asked a clerk many questions. He told her my research is why we stopped by the store. Like she believed that one! (But it is true.) She offered that there are a lot more men who frequent the store than there are women. She said the men’s wife/family probably think they ran to the grocery store for milk and eggs. (Milk and eggs…well, sort of!) The clerk asked me about my research. I explained the book I am writing on body image and sexuality.
Another customer overheard the conversation and said, “Great topic! My BDSM master lives out of state and a few years ago wanted me to send him a naked picture, but I felt too embarrassed about my body. I worried he would think I am fat. After I was with him a few times I wasn’t worried or embarrassed anymore. Now I send him photos and don’t even think about my stomach or stretch marks.” She continued, “Even in the BDSM community, where we tend to be easy going and nonjudgmental, we can feel like shit about our body. My Master loves my photos and told me he doesn’t even notice the things I feel self conscious about. I tell women that their partner is rarely as critical of their body as they themselves are.”
Yes! Exactly! BINGO! As a psychologist with a specialty in body image and sexuality, I have worked with hundreds of women over the last 20 years. What the BDSM’er said is exactly the same as what the research and anecdotal evidence say. Your partner is unlikely evaluating the size of your hips, belly, or in any way judging your body. Your partner is likely immersed in the experience of your pleasure and of his/her own pleasure.
Another message I agree with on the topic of body image and sex is stated on the store’s website. It says “the best sex comes from a healthy happy body” . I would add ‘and mind’: The best sex comes from a healthy body and mind.
There are lots of layers to a healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy relationship. That is where the magic lies.
Back to Kate and toys.
Katharine Hepburn was considered brazen because she wore pants at a time when women were expected to wear skirts/dresses.
Fast forward your imagination to 2015 Old Saybrook, with Kate H strutting into the sex shop, with pants and heels, unapologetically purchasing toys for her own pleasure. Maybe she would share some of the toys with whomever she was chilling with at that time. Cary Grant? Spencer Tracy? Howard Hughes? So hot!
Imagine if the store, and the whole world of sexuality, were truly welcoming to men AND women. How elements of seediness , shame, and skank could be replaced with safety, sensuality, and self-love.
There need not be anything sinister about healthy sexual expression. It is something to honor.
I imagine Kate would agree with the idea of a more woman-friendly store, with an emphasis on exploring sexuality with dignity and curiosity. With a welcoming atmosphere for everyone, all based on the premise of body love and respect.
Maybe then the toy store could be a trip on its own or even en route to the grocery store for milk and eggs?
Just add some spice to the grocery list.