Sex Pots, Strippers, and Lady Parts…Oh My!


Insert can of worms being opened… and a big can of worms it is, so get ready for a good, long, meaty read…(yes all sexual innuendo intended).

I am an actress.  Recently I’ve been really disturbed by the huge number of roles needing to be cast for “strippers, women who look like strippers, ridiculously hot women willing to act in simulated sex scenes, and women who will be fully nude but…there is no pay.”

For example these breakdowns for roles have included phrases like:

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 9.56.50 AM

Now… I should probably enter a disclaimer here so:

*DISCLAIMER*  I know that in writing this I will most likely come off as being hypocritical, but this only adds to my point.  (Also, this was originally published in Helenna’s Blog – Nov 25th, 2011)

I am writing this blog post in order to create a dialogue.  In no way do I think I am above the issues, in fact I fully embrace that I am smack dab in the middle of the issues swimming around, sometimes drowning, and other times rockin’ the backstroke and winning the race. 

Also, I have no objection to anyone who decides to be a stripper or work in the porn industry as their career.  It is your path and I pass no judgement. The descriptions above happen to be what sparked a debate in my mind.

So to continue along…

In all fairness, the majority of these roles are being cast in low to no budget projects, and there have been A LOT lately that have come through the many online casting sites that are accessible to actors who either do not have representation, or are proactive and also submit themselves for projects.  These types of roles have always existed, but seeing so many lately, made me start thinking about the state of women in the media.

When I was in college I took a phenomenal women’s studies class.  We talked a lot about how women are portrayed in the media.  I even wrote a 20 page essay on pornography as a battleground for women’s sexuality.  I’d like to think that Women’s Studies 101 fully educated me on the women’s rights movement and gender equality, but there have been a lot of things lately that have brought up questions for me.

documentary called Miss Representation was aired on OWN and it is fantastic.  It raises many important points about the media being both “the message and the messenger,” and as Ariella a high school students says, “It’s all about the body and not about the brain.”

Also, while my mom was visiting we had a heated discussion about the fact that my generation is doing a pretty darn good job negating what her generation did for the feminist movement, and this was a conversation sparked by a discussion about high heels.  We talked about the fact that 3 inch heels in many ways are nothing more than a modern form of Chinese foot binding.

My argument was while I definitely see her point, I love high heels.  I love putting them on with skinny jeans or a cute black dress, and that they make me feel sexy and powerful.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of












Sexy and powerful.

So why?  Why do 3 inch heels that are hell to walk in or even stand in for that matter, make me feel sexy and powerful?

Well, we still live in a male dominated culture.  No matter how much I’d like to think that we’ve come a million miles since women were burning their bras, I realize that we are far from it.  That in some ways, we’re so far from it, that we’ve come back around at it and are now somehow choosing a new form of feminism that does nothing but perpetuate the old form of sexism.

Case in point: The Christina Aguilera “dirrty” wave of “feminism” aka)  the “we can now own our sexuality, use it, flaunt it, it belongs to us and not men -no holds barred kind of feminism.”

Now I know that many will say that this isn’t feminism at all.  But I would argue that it is in fact an attempt to turn old school feminism inside out and upside down.  This wave of “feminism” seems to allow women to fully be in charge of their sexuality.  But the irony of this, is that the sexuality we see now, is all about what is sexy in a male dominated culture.  The things that make a woman “sexy” like high heels and red lipstick, at the most animal and base cave person type level, have everything to do with turning on a man so that he will help us propel the species forward.  And shamelessly, above that base level, it can help move along a woman’s career.

So, how much does it have to do with a woman feeling empowered on her own, just as a woman?  Would we choose to wear high heels, makeup, and wear low cut dresses etc… if living in a male dominated culture wasn’t an issue?

In talking this out with my husband and explaining my theory about this possible new form of “upside down feminism,” he noted that “what could be seen as the new feminism looks a lot like the old Penthouse.”  Meaning, “it doesn’t look like feminism at all.  Not to judge either one, but the problem seems to be that there is stigma attached to both.  People showing their naked bodies and exploring their sexuality has issues attached to it, and women being given equal rights does too.   Trying to make either one of those things look like they are representing the other is the problem.  One is a moral issue, the other is an issue of civil rights. Looking hot, dirty, and sexy does not help advance the civil rights of women.  Is it hot?  You bet.  But how does it help?”

Yup, my husband is a smart man.

So what if I take the buzz word of “feminism” out of this whole discussion?  My question then is: when is it a woman being exploited vs. a woman embracing her sexuality, or just enjoying her sexuality and being proud of her body?  And moreover I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with nudity or sexual situations that aren’t gratuitous.  (Yes, I know, but what is gratuitous…)

For example, if I was in my Women’s Studies 101 class today, I would instead be writing about Hollywood as a battleground for women’s sexuality.

Ah-ha…here comes that juicy can of worms…

I work in an industry where it is well known that “sex sells.”  It is everywhere in the entertainment business, and it is just that, a business.  In order to make money, to increase views, to sell products, the easiest way to do it is to play to humanity’s most basic desires: hunger and sex, and heck let’s just combine them and say a hunger for sex. 

What’s more, is that in this day and age women are expected to be Superwomen while wearing those high heels.  It’s no longer just enough to be the housewife and mother who also has a full time job…we also need to be sexy, smart, and funny.  And it’d be ideal that if we are also geeky and/or nerdy, while being smoking hot without cellulite or wrinkles, with big boobs, tiny waists, and long legs.  Women now need to be everything to everyone.  We’re expected to be a swiss army knife of feminine amazing-ness.  It’s exhausting. 

There is still so much exploitation of women in advertising, in films, in music videos etc…and as seen by the breakdowns at the top of this post, it’s pretty much unavoidable.  Mena Suvari and Dania Ramirez even poke fun of it in a video that they made while filming American Reunion.  The video is no longer available, but was called “Ass & Titties.”  Yup, turning stereotypes upside down, inside out, and back around again so that you think it’s serious and not a spoof. Pretty genius.

So what do we do?  How do we change all of this so that we as women are seen for our brains and our ability?  How do we own our sexuality, be proud of it, heck flaunt it if we want to, without being at the mercy of men’s idea of sexy/beautiful/smart/funny/geeky-sexy/nerdy-sexy/gamer girl-sexy/ and so on…

The reality of the matter is that I’ve chosen to work in an industry where a question like “is she f**k-able” is a totally acceptable judge of someone’s ability to book a specific role.  And what’s more, is that I understand it.  This is the state of the industry at the moment, and I choose to see it for what it is and do what I can to shift perception from within it.

For example, (and welcome to my personal paradox), I purposely placed myself fully nude, although with very strategic lighting so that it was implied rather than full monty, in the opening frame of my web pilot The Day Player back in 2008.

Why did I do this?

While it definitely served the story because I was using the all too overused and extremely cliché “bad dream” scenario, but I also knew that it would help grab the audience’s attention from the beginning.  However despite the fact that I blatantly used the “nude card”, I specifically made sure that it wasn’t a sexualized moment.  It was an embarrassing, awkward, real moment.  Was it me exploiting myself? Maybe. But again, as I said in my “disclaimer” I choose to work and live in this giant paradox.

I also knew that in order to get people’s attention, an adorable yet suggestive photo that told the story in a single image, would be a great idea for all of the initial promo materials.

Again…giant paradox. Sex sells even when it’s just a suggestion of naughtiness.

I fully acknowlegde that I’m playing the game BUT, I’m playing my way.  In order to succeed in this game I have accepted the current rules in order to play.  The further along I get, the more I’m trying to adjust the rules, because to do anything else at this point would only work against me.  I think in order to change the system, it’s easier to do it from inside than outside.  I must point out however that you won’t be seeing me *actually nude*,  or scantily clad for that matter, in anything any time soon….that is unless Bertolucci or Scorsese comes calling.  Let’s just say I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.

And again (hypocritical paradox), but I think high heels and red lipstick are sexy.  I also applaud women who do burlesque as well as those actresses that decide that it’s ok for them to show their lady parts.  I also understand that bare breasts sell an indie horror film to distributors, and that certain networks have the aesthetic of needing young, sexy, skinny magazine type glossy looking girls.

This is the current reality, and eventually with women working the system from the inside out writing more material, working as heads of Studios etc…, things will begin to shift.  They already have.  In fact, it is extremely refreshing to see movies like Bridesmaids and tv shows like New Girl2 Broke Girls, and Whitney on the air.  But then…Whitney is seen in a slutty “naughty nurse” outfit, and Beth Behrs who plays Caroline in 2 Broke Girls wears heels and a tiny skirt while waitressing.  Is there anything wrong with these women rockin’ the sexy?  I don’t think so, but here we are back in the paradox…

So, I want to hear from you.  What are your thoughts?  Are you a woman stuck in the paradox like me?  Are you a man who thinks this post is B.S.?  I want to hear from you all.  Let’s start a dialogue.



aka) Helenna Santos levy

P.S. There is so much more to be discussed about gender inequality in Hollywood in today’s day and age as evident in this LA Times article about a USC study,  but that is a whole other branch of this discussion and perhaps fodder for another blog post since this one has turned out to be longer than War and Peace…

My "Cupcake Quarterly" pinup shoot <3

My “Cupcake Quarterly” pinup shoot <3

Helenna Santos

About Helenna Santos

Helenna Santos is the Founder of “Ms. In The Biz” and a producer, writer, and actor with Mighty Pharaoh Films. She can often be found on panels and appearances at conventions such as San Diego “Comic-Con”, and has been interviewed by major press outlets including CNN and FOX News. ​Her work as a contributing writer has been featured in MovieMaker Magazine, Backstage Magazine, and IndieWire, and she co-authored the book "Thriving in Hollywood! Tenacious Tales and Tactics from Ms. In The Biz". She is currently in post-production on 2 feature films that she produced and stars in, the adventure/thriller "At Your Own Risk" and the sci-fi/thriller "RESOUND".

  • Verona

    Women don’t need to do anything to be seen as smart except be smart. Men are the ones who have to recognize that a woman is allowed to exist without unwanted advances and not be treated badly when she declines interaction.

  • Dane

    Wow, great post Hels! I have a thousand opinions about this post. But the ones that bubble to the top are these and I’ll attempt to keep them short:

    Women see men playing up their sexuality as a way of not being treated as an equal. Being a man who has a tremendous amount of respect for women, womens rights, and their unparalleled beauty (brownie point tally), I would say, have you ever considered that its possible a good portion of men actually worship women? Dont underestimate that or worry so much about why.

    You give us too much credit, we aren’t sitting in a throne writing laws about how to separate the sexes and further infuse power into the male gender to belittle women. We just like women, and we also like being needed and good at something. It’s really that simple : )

    I love Elaine’s (Seinfeld) quote (paraphrasing), “women are works of art… men are like Jeeps, they’re made for gettin around.” This tells you that we deal with a similar perceived deficiency. We have to win the power game. It has nothing to do with keeping women down, it has everything to do with us trying to keep our head above water and justify our existence. The world needs your beauty. Without it, I’m not sure we (men) would have much to live for. I’m serious. You think trading women for all the money and success in the world would be desirable? No way. Women are the life force of our world and we just do a bad job of labeling you and not being threatened by you. We’re kind of bad sports : /

    Also, i’ve never bought into the idea that women truly only want to be respected purely for their brains and skillset. The second the paradigm were to shift where women are no longer gawked over by men (physically), women would immediately become emotionally deflated and resent not having the “sexual upperhand”. It would be instant ; ) And men, we’d have a pretty pathetic existence.

    If women hold the septer, have all the brains, beauty and control? What do you need us for? Work with us!

    Keep kicking ass, making a statement, and doing what you love in life with no restraint, and please PLEASE ladies don’t stop wearing high heels and lipstick! We’ll do whatever you want ; )

    I’m not helping am I?

  • It’s definitely a trick situation and one I don’t envy of women. I personally think we need to remember that nudity by itself doesn’t equal sex, it can mean vulnerability, awkwardness or comfort. But we’re dealing with American ideas too, where some people will freak out if a woman breast-feeds and where a girl can wear a bikini in public and a guy can be topless in public, but if a girl is topless in public, many people will deem that inappropriate or obscene because for some reason we’re allowed to see breasts but not female nipples.

    There’s also the question I’ve heard some female friends ask themselves: “Am I doing this to feel sexy or am I doing this because it’s what I’m told is sexy?” That’s a thorny one.

    I personally think being open to discussion and examining one’s own methods and contradictions is key and essential. Humans are contradictory creatures, so we’re always going to be slightly flawed, biased and arbitrary in our views. You filming a nude scene is not something I criticize. It had a context, it was meant to emphasize vulnerability, and you had many other things that you were presenting in the same piece. People who put “nudity required” in a casting call, however, make me immediately suspicious. Anything can be implied in film. Sarah Jessica Parker was able to get through the entire run of SEX AND THE CITY without being fully exposed in front of the camera. “Nudity required” in a film tells me that THAT is the point and you, whoever you are, are replaceable because it’s not about the performance or character really. They just want some pretty genetics.

    Discussion like this needs to keep happening. Keep it up.

  • “We’re expected to be a swiss army knife of feminine amazing-ness. It’s exhausting. ”

    Helenna,reading this made me cry. IT IS SO EXHAUSTING. I appreciate you for sharing this. We all feel it. LOve <3 this article, thank you.

  • I’m SO sick of sexy stripper breakdowns. Yeah, let me jump right on that.

  • Men do take advantage of the role of woman in media however I’m sending you something that I think will turn this all round anyway 🙂 Be ready for a crazy dialogue not on the war of the sexes but the war of females vs females.

  • After reading your article I thought about it, I thought about it a lot. I, like many other men enjoy the female form and that isn’t deniable. You can say men in the past have dictated the roles of woman as well, that will hold true for a while. Changing the rules from the inside out will always be the route you have to take. Thinking back to SLC Punk. When he finds out that no matter how much you talk about a broken system, you won’t see that change until you take it upon yourself to make the difference you wish to see happen. So what’s my point in this? The system has stopped being perpetuated by men. The truth of it is… there will be men that will always look for the roles you spoke of in movies and tv. What you can’t fight against is the constant competition between women themselves. For these roles you addressed there will be hundreds of girls lined up to take even these small bit parts just to get a name on IMDB. To say they have done something, anything. To give reason to their move to LA. That as years go by values and morals take a backseat to the strive to beat out others willing to do things you refused to do. It must be maddening to be any type of performer in that arena. If one person refuses a role based on intimidating requirements, others will be ready to take the place.

    Who are you fighting with for these roles? Not the men making them. It will be other girls, other woman. Female magazines, shows geared for glamorizing a womans body. Reality TV. It doesn’t matter its a rat race for ladies to beat out other Ladies. One of the things I have always prided myself on is observation. I take in as much as I can in a scenario. At the gym, dinner, bar, or movies. Beyond a shadow of a doubt I can say that 80 percent of what girls put themselves through to become visual works of art isn’t for the men in their life or even for a male society to look at. Women stopped caring what guys see in them long ago. I admit they can do themselves up when they seek the attention of a man they fancy. Still, in general I think it’s more so for the other women. Worse still, it’s for women they don’t even know, nor care to get to know.

    A woman may look down at a man for gawking at a top heavy girl in a low hanging shirt. Exposing more than necessary, calling that man a pig. He probably is. Most men have trained their vision and eyesight to avoid direct staring at a girl. We have had to, because it’s rude. We call it peripheral sight or a sudden glance. Even then a girl will notice our look. Why because girls have trained themselves to notice being noticed. What is red lipstick if not the dash of red Horace Pippin would use in his art. The vibrant color to draw the eye immediately to your lips. Girls go super saiyan hot for the appraisal of each other. They do not think twice about giving a girl an up down. If I sat with a group of girls at a bar and a man walked in I as well as them could tell you what that man looked like because I can look at a man without fear of reprisal. If a girl walks in though a guy may give a quick glance. The girls I am sitting with in this scenario would take in everything about her. Try it out it’s a simple enough experiment. They will be able to tell you what they did or did not like about that girl in painstaking detail. Men, will tell you how pretty you are, but we won’t judge your outfit, or which shoes you are wearing, we won’t mock your nails for not being manicured or for not doing your hair. Worse still we think a messy ponytail is a super sexy hairstyle and forget to notice when you actually went to a stylist to get it done. Who notices these things? Other girls! Women pick each other apart piece by piece. If a girl is dressed trashy a guy might say she looks slutty, a girl will go into detail about how trashy she is. If a girl is wearing a low cut dress a guy might say, “Damn!” A girl will verbally destroy that girl to her friends unless she herself is dressed equally provocatively. The shaven legs, plucked eyebrows, push up bras, form fitting clothing, high heeled shoes from some french designer, and 6 different types of things put in your hair to give it that perfect bounce. A guy will notice, but a girl will be jealous. It’s a battle of visual one ups. If you don’t look the best at a club or a dinner you will be the one that notices the other girl that does. If a girl isn’t preened and polished it’s women that dissect her inability to get herself ready for night out on the town. Even if all that girl wanted to do was have a drink. It’s like seeing the girls that you know put on makeup to go to the gym; knowing full well they won’t be looking sexy in an hour because well… it’s the gym.

    Add to that the weird herd mentality. Picking friends that even subconsciously the lady knows don’t look as good as the herd leader. All along complaining they aren’t as good looking as someone else, while these girls boost her confidence. Then those girls doing the same with their own smaller friend network. The cycle perpetuates itself. It’s ridiculous to see happen and the worst of it, the girls say it’s for men. That all the self help magazines on how to get thin, what to eat, what to wear, and where to go. All for men or to seek the approval of men. I think not anymore. Anymore, it’s for women. To change the capable leader role to that of a women you have to stop the infighting. Breaking each other down and ridiculing each other and pull yourselves up no matter what you wear or how ready to go out you are. Girls nights can be just that, girls nights. Not who can look the hottest nights. As guys we appreciate you girls more than you think. We think you look sexy at the gym post work out, at the club post 10 drinks, after a shower with no makeup, at 8 in the morning at a class in sweatpants and a sweater. When you really go all out we can’t even form words to describe your beauty. You will always wow us. If you meet a man that wants you to be anything more than those moments all tied together into one beautiful soul. Well that man isn’t worth your time anyway, because he’s most likely just as concerned with how other men see him. The girl becomes arm candy in an appraisal based society. No one should be arm candy. You should always be a work of art fashioned on your own likes and dislikes. While others views may modify your style who you are will always shine through. Because the heart leads the head. The body responds to the heart and a healthy happy girl will always be more beautiful and inviting than a self conscious paranoid obsessive pleaser.

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  • America

    I just saw This is the End last night. Hilarious movie with only ONE female character having more than one scene (Emma Watson) every other woman had a few lines or a quick scene doing something sexual or showing tits and then was never seen again. The WHOLE movie was about 5 guys and their friendship and it’s a major blockbuster that everyone will go see.
    I am writing a script about 2 girls and a guy exploring their friendship in a disaster filled roadtrip and the number note that I get back is, this is going to be a great chick flick because there are females in main character roles. Granted, I am not the same type of humor those guys are but the premise is the same, friendship that people have found funny and yet This is the End can be a blockbuster good for everyone and mine is a chick flick only for girls and sappy men.

    I don’t think the struggle is JUST sexuality. I think it’s more. Sex does sell, look at Magic Mike. But the problem is if the whole movie is just men, we only care about the survival of just 5 men, and not any of the women or the rest of the world (yes I know it’s a comedy and they were very respectful to Emma Watson but still it’s a point), then they maintain their “place” in this world as the only valid stories. Bridesmaids manage to cross over because men found it funny but female comedies are only watch by women and the dates they dragged to it. So the movies tell us, only women care about stories about women but EVERYONE cares about stories about men. To me that is a bigger issue that plethora of stripper roles is merely a symptom of.

    • Totally agree with what you are saying. I was interested to see The is the End before, but now I’ll definitely be watching it more closely 😉 That’s awesome about your project! Definitely check out Brea Grant’s “Best Friends Forever.” I think it’s out on VOD in July and it’s a disaster road trip movie about the friendship of 2 women. Although… different from your idea b/c the disaster is literal as in it’s basically the apocalypse, but she wrote/produced/directed/starred in it. She did a piece about her journey with the film here:

  • She is too hot. her movie Rabid Love is superb.