Jan 26 2011

Death by femininity, again

If only pornography was just dirty pictures. That would still be bad, but not as bad as the real actual truth. Pornography — that is, the graphic representation of violence against women — is in fact like unto a thick, noxious gas percolating through every conceivable stratum of human culture.

Take this example of multi-tiered pornography from the Huffington Post: a blurb noting the death of a 23-year-old woman named Carolin Berger.

The headline:

“Carolin ‘Sexy Cora’ Berger Dead: Porn Star Dies After Sixth Breast Enlargement Surgery (PHOTOS)”

[Arguably, one may even perceive an element of perpetration in the very act of critiquing this article. That’s because pornography leaves a putrid grease on everything and everyone it touches, including spinster aunts who clamor for its eradication. But, onward.]

On one hand, this HuffPo item supports the anti-porn mores of Savage Death Island: Young Berger has died of extreme femininity. Her heart stopped during her 6th breast augmentation surgery and she never regained consciousness. The patriarchy blamer naturally recognizes a familiar narrative: desperate to appease the oppressor through rigorous adherence to deeply internalized pornographic beauty standards, Berger undertook multiple self-mutilations, and paid the ultimate price. Femininity kills.

But … that headline! It is the spinster aunt’s duty to expose what at first blush appears to be the announcement of a tragic accident for what it is: a titillating squirt of micro-porn to whet the insatiable appetites of typical prog-liber-o-prurient HuffPo readers.

This headline’s got it all. “Sexy.” “Dead.” “Porn Star.” “Breast Enlargement” “PHOTOS.” Who wouldn’t click on that? It’s an opportunity — one of the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, presented daily to the average media consumer — to ingest sex, to taste the greasy juxtaposition of sex, mutilation, and death, to check out some hottt pixxx, and to pass smug judgement on another blonde bimbo — Marilyn Monroe, Anna Nicole Smith — who failed to get it just right.

As the story progresses, we discover that Berger’s porn star name was “Sexy Cora.” Naturally, the sex name is the one used throughout the remainder of the article. Porn stars are not human beings, they are a brand of consumer sex receptacle. Thus are the dimensions of Berger’s breasts, both pre- and post-op, more germane to the announcement of her death than, apparently, the detail (omitted by Huffpo) that her surgeon-butchers are now up on negligent homicide charges. To find out about that, you have to go to CBS News’ lurid true crime website, where Berger’s humanity is of little importance compared to her value as a sensationalized dead TV slut. If you doubt this, you have only to observe the 38-page wealth of “Sexy Cora” images available in a CBS online photo gallery, and compare it to the amount of CBS discourse relating to Berger as a human person (barely any), or to the instances of broader CBS discussion of the murderous effects of institutionalized misogyny on the quest for human enlightenment (zilch-o).

[Thanks, Jessica]


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  1. humanbein

    The pity I feel for the poor victim of the level of anxiety requisite to endure having her breasts chopped up 6 times is overwhelming.

    And then: How can any human be so devoid of empathy that they go to work every day chopping up and filling breasts with foreign objects? The Frankenstein level of medical procedures in our world never fails to depress me.

  2. Blamer From Way Back

    Don’t read the comments at Huffpo! Or read them only if you want your eyes to bleed! GAW!

  3. tfirfe

    And the article link at the bottom about Sheyla Hershey who’s 4 implants had to be removed because she had developed staph in her breasts! Why oh why did I put myself through reading the comments for both these articles??? Now I have to spend two days suppressing the funk this puts me in…meanwhile, I’m still suppressing the funks I’ve compiling for the last 30 years. I’m glad the consumers realize though that it’s the victim’s fault…I’d hate for them to feel any responsibility or to have their evening rituals be disrupted. And the AVN awards!…don’t get me started.
    Anyone see the new chain of restaurants showing up called the Twisted Kilt, or something like that? And these chains of coffee shops with lingerie-wearing baristas is really taking off. Have their legal rights really been confirmed?

  4. Yardshark

    Our society must be in Season 4, because this kind of trash is ineradicable.

    Your post brings to mind another depressing development that I recently experienced – I’m a member of a news site that is generally oriented toward Save the Earth and Civil Rights For All and all those positive types of things. They e-mail updates on select recent articles every day, their subject lines calling out one or two of these. Suddenly, almost every day lately, one of the callouts has been for some new sex article. Fucking YAWN. Yet another attention-whore venue has scraped the bottom of its barrel.

  5. phio gistic

    There was some discussion at the Sociological Images blog about Huffington Post, with a link to a well-done video from Feminist Frequency on HP and the concept of “linkbaiting” (using porny pictures to get dudes to click links). I’ve pretty much stopped using Google News because they constantly feature HP’s most salacious content in a bid for some linkbaiting of their own.



  6. Tierney

    Anyone see the new chain of restaurants showing up called the Twisted Kilt, or something like that?

    Tilted Kilt. My stepdad came home one day raving about the place, so I looked it up. It appears to be a typical Americanized pub with young waitresses, whose uniforms are more reminiscent of the sexy schoolgirl trope (plus sporran) than anything women in Scotland wear. Apparently, stepdude later spent some time reflecting on his experience, remembered how many times I have railed against the commodification of women and women’s sexuality (because, in his mind, I’m a prude, not because there’s anything wrong with violating women) and informed my mother it wouldn’t be the type of place I would like. He never mentioned it to me again.

  7. StarryEyed

    Having been born with large breast DNA, I have spent my life wishing I could just take it down a notch. By age 14 I was a real live Barbie doll. It’s very difficult to like most men, because they just want to get nasty with me. Also, it’s very difficult to trust women because they are jealous of me. No words or behaviors are required for all involved to stamp their reactions onto me. All I have to do is carry those big girls into the room and stand there. Just like Barbie.

  8. Kelly

    HuffPo like so many other spaces is decidedly anti-woman and anti-child. All the (PHOTOS) and nip slips and “Click here and you might get to see some of Pamela Anderson’s ass!!11!”. Ugh.

    Poor Cora and her family. 23, so very young.

  9. Shelby

    Poor kid.

  10. ruby

    Referring to her by her stage name in an article detailing her death is really craptastic.

  11. AlienNumber

    Brilliant analysis! Thank you for writing it better than (pretty much) anybody else would.

    and I have a question (for anyone): in choosing the title of this post, why “death by femininity” and not “death by pornography”? I’m thinking, it’s men and their hatred who killed her, not really femininity and herself (unless of course you define femininity as one of the myriad ways in which men hate women). On the other hand, I see why you wouldn’t want the word pornography in the title, because it will attract legions of non-blamers.

    This was inspired by a comment my feminist prof. made who said she dislikes the term “Violence against women” because it masks who the oppressor is.

  12. Jill

    “unless of course you define femininity as one of the myriad ways in which men hate women”

    In fact, I do. Femininity is internalized patriarchy.

  13. Ellie

    “Femininity is internalized patriarchy.”

    I want the T-shirt and bumper sticker.

  14. AlienNumber

    The t-shirt! and stickers we can plaster on all kinds of ads around the city.

    (And also we should start a friendship fund for Mo’nique for holding out for so long, maybe she’ll feel encouraged to go back at it.)

  15. Lishra

    I was going to write about this exact story, but you have already done the job very well. The headlines about her death are some of the most vile fusions of woman-hating, porn culture swill I’ve seen in a while. And the teaser of “PHOTOS” or “PICS”… for fuck’s sake.

  16. minervaK

    i read the huffington post once.

    we have only to imagine the public reaction to a man voluntarily chopping up his weiner multiple times to understand just how entrenched and ‘normalized’ this kind of violence toward the female body is. kind of makes me want to puke.

  17. Metal teapot

    This whole “she was insecure” business that crops up in the comments, strikes me as an easy way to misattribute blame. It encourages us to think so her suicide as an independent tragedy caused by mental illness (for want of a better word) than a product of society.

    As a few of the comments (on the original article) correctly point out, there is a high chance that her repeated surgeries were due to the demands of her career. We don’t like to acknowledge that the reason she thought she wasn’t good enough, and was “insecure” is because she was judged to be not good enough; be it by the industry she was in, which makes unreasonable physical demands of the workers not just in appearance; or the other industries which judge her as worthless because of her former career.

    It frustrates me that society criticises the women who meet the demands of the patriarchy for being a bad example while refusing to acknowledge that if they didn’t meet these demands they wouldn’t be celebrated in the same way. We do it fairly independently of what these demands are, be it the actresses and models who starve themselves to get jobs or the porn stars and glamour models to have surgery to enhance their appearance. We blame them for sending the message that these things matter, yet it is us (the patriarchy and dominate social standards) that place these demands and in many cases make them matter. By blaming the victims we can pretend these things don’t matter, and feel morally superior about ourselves.

    All the comments by men on how unnecessary big breasts are in their partner allows them to avoid thinking about how them choosing to watch someone’s exploitation actually effects someone else’s life and well-being. It allows them to attribute this death to the woman’s own “stupidity” rather than the demands placed on her. It allows them to pretend these demands don’t exist so they can continue living their lives free of blame. That really annoys me, it is deliberately failing to see the big picture.

  18. yttik

    It seems as if porn has really accelerated and become more and more violent. Today porn has gone mainstream and it’s all about the violence and death. Sex is almost secondary to those themes. The way it’s gone mainstream is awful, people don’t have to watch porn anymore, they can just turn on CSI or any other myriad of TV shows that parade around a series of half naked, violated corpses. The way porn has creeped into everyday life and become so pervasive is really astounding to me, mostly because there’s been no revolution or outcry. It’s still being excused as “art,” called harmless entertainment, or even disguised as advocacy for important social causes.

  19. milou

    :( :(

    I fucking hate the patriarchy with all my heart

  20. m Andrea

    The patriarchal propaganda machine would have us all believe that the proliferation of images plastered everywhere are harmless examples of “sex sells” — your basic happy fun time capitalism in action. But as Echidne so astutely noted, what is being sold is incredibly harmful to only one particular class and we’re not supposed to notice how one-way the harm flows. As she said, all these images are far more accurately termed “selling the sexual availability of women”.

    And ever since I started using that phrase, not only is there no more argument about how harmless these images supposedly are, but I also see a little lightbulb go off above the heads of funfems. Unless of course the person is an outright misogynist who then pretends not to understand, but I don’t waste my time on those.

  21. tfirfe

    Check out this movie….Miss Representation:


    There’s an an action link also:


  22. Laughingrat

    @Metal Teapot,

    Yeah, that’s basically the double-bind of femininity. Women who perform it are labeled contemptuous airheads, women who don’t perform it don’t get jobs, promotions, even a vague semblance of legal protection, DO get singled out for harassment and violence, etc.

    caused by mental illness (for want of a better word) than a product of society

    It seems clear that most women’s mental illness or distress is directly caused by society–which was part of your point, but since that gets overlooked even here, it was worth reiterating. When commenters suggest that a woman “just avoid internalizing patriarchy,” they are, bless them, blithely ignoring the fact that it’s too late for that, and that if it were easy to just magically stop experiencing psychological damage caused by a lifelong barrage of misogyny, we would do it in a heartbeat. (See also “Why doesn’t she just leave?”, another gut-churner.)

  23. Laughingrat

    Contemptible. Not contemptuous. Argh.

  24. Eleutheria

    I’m so fucking horrified this is making me post here for the first time (long time reader, etc. etc.). And yet it seems so “banal”. And yet it so fucking isn’t.

    The coverage of her attempt at breaking “world record” (that Against All Evidence posted about) was so disgusting: [TW Dehumanization] Adult Film Star Sucks at World Record Attempt – fuck you patriarchy.

    I wrote a sort-of eulogy for her (it’s not a speech, it’s more like a letter). It’s so fucking little.

    Wherever you are, Carolin, if souls exist, may your soul be free from the pain of your body… and of your memories.

    All of this reminds me the shock I had last week. I was walking to my university. One of the streets next to it is full of strip clubs and sex shops. It was the first time I was seeing a woman walking in that strip club. It was horribly cold. She was wrapped in her big coat. Yet all I could think was: she looks so small, her legs, her arms, her face, she’s even one head shorter than me – and I’m not tall. I don’t know how old she was. I was so shaken by it… and then I completely forgot. I just remember now.

  25. whatabout

    I posted this on Jill’s newest blog post too, but here is an article and info/action site on the movie Miss Representation….



    I really think that now is the time to start taking some serious action……

  26. m Andrea

    This post was much appreciated Twisty — forgot to mention that yesterday. You’re a precious pearl in a bog swamp.

  27. Frumious B

    All the talk of Carolin Berger being “anxious” or “insecure” is almost as de-humanizing as her image as a porn star. Did any of you know know Ms. Berger? Maybe she was your average working woman who either couldn’t stand the 9-5 grind or wasn’t qualified for the 9-5 grind and actually found porn preferable to waitressing (talk about your shitty work with unrealistic body expectations and a mandatory aura of sexual availability). Maybe she was even a feminist. I’m not claiming that porn is some kind of life enhancing career. I claiming that Ms. Berger is a human being who made rational choices given her circumstances, and shoe-horning her into a mold of a sad, oppressed woman is objectification.

  28. Murfomurf

    Why on earth are plastic surgeons the only docs who don’t try to argue when you try to tell them their job?

  29. AlienNumber

    Frumious B, and that would be because a “sad oppressed woman” is an object somehow? Or maybe we disagree about the sad and oppressed quotient of what it means to be DEAD at 23 (from heart attacks caused by porn and femininity).

  30. Anna

    “Maybe she was your average working woman who either couldn’t stand the 9-5 grind or wasn’t qualified for the 9-5 grind and actually found porn preferable to waitressing (talk about your shitty work with unrealistic body expectations and a mandatory aura of sexual availability)”.

    The average working woman would not be required to sexually service multiple men before becoming violently ill, passing out and having to be hospitalised, while a room full of people apparently stood by and watched, and probably continued to film her. I think it’s de-humanising to blithely accept that as a reasonable thing for a woman to have to endure in order to earn a living, whether they ‘choose’ to do it or not.

  31. AlienNumber

    You either believe that a woman’s body should not be for sale under any circumstances or you don’t believe that. Slavery is either wrong or not etc.

    And that a woman could find porn preferable to anything (including death, which in the end, btw, she seems has found preferable to porn) is one of those nonsensical libertarian pollutants that male supremacy runs on.

  32. S

    Thanks for this post.

    A recent HP comment has made me feel sicker than I have in a long time:

    “Just pathetic and nasty. Huge breasts are DISGUSTING­. If they’re part of a woman naturally, that’s one thing. Generally the rest of the body will be sized accordingl­y. But artificial­ly huge breasts are just… UGH! Just what I want to see, big saggy bags of suet dragging on the floor when her bra’s taken off.”

    …HOW can anyone be that much of an asshole? A woman died and it’s still all about what you want to see? FUCK you.

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