Landing : Athabascau University

"Daddy": Reader-Submitted Story (Fall 1987) and Letters to the Editor (Winter 1988)

I was pleasantly surprised to find an entirely reader-submitted exchange in the pages of On Our Backs, which touches on some of the content I have been finding troubling in the magazine.

The exchange concerns the story "Daddy," by Ann Wertheim, published in the "fantasies" column in Fall 1987. Earlier in the magazine's run, "fantasies" is identified as a special reader-submitted section in the opening pages of the magazine. Its positioning as fantasy offers necessary permission to women who are not professional "authors" to describe their queer desires.

"My daddy is very strict," it begins, before detailing the routine of "daily discipline" the author fantasizes about performing for her "Daddy." In a deliberate, matter-of-fact tone that mimics the simplistic style of a developmental writer, the content pushes BDSM practice and lesbian genderfuck into view:

I Love my Daddy.

Daddy always disciplines me after school to help get me in the proper frame of mind. Sometimes when I get home Daddy is sitting in her favorite chair stroking her special dildo. I crawl over to her and she makes me suck her off. My Daddy loves to make me give her a blowjob. The thought of spanking me always gives Daddy a hard on. (9)

In Winter 1988, a reader responds. While letters have referred to transgressive content on other occasions, it has previously been a positive response. (One of the stories that I found particularly disturbing prompted a couple of letters describing how readers masturbated to the story... But I have been told that my response is conditioned by a more conservative climate.) But this reader was disturbed by what she saw:

I bought your magazine with great gusto; however, after reading the story Daddy, I was revolted, disgusted and not amused. Please tell me, for whom was this written? Also, is On Our Backs really run by women?

Please try to remember that 1 in 4 of your audience, that is the women of your audience, have been raped. I wonder if this author has been raped and/or sexually humiliated. It isn't fun.

Colleen Aucrile

Oakland, CA (5)

I considered cutting the letter's author's last name, though it was printed and I notice that by 1988 many of the letters were signed with full names rather than just first names or initials as was the case in 1984, because the original letter didn't come with Google-ability, and I feel a bit weird about translating things from one medium to the other. But then I changed my mind -- I have no reason to think she was embarrassed about her critique, or didn't think it through. In fact, it was probably a very serious and meaningful response, and I do take the response itself, and not just the fact of its existence in the pages of the magazine, seriously.

Aucrile's letter, while reproducing my own shudder when I read the story, also reproduces some of the most often critiqued ideas of lesbian feminism: the innate womanness that makes it questionable whether real women could even produce this kind of fantasy, the automatic movement from sexual pleasure to sexual danger, and the assumption that women who have been raped remain victims forever -- even their fantasies are completely and permanently different (whether they are then always about rape or never about rape is open to judgement, it seems).

OOB editors gave the author of the original story a chance to respond before printing the new issue.

The author replies.

Daddy is a fantasy, not reality. When I act out this fantasy it is with a consenting adult lesbian. There is a world of difference between sexual humiliation in reality and in fantasy. My Story has nothing to do with rape.

I wrote my story for all the women who have this fantasy. I believe that we cannot judge our fantasies--whateverworks--whatever gets you wet--as long as acting it out involves consenting adults. It wasn't so long ago that lesbian fantasies were judged sick and Disgusting.

Ann Wertheim

Los Angeles (5)

 So I can see the theoretical holes in Aucrile's feminism, even if my response is closer to hers than to Wertheim's fantasy. But what about Wertheim's representative practice: is there a different ethical standard for fantasies you disseminate than for fantasies you have in your head, or does "whatever gets you wet" hold up?



Aucrile, Colleen. Submission to "Letters From Our Readers." On Our Backs: Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian. Winter 1988. 3-5.

Wertheim, Ann. "Daddy." On Our Backs: Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian. Fall 1987. 9.

Wertheim, Ann. Submission to "Letters From Our Readers." On Our Backs: Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian. Winter 1988. 3-5.



  • You wrote:

    is there a different ethical standard for fantasies you disseminate than for fantasies you have in your head

    Well, as Shakespeare (arguably English literature's foremost fan fiction writer) might put it: there's the rub. Har har. Yes, sorry, it's a bad joke, but at the same time it's le mot juste for addressing this question you have posed, on which so much depends - nothing less than the différance between inside and outside, ontological basis of all other binary oppositions, like those that structure representation, desire, subjectivity, gender, history (versus genaealogy), and of course law. The question suggests the possibility of conceptualizing pornography precisely as that practice of representation which prompts this very question.

    More materially, it should be noted too that there are different ethical and legal standards - which themselves are in a state of continual transformation and adaptation - for different kinds of "fantasies you disseminate," depending on the medium of the representation, the form and distribution of the publication, the content of the representation, and of course the function of the author, whether as Big Name, as Letter To The Editor, or as that bestselling porn author, Anonymous. The very name Anonymous, the nameless name, solicits and exploits the difference between the disseminated fantasy and the imagined fantasy, practicing representation as though voiced from nowhere, from inside one's head or heart.

    The keyword fantasy here broaches the discourse not just of imagination but also of the fantastic. If we conceive of pornography as a representation that interferes with the difference between interior imagination and material representation, it almost of necessity entails a consideration of the fantastic. Here, for instance, the "genderfuck" role play recounted includes the detail that the thought of spanking gives Daddy - understood now as woman, as lesbian - a "hardon," which phrase, even if signifying a kind of woman's arousal, is represented in decidedly masculine wording. Thus the fantastic, understood theoretically (I think it's Tzvetan Todorov who has theorized the fantastic; as has the Marxist Argentinian writer Julio Cortàzar), necessarily enters if not structures the representation of "fantasy," understood narrowly as a certain familiar kind of sexualized imagining.

    Mark A. McCutcheon August 21, 2012 - 8:37pm

  • I left the magazine at the archive, so I'll have to double-check tomorrow, but based on your suggestions, I think I want to look at the story again to see how it examines or exposes itself as writing, or as a fantasy in the process of dissemination. The premise of the story is that Daddy is making the author narrator (oops) keep a journal, and has given her a topic ("daily discipline," or something close to that). Her reflection on the topic forms the piece, and she signs off with a couple of sentences that I don't remember exactly, but they express that she hopes Daddy approves of her and thinks the assignment is going well. Since blurring the lines between personal and communal, private and public, inside and outside is a big part of the feminist project (or projects, plural, since by 1988 feminists were well into the sex wars), then it seems to matter whether and how a piece like this critiques itself as a part of that project, in addition to what the author and her readers say about it. 

    I hadn't thought about this connection between fantasy and the fantastic before, and the association of gender play with unrealistic events might need more thought (clits get plenty hard, even if "hard on" was not intended to refer to them, so there is something in the association of hardness and masculinity that actually obscures what women's arousal looks and feels like, which is just an aside, and not to discount your point) but yeah, OOB definitely seems to have taken on both "fantasy" and "the fantastic" as themes, and as ideas that can be juxtaposed, compared, and contrasted via story placement. There are the "fantasies" column, various ideological statements in nonfiction articles and letters about fantasy (like Wertheim's that fantasies are not to be "judged" -- morally, I guess, but what about other kinds of judgment, like criticism?), and then there are stories about vampires that eat your period (sexy, but also seriously convenient!), incestuous invisible monsters that make your fantasies real, alien dildo space ships that fly off into vaginas to explore them. 

    Thinking more about Wertheim's statement about fantasies, she seems to connect not only the materiality of arousal ("whatever gets you wet"), but also its visibility and externality (not "whatever gives you adorable butterflies in your tummy") to the immunity from judgment she desires. So maybe she is also suggesting a different ethical standard for disseminated -- purposefully externalized, stated, acknowledged -- fantasies, but one of rigorous neutrality or validation, rather than rigorous scrutiny. 

    sarah beth August 21, 2012 - 9:53pm

  • Mark, I am having a really tough time finding material in the AU library theorizing "fantasy" and "the fantastic." Todorov's book about the fantastic is only there in French, Cortàzar isn't there. I found a literature review of theories of the fantastic, but only a couple of the books are in the library (and not the ones that look like they'd be most useful). Can you make some recommendations? 

    sarah beth October 19, 2012 - 1:44pm

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