Cole Porter wrote "Love for Sale," but that's not what Miranda Huba will be auctioning off in Candy Tastes Nice, her one-woman show about a young woman selling her virginity to help pay for her student loans. Written by Huba, who will also perform the play, Candy Tastes Nice will run at Madame X from February 26 through March 23, 2013 on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m..
Huba was inspired to write Candy Tastes Nice after witnessing the public's reaction to Natalie Dylan, a 23-year-old women's studies major who auctioned off her virginity in 2009 to help pay for graduate school. First performed at HERE Arts Center as part of the Summer Sublet Series in 2010, Candy Tastes Nice has also been performed in Salzburg, Austria. The play follows the young woman as her decision becomes the center of a mass-media frenzy that escalates into an international spectacle as countries bid against each other to win her virginity. While the plot centers around the young woman's decision to sell her virginity, her sexual inexperience is not the focus of the play.
"It's not about virginity, specifically, but about how women's sexuality is portrayed in our mass-media culture," Huba said. "What sells, what people buy, want to see more and more of."
Huba first saw Dylan interviewed on the Tyra Banks Show and was perturbed by both Banks' and the audience's response to Dylan's decision, which she described as condescending.
"This poor little girl, you don't know what you're getting into," she said. "We've got to save you from this. It was sort of an attack. The questions coming from the audience were offensive."
While Huba recognized there was cause for concern, she emphasized that Dylan was an adult and making a deliberate and educated decision that wasn't really that different from traditional historical culture.
"Women have been doing this for thousands of years," Huba said. "Women's virginity has been worth something and packaged and sold for thousands of years. I thought it was kind of funny that people were thinking not about history, but about the story they saw on CNN. Whether people like it or not, there's a value attached to women's sexuality. They're reacting the way that people have for centuries to that spectacle, the whole construct."
Huba was surprised by the judgment that was placed on Dylan by her family and friends when she discussed the topic with them.
"Who's to say whether it's about right or wrong? She saw an opportunity. She's taking advantage of the capitalist society," Huba said. "She was someone who ran a publicity campaign basically. The kind of character I portray [in Candy Tastes Nice] has a business mind and is asking how she can manipulate the system. She's kind of playing the game."
Part of the game Huba's character plays is to be featured on a reality TV show, an aspect that Huba finds fascinating due to what she describes as the manipulation of people's personalities and the packaging of their identities. At one point in Candy Tastes Nice, the television crew goes into the brothel and the women who work there claim they are being misrepresented.
"We love that -- 'She's the slutty one, she's the goody two-shoes,'" Huba said. "Everyone watches that kind of TV, even people who say they don't. It's all based on judgment -- putting someone down, putting someone else above someone else."
The judgment Huba mentioned existed on the television show where Dylan was interviewed. Citing the hypocrisy of Tyra Banks criticizing or patronizing Dylan, Huba elaborated on the nature of Banks' show, America's Next Top Model, and how it portrays women.
"Her show is about women's image, the way a woman looks and sells herself, so for her to go and criticize Natalie, who is doing something very similar... I was offended by that," Huba said. "In that sort of genre of TV -- Top Model, The Bachelorette -- that put this kind of condescending twist on women's sexuality. I thought that was a really interesting topic and I wanted to get into it."
In one scene of Candy Tastes Nice, Huba acts as an auctioneer for her virginity, an aspect of commodity and commercialization that she says still exists.
"It's still in so much of the world," Huba said. "Dowries still exist. Marriages are arranged still. Abstinence-only education is taught here in the United States of America. Women are having sex. They're doing it. They're doing it a lot. I don't really get it. People want to hang onto something -- they want to hang onto the status quo. This ideal of a pure woman -- innocent, not yet tainted."
Huba commented on the "sex positive" aspects of American culture, describing the protection and sheltering of women, along with the pressure to "save it" for the "right person" as intimidating and exactly how the women on Top Model were treating Natalie.
"'We're worried about you, we want to protect you...'" Huba described them as saying. "She's made a decision and can do what she wants to do. A lot of people's first time isn't that great anyway... Here is someone who is making a very conscious choice and gets to have a machine behind her, and then there are people who can't have that and really are doing it because they have to," Huba said. "The dichotomy is in the play, which is really important to me as well. It's kind of an experiment in how media reacts -- in how women make really 'crazy decisions' -- especially about sexuality."
The idea of "crazy decisions" and Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for requesting coverage of her birth control, as well as numerous other attempts to legislate limitations to birth control and abortion.
"If it's about sexuality, you can't do anything right," Huba said. "It's almost not OK to talk about how much you enjoy sex, how sex can be a really great thing, fulfilling in your life. That kind of not wanting women to be sexually empowered."
In Candy Tastes Nice, the decision to sell her virginity is a form of sexual empowerment, but the sale quickly escalates into an international publicity spectacle, with different countries betting on her virginity. While discussing the thought process of writing this play, Huba mentioned a panel on prostitution that she attended at a conference on women's social justice and human rights, where a former prostitute spoke about her working conditions. While Huba's character chooses to auction off her virginity to pay her student loans, Huba recognized and wanted to highlight that many women become sex workers out of necessity, not choice.
"I want to do what is safest for women," Huba said. "And if it's safer to have it [prostitution] regulated in some way, then yes, let's have that. Women can work out of a place that has tests available, health care available to them."
She noted that many women disagree with her and also mentioned men who purchase sex from prostitutes who are homeless, a purchase she identifies as buying into the degradation of women.
"There's something really specific that they're buying," Huba said. "They want to see women debased and humiliated... Something could happen where you could try and eliminate that off the street, give people a safe, clean space, hopefully eliminate something really sick."
The objectification and degradation of women is something Huba witnesses and is inspired to write about frequently. Her most recent work, Bloody Lullabies for Brave Women, was performed at the independent theater company MagicFutureBox as a fundraiser for the New York Abortion Access Fund. Huba finds a great deal of inspiration simply by witnessing the world around her and talking to her friends and family. Citing Howard Stern's recent comment about Lena Dunham, Huba asked, "How are we going to inspire new, exciting work from a feminine perspective if the dominant message out there is you don't keep yourself slim and tight and well made-up, you're not going to make it?... As I kept writing more and more scripts for my friends to perform, I realized I have something to say, so I keep doing it."
And she plans to continue doing it, given the wealth of material she can draw from for her plays, which she describes as "never-ending."
"Someone is always saying something, judging, scrutinizing every move a woman in the public makes," Huba said. "Some idiot is always saying something to degrade, make less of, put value on her as a woman... The judgment isn't just about that woman [Natalie Dylan]. That's the thing. There's something else percolating under that judgment of her that is about everyone."