Were the Vargas girls about erotic subtlety or female oppression? Salon readers discuss David Amsden's essay.

Published December 22, 2004 8:00AM (EST)

[Read "I Dream of Vargas Girls," by David Amsden.]

Give Amsden a casual nod of approval for me. I am a 21-year-old male a few months away from graduation, and Amsden's piece spoke to many of my own experiences and feelings toward women and sexuality in today's era. Of course the Lohans and Aguileras are hot, with their close-to-perfect bodies and "let's fuck now" personalities ... but what about the sexy girls next door? These are the ones that guard the real mysteries Amsden speaks of. They're the ones who always look hot in jeans and a tank top.

It's nice to know that there are other guys out there willing to admit that despite all the silicone and plastic, all the tanning and makeup, these women can't quite wield that intangible, seductive and innate power of the Vargas girls. I love a nice set of C's like anyone else, but maybe the Christinas and Brittanys should talk to the sexy girls next door instead of Dr. Nipandtuck. It'd be a hell of a lot cheaper and a lot less painful.

-- Jeff Fields

In his article "I Dream of Vargas Girls," David Amsden says: "Still, I can't help thinking that we've reached a sort of zenith of sexual exposure. I mean, where to go from here?"

I have a suggestion. How about we move on to a place where sex and sexuality are about a two-way interaction between actual human beings? The attempt to find sexual satisfaction in representations of the opposite sex is inevitably going to feel empty. Find a self-possessed intelligent woman with a sense of style, and actually interact with her in person, instead of watching her with a one-way mediated gaze, and I think you might find your holy grail.

-- Steve Barber

How sad that a modern 25-year-old considers Vargas girls to be "Rubenesque." But does that say more about current standards of beauty or ignorance of Dutch art?

-- Maureen Moran

Though David Amsden's article perceptively identifies a sad and ultimately troubling aspect of modern sexuality, I find it difficult to sympathize with him and his "pity the men" attitude. Woe is the modern man -- his appetite has been sated, and women have nothing left to offer him! He and his compatriots tell us how depressed they are by the continuous stream of sex available to them and the horror of being forced to resort to exercise videos for masturbatory material. Amsden's yearning for the erotic subtlety of pinup girls, while understandable, conveniently glosses over the fact that much of the appeal of that era's "Marilynesque sexuality" depended on maintaining a strict dichotomy between the Marilyns and the Jackies. Perhaps there is a way to return to the days where female sexual expression was limited to "coy glances" and leave behind any accompanying societal restraints on women's behavior, but in many ways the former is a function of the latter. The world that was titillated by the Vargas girls is gone, and on balance I cannot help thinking that this is a good thing.

This is not to say that I don't understand the pervasive carnal ennui that characterizes contemporary American society. I share Amsden's frustration, but I have to hope that there is a better solution than seeking to constrain women's sexuality for the purpose of exciting numbed men. His attitude is what I find disturbing -- his focus on how men have become bored and how women ought to overcome this by turning away from their pornographic antics. I have no doubt that Amsden would vigorously dispute this characterization of his perspective, but it oozes from every line of his essay. If men are suffering by being bored, women are suffering the infinitely more damaging injury of being judged insufficiently arousing. We already suffer by comparison with the airbrushed, surgically enhanced images that surround us; now we are expected to perform an about-face and ape the conventions of a bygone time? My first impression upon reading this piece was that the author and his friends are like a group of children who have worn out a toy by continually demanding ever more dazzling performances from it, but then lose interest entirely and begin the search for the next new sensation.

There are of course many more issues here, about choice and changing gender roles and the media and personal responsibility and peer pressure and any number of other factors that exert influence over this complex subject. But Amsden's essay portrays men as consumers and women as objects, and I'm not sure that posture is going to help us sort these things out.

-- Catherine Bernard

Nifty article. Thanks for writing it, David, and thanks for publishing it, Salon. It's cool to know that some guy(s) out there like that secretive, come-hither stare sort of thing, a nearly lost art that my friends and I practice. Perhaps it's because we're Southern? Southern women have always used the "Oh, no you don't -- oh, yes you can!" wink-wink bit; we've got it down to a T. Anyhoo, come down to Virginia and we'll show off our seamed stockings for ya!

-- Name withheld

By Salon Staff

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