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MEGHAN DAUM

What do women want?

Can former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss find the answer in a Nevada brothel, where men will cater to women at $250 an hour?

November 19, 2005|MEGHAN DAUM | This is MEGHAN DAUM'S first weekly column for The Times.

HEIDI FLEISS' newest venture is either the worst business model ever conceived or a potentially groundbreaking case study in social biology -- or maybe both. In any case, Heidi's Stud Farm, a house of prostitution where men will cater to women, will surely engender much press coverage and gnashing of feminist teeth.

As reported in this paper Thursday, the former Hollywood madam, who served 21 months in prison in the late 1990s, is teaming up with an established Nevada brothel proprietor (as a convicted felon, Fleiss is restricted from owning the business by herself) to open the state's first female-targeted bordello. The hourly rate: $250.

It's hard to resist the clever punch lines. Why not call it "The Cuddle Farm" or "Heidi's House of Endless Conversations About Where the Relationship Is Going"? We've all seen studies suggesting that female arousal is less about looks and more about some generally inconsistent combination of intellectual and emotional factors (this would explain the ability of Mick Jagger and Salman Rushdie to land any number of hot babes).

Whereas men have long been able to walk into a house of ill repute and more or less shop off the rack, women supposedly need something resembling couture. If romantic comedies and scientists have it right, we can't possibly sleep with a guy until he pays for dinner in a place with cloth napkins, or at least demonstrates his manliness by playing the guitar, winning a Booker Prize or fixing the sink.

But there is growing chatter about the reductive nature of such assumptions. The stiletto-heeled, engagement ring-chasing backlash to old school feminism now has a backlash of its own. Before Fleiss' announcement, this rebellion had to do with eschewing breast implants and resisting literal interpretations of the single woman's bible du jour, "He's Just Not That Into You." But if women can pay for sex at a high-end, celebrity-owned resort -- think of it as Canyon Ranch without those strenuous hikes -- we've got more than a political movement, we've got the Official Headquarters of Equality.

THE STUD FARM, which is to be situated on an existing bordello site, will evoke a classic Hollywood glamour, according to Fleiss, and "be like Leo DiCaprio in 'The Aviator.' " Though it's unclear how a piece of property can resemble a 31-year-old actor, Fleiss' plan to put out a casting call and ultimately hire 20 or so men leaves little to the imagination. I can see it now: a swarming mass of waxed, lantern-jawed castoffs from reality TV and the porn industry. The fireman type, the mogul type, the intellectual type, the pool-boy type, the guy who looks like George Clooney. It'll be a modern-day incarnation of the Village People, without the homosexual subtext (presumably).

I'm just making guesses here. Maybe Fleiss will poach half the brass section of the L.A. Philharmonic. But if the Stud Farm is staffed by the same types of men we see in much of popular culture (the ones who make teenage girls and entertainment executives feel safe), I wouldn't buy the stock. Because even if you forget about the dinner date with cloth napkins, choosing a partner for a woman is still more like trolling the produce section of Whole Foods than doing a Burger King drive-thru. We may be viscerally drawn to a kumquat without quite knowing why. Will the Stud Farm offer kumquats? Maybe if you call ahead. More likely, though, you're stuck with a cheeseburger.

Still, Fleiss will surely do a brisk trade in T-shirts (I'll wager $250 that a rhinestone-adorned, Stud Farm baby tee will become the Juicy track suit of its time), and the whole enterprise could prove to be a useful gender-studies experiment.

In a letter submitted to the Nye County, Nev., Liquor and Licensing Board, Fleiss' business partner, Joe Richards, wrote, "Society is witnessing a unique evolution of the female gender [which is] reaching out for the same service we now offer male clients."

I'm not sure what planet that society is on. As much as the strict sexual egalitarians among us would like to believe that female disinclination toward casual sex is merely a social construct, and as much as Fleiss insists that lots of women in Hollywood have already promised their patronage, it remains to be seen just how many women will join this particular boys' game.

It also remains to be seen how the men will fare when they find themselves being objectified by not only powerful Hollywood women but the spillover crowd from Vegas. If anything, the Stud Farm is more good news for Viagra. I just hope there's also plenty of aspirin around -- I feel some major headaches coming on.

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