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Just Desserts 

Cake offers straight women a comfortable woman-friendly place to be sexy. So why does it feel so retro?

Wednesday, Mar 29 2006
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When Jenny Stark left the East Coast after college, Cake parties had been part of her social life for two years. Although she comes from a conservative family, Stark says her fondness for Cake wasn't about rebelling; it was a question of finding a place where she fit in. Back in her native San Francisco she missed those monthly helpings of dessert, and naturally looked around for the equivalent. She tried out Pleasure Zone, a once-a-month event at various clubs around the city that bills itself as "hip, sex-positive, girl-centric entertainment for women and couples." Pleasure Zone uses a lot of the same language as Cake — the "grrrls" are encouraged to wear whatever turns them on, and to show off their assets free of pressure or judgment. But while women wear lingerie at the spring party and bikinis at the summer bash, men are invited to attend as "dashing dates" in crisp pants and collared shirts.

"Pleasure Zone was targeted more towards couples and single women," Stark says. "It was more of a swinger scene. It was guys dragging — well, I shouldn't say dragging, but guys getting their wives and girlfriends to go to fulfill some fantasy. I actually stopped going because it made me really uncomfortable." (The founders of Pleasure Zone, Aimie and Dennis, take exception to that description. "It's really not a couple's party. It's really a party about the girls, and giving them a place to let their hair down and have fun," says Dennis, who prefers not to use his last name.)

Stark also had little patience for the downtown nightclubs or the Marina bars, calling the vibe "predatory." Eventually she asked Cake's founders if they'd consider coming West. At the time they were busy writing their book, A Piece of Cake: Recipes for Female Sexual Pleasure, which came out last November. But since they'd already branched out to London, it was just a matter of time before they got the travel bug again.

One of Cake's co-founders came to San Francisco in February on a scouting mission, and stayed through the Impala event. Emily Kramer, a savvy 28-year-old, helped create the Cake phenomenon out of one thing: female desire. In person, though, she kept it businesslike. Kramer wasn't bursting with cleavage like many of the other women present. In cargo pants and a tank top, she sauntered around the room, making connections and managing the mood. Her wary eyes were heavily rimmed with eyeliner. After getting burned by a few feminist writers of late, Kramer is slightly defensive and careful to present Cake in all its complexity.

What happens at a Cake party has nothing to do with being objectified or objectifying other women, she explained. Rather, it's about becoming a sexual subject, in control of the agenda and enjoying every moment of it.

"It's not just about what a guy thinks about seeing someone in lingerie," she said. "It's about, 'What are your fantasies? How do they relate to what turns you on, to what makes you feel good, to what you think about the next day?' It's less, 'What does a guy think about her the next day?' but 'What does she think about?' And from the female perspective, how does being in this environment where your sexual pleasure is encouraged and supported affect the next day?"

Kramer and Gallagher have said they'd love to see a West Coast branch of Cake emerge, if women here are willing to take charge. Stark is up to the challenge; she's hoping to host another event in late April or early May. Cake does put a new twist on the morning after, she says. Hosting the Impala event kept her too busy to fully engage in the fun, but after previous parties she enjoyed flashbacks for days. "Usually I'm strutting around NYC feeling sexy, thinking about everything that happened — the people I met, the great performances, hot dancing," she writes in an e-mail. "I hold my head high, and smile a lot. I'm sure people seeing me are wondering what the hell I'm smiling about ... it's CAKE!"


Here's the recipe for Cake: Take two smart girls from middle-class, liberal backgrounds. Toss them into gender studies programs in New York City universities — Kramer has a bachelor's in women's studies from Columbia, and Gallagher holds a master's in human sexuality and public health from NYU. Mix in a good dose of feminist history and theory. Add a dash of unfulfilled longing, and bake in the hot oven of Manhattan's nightlife scene.

The two founders had known each other for years; Gallagher has been dating Kramer's brother, Matthew, since high school. But it wasn't until the women's academic pursuits overlapped that they began the conversations that would lead to Cake.

Gallagher was born in 1973, the same year the Roe v. Wade decision came down. She says she grew up with the knowledge that many of the major feminist battles had already been fought and won. "We grew up all empowered, and we can go and get advanced degrees and live our lives the way we want to," she says. And although she had the idea that she could express her sexuality however she saw fit, she soon found that it was hard to put into practice. She wanted to be openly and publicly sexual — to try on costumes and roles, to talk about what got her hot — without it being automatically construed as an invitation.

When Gallagher and Kramer started asking around, they realized they were far from alone in their cravings. Many women seemed comfortable with their sexuality inside the bedroom, but couldn't bring it past the front door without getting spooked. They wanted a nonjudgmental, woman-friendly place to play and to explore with likeminded folks. As it happened, that untapped market was also a lucrative demographic. Most of the women who take to Cake are in their 20s or 30s and childless, with college degrees, good jobs, and disposable income.

About The Author

Eliza Strickland

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