Why the world caricatures women like Pamela Anderson - opinion

Yes, she was aware that she was an international sex symbol, but she was also an extremely engaged mother who wanted to raise values-guided children.

 PAMELA ANDERSON, always humorous, humble and self-effacing. (photo credit: ERIC GAILLARD/REUTERS)
PAMELA ANDERSON, always humorous, humble and self-effacing.
(photo credit: ERIC GAILLARD/REUTERS)

A much-read New York Times story “Why the Sudden Urge to Reconsider Famous Women?” with the subtitle, “Pop culture has never been more interested in reclaiming women from the recent past, like Pamela Anderson and Janet Jackson” appeared on Sunday. The article argued that American culture has embraced “a new hot trend: appreciating women, however famous or infamous, as fully human.” 

In the past, The New York Times argued, “Disparagement was the price a woman paid for fame. That not all of these women sought or desired fame didn’t seem to matter.”

I found the article extremely interesting and insightful given my friendship with Anderson and the book we wrote together, Lust for Love: Rekindling Intimacy and Passion in Your Relationship.

The New York Times was indeed correct. In the time that I spent with Anderson – our lectures together at Oxford University, our joint TV appearances, our Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing about the dangers of pornography, the Shabbat dinner she joined with my family – I was always amazed and how people insisted on seeing her as a caricature rather than fully human.

My introduction to Anderson came in 2016 when my organization, The World Values Network, gave her an award for public support of Israel at our large annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in Times Square, which featured leading personalities, including the crown prince of Iran, American congressmen and women, and Jewish mega-philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

Actress and activist Pamela Anderson. (credit: RONEN MACHLEB)Actress and activist Pamela Anderson. (credit: RONEN MACHLEB)

The event was heavily reported on by the international media, and led to a lasting friendship between me and Anderson that developed over the next few months in conversations about my books on relationships, including Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy, as well as on parenting.

Who would have thought it, but it turned out that me and Anderson had serious values in common. Yes, she was aware that she was an international sex symbol, but she was also an extremely engaged mother who wanted to raise values-guided children. She told me her great aspiration was to have a marriage like her parents, which had lasted for decades, amid the kind of challenges that all marriages face. She told of how she believes in partnering for life and was disgusted by the kind of sexual exploitation of women that had become de rigueur in the age of internet porn.

Had she contributed to that exploitation, I asked her? No, she was adamant that the cover pinups she had done for Playboy and her close friend, Hugh Hefner, whom she greatly admired, was art rather than pornography. She hated internet porn, and felt it was ruining marriages and relationships.

Our conversations covered the gamut of politics, religion and spirituality, and especially, the inspiration necessary to raise healthy children.

Anderson joined me and my family for Shabbat dinner in New York on multiple occasions, and my wife and children came to greatly respect her warmth, intelligence and commitment to communal service. She was always humorous, humble, and self-effacing. Once, while she sat between me and my wife at the Sabbath table, a friend of mine, who is a renowned writer, joked, “Rabbi Shmuley is the only man who can sit next to Pamela Anderson and ogle her Rolodex.” Everyone laughed, none more than Anderson.

Our friendship led to a jointly authored op-ed in 2016 in The Wall Street Journal called, “Take the Pledge: No More Indulging Porn,” that became a media sensation. Anderson and I were invited on to global media platforms to talk about how porn was slowly conditioning men to view women not as equals, but as a means to the fulfillment of their libidinous ends. It was eroding male respect for women.

IN ALL these interviews a side of Anderson was emerging that the world heretofore may not have previously seen. Yes, she is a highly attractive woman, but she is especially super smart with iron-clad convictions and a gift for delivering a passionately held message to a wide audience. Many interviewers accused her of hypocrisy. You’re condemning porn after your many explicit photo shoots? But, she more than held her own as she argued she had every right to espouse her values as pornography became increasingly degenerate.

The image of the blond-haired bombshell known more for form over substance was being shattered and the serious activist, who was already a global animal rights campaigner, was continuing to emerge.

Particularly interesting was our joint lecture together at the Oxford Union. Arriving from New York, I had to spend Shabbat with my wife, Debbie, in London and could only leave to Oxford at sundown. A Saturday night lecture at Oxford is near death in terms of attracting an audience. I know because I served as rabbi there for 11 years and built the second largest student organization at the time, the Oxford University L’Chaim Society. No one speaker, however prominent, is going to win out against tens of pubs and thousands of pints. Therefore, I was gobsmacked when Anderson and I walked into the main debating chamber of the Oxford Union and found the place packed to capacity with a standing ovation.

I started the speech by saying, “It’s not easy for an author and media personality to appear alongside an international sex symbol to deliver a speech at Oxford. But, I have supreme confidence that Anderson will do just fine.” Ha ha, I got some laughs. Having broken the ice of the strange pairing of Oxford’s former rabbi-in-residence, Rabbi Shmuley, and Anderson, the evening got off to a great start.

Anderson, showing no hint of nervousness in speaking in front of the world’s foremost debating chamber, was articulate, compelling and won over the large audience, especially women, to her side. Her message was clear: you can be sexy without being exploited, you can be attractive without being degraded, you can be noticed without putting yourself in any position that is subordinate.

It was an unforgettable evening and Anderson was justifiably on a high after the event. For a woman who had been ogled her entire life for physical appearance, her ideas were being acknowledged for their power and conviction.

Many questions came up in our conversations. How did she feel about the publication of her sex tape with her ex-husband Tommy Lee? She was extremely upset, she told me. And she sounded it. She was shocked that someone would steal it. She meant it. There was no hint of irony. She still regretted its release.

Why had lasting happiness eluded her in marriage? Well, it did not always elude her. She had happy years and then did not. Later, she had married men that were not suited to her.

She was still searching for the one.

What was it like being a mother? The privilege of a lifetime, she said. Indeed, whenever we were together her children were on the phone with her constantly. What did she see in her future? To be a personality who would continue to impact society positively with her ideas and influence.

THIS LED to a full-length book which we co-authored together, Lust for Love. It aims to offer couples the elusive lasting romantic and erotic charge that so often fades in monogamous relationships.

Anderson and I both agreed that love was not enough in a happy marriage. There had to be lust, desire and an electric gravitation from one partner to the other that transcended mere feelings of warm companionship.

What made the book extremely powerful was the sheer honesty of experience and insight that Anderson brought to the project. I saw her courage in turning herself inside out as a deep-seated willingness to leverage her experience as an international symbol of male desire into advice for women to avoid superficial connections and relationships which might be satisfying in the short term but deeply disappointing in the long run.

Anderson and I did scores of interviews in all kinds of media, especially TV, about our ideas and the book. The interviews were fun, witty and substantive, and we made a good team. The book had a wide and global impact.

The night of Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, my wife and I joined Anderson as her guests at the PETA Inaugural Ball, held across from the White House at the Willard Hotel. I’m assuming that PETA arranged the ball in the certainty that Hillary Clinton would be the president, but the event was a blast nonetheless and showcased Anderson’s absolute dedication to veganism and animal rights, positions she holds with religious zeal.

This also led to an online debate between Anderson and me in competing columns, as she vehemently opposes all zoos as immoral while I... well, my children and grandchildren just enjoy them too much to make me unpopular with them by being in opposition.

Many statistics claim that about 70% of the Internet today is devoted to online porn, where men are becoming so bored with looking at a naked woman that each photo needs to be accompanied by hundreds of links to click other nude women (er... or so my friends tell me). In addition, I counsel countless marriages that are being ravaged today, not by infidelity or cheating, but by husbands who are addicted to porn and are not making love to their wives.

And perhaps this was the most shocking and revelatory story shared in our book Lust for Love by Anderson. That she was in bed one night, waiting for a man she loved to come up to the bedroom for intimacy. But even Anderson was not enough to get him off his computer and to stop looking at the hundreds of corrosive images that constitute internet porn. He chose the internet over her.

And if it could happen to Anderson, well, I’m assuming it could happen to anyone. After the launch of the book, Anderson began to spend much more time in Europe, while I, after 11 years in Oxford, live back in the US.

And I agree with The New York Times. We have to stop caricaturing famous women and learn from the deep wells of wisdom of their experience and insights.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post describes as “the most famous Rabbi in America,” served as Oprah Winfrey’s relationships expert on Oprah and Friends and is the international best-selling author of Kosher Sex, Kosher Lust, and The Kosher Sutra. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.