Alexis Frulling: What Empowerment, Choice & Consequences Really Mean

In order to tell you this story, I first need to tell you what Stampede is (for our readers outside of Calgary, of which I know there are many).

The Calgary Stampede, billed as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, is a ten day, city encompassing exhibition and rodeo – a dizzying midway, every fried thing you can ever imagine, amazing concerts and fireworks, every night. Calgary embraces this spectacle wholeheartedly, wearing our usually-in-storage cowboy gear, eating free pancake breakfasts every day, and perfecting our understanding of the chuckwagon races. It’s fun, it’s frenetic, and it’s often a little hard to look away. Calgarians spend a good bit of time navel gazing about the entire thing, dissecting every aspect from whether the entire thing is sexist, to how to avoid cheating while Stampeding, to  this ad and it’s total disregard for diversity.

And smack dab in the middle of those ten days, a 20 year old Calgary woman named Alexis Frulling, and two men who she says she’d had sex with before, engaged in an outdoor, public threesome, which was subsequently filmed, and put on Reddit. The video is maybe ten seconds long, and I’ve only seen a still – a blurry outtake of what admittedly looks like no fun to me – a downtown alley way, a pair of guys in the usual Stampede uniform,  a woman bent at the waist, and vomit. (Yep.) (I’m going to let you Google that instead of linking to it, because there is a wealth of results to click through, to get a good, accurate picture of something that’s been reported to death at this point.)

Stampede is over, and yet, the incident continues to make the news in reaches as far away as Australia. The reviews are mixed, but one strong undercurrent to the discussion is this:

To criticize Alexis Frulling is to slut shame her, and is part of a wider dialogue that doesn’t allow women to take control of their sex lives, to enjoy sex, to make decisions about their bodies, and so on and so forth.

And let me say that I absolutely agree that that dialogue exists, and that it is problematic.

But there’s another problem here, one that has been gnawing at me for awhile. I was loathe to write about Frulling, to be honest. I didn’t really want to give her any more of the attention she’s been vying for since tagging herself in the initial posting of the video, especially because it seems that to talk about her in any negative way is to invite the pitchforks and torches of the slut shaming crowd. But I think there’s an important part of all of this that we’re missing.

So let me get this out of the way first:

I believe in a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, full stop. I believe that people should engage in any type of sex they want with other consenting and informed adults. I believe that women are  (or should be) empowered, sexual beings and that society hates it when we make that obvious. I believe that the overall conversation about women, sex,  and choice is really, really messed up, and that it needs to change.

But I also believe that if you go public with your sex life, you accept that people are going to talk about it. Now, one can (and Alexis has), argue that the choice of venue (an alley) meant that being caught was unlikely, and that those involved did not choose to be filmed, and then have that video put on Reddit. All true. However, afterwards, the three parties involved made distinct but equally valid choices: Frulling spoke up, tagging herself in the video, making a response video on YouTube, and taking interviews with the likes of Vice Magazine. The men essentially disappeared.

People were immediately up in arms about this. Why was no one mentioning the men?! Well, at first, people certainly did mention the men. The Reddit comments I read were equally critical and complimentary for all involved. After a time, though, Frulling stepped fully into the spotlight, put a flashing neon light on her head, and insisted that we all look at her. And so look we did. (And then people were accused of cyber bullying, a whole other topic unto itself.)

Listen, a wise person once said “You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choice.”  and that’s what we’ve been losing here in this and other discussions, ranging from Paris Hilton to Miley Cyrus. Yes, as empowered women, we get to choose. We get to own our sexuality, our bodies, our sex lives. We get to swing from chandeliers, hook up with entire football teams, use the morning after pill, whatever.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it. And if we choose to be public and open with these details (in whatever fashion that publicity comes about), we accept the possibility of criticism. Sometimes, that criticism will be harsh. When you’re really empowered, you don’t care. You’ve done your internal integrity check, confirmed that you are, indeed, okay with whatever you’ve done, and away you go. You accept any possible consequences – in the case of Frulling and her threesome partners, public sex is illegal, and an investigation is reportedly ongoing, and there have been rumors of Frulling losing her job, as well as her own public acknowledgement that she will likely struggle to get a job now – and most importantly, you don’t lash out at those who disagree with you. A person who disagrees with you is not jealous, or ugly, or a prude. They just might have done their own internal assessment of what’s going on, and decided that it doesn’t resonate with their integrity.

This is a really important part of the conversation we need to have with women who are around Frulling’s age (and men, too! but I’m focused on women for right now). A big part of being empowered, a big part of making choices, is considering the possible consequences, and deciding if they are ones that you are willing to live with. If you get a tattoo on your forehead, and you can’t get a job, you don’t get to be upset that no one will hire you. You should have considered that possible consequence before you got your tattoo. Being informed is a form of empowerment all of its own.

And yes, the consequences are heavily weighted towards shaming women for being sexual creatures. I get that. And I hope we can change that. But I don’t think Alexis Frulling is going to be our poster girl for that change. Most of the women I talk to really don’t want her to be our spokesperson for empowered sexual liberation. It seems like in the  mad rush to lift Frulling up as our new mascot for sexual choice, too many folks have been willing to overlook some glaring inconsistencies.

Alexis Frulling may have staked her claim as the “Trampede”, turned her personal Facebook page into a fan page, amassed 26000 followers on Instagram and booked some strip club appearances, and yet, we aren’t allowed to say something that many of us are thinking: posting photos of your cleavage and backside on Instagram, sucking a cucumber off on video while obviously intoxicated, and telling an online magazine interviewer that you’re going to start doing online sex tutorials feels like the opposite of empowerment. It feels like pandering, like some kind of desperate appeal to the lowest common denominator. She appears to be responding by one upping the assertions of her sluttiness by acting even more slutty. Before July 5th, Alexis appeared to have no particular aims for sex industry stardom. Embracing them now doesn’t feel empowered, it feels like a last resort. It’s a “well, what else am I gonna do?” shrug of the shoulders, that leaves everyone wondering who is giving this woman advice and as mothers ourselves, wondering where her mother is, and what she feels about all of it.

I’m sure this, like everything else that goes viral these days, will quickly fade into obscurity, and then what? What happens to Frulling then? It’s my honest hope that she doesn’t manage to parlay this mess into a budding sex career, not because I want to see her fail, but because I don’t think that’s what she actually wants. But there was a small window she had in which to exit gracefully and now it is gone. Where before a quick Google search would bring up only one blurry grainy outtake photo, now it returns 86000 results – an permanent legacy to what likely started out as a great, fun, and frivolous idea, and turned into a hurricane.

Stephanie Ostermann

I’m the sort of girl who you meet for coffee and end up pouring your entire heart out to. The friend you come to when you need someone to call it straight. No bullshit. No extras. Just truth.

I’m a communicator. That’s a PC way of saying I like to talk, but I also spend a lot of my time listening, and over the years, I’ve developed a sense for subtext – how one or two words can change your entire message, what people are really trying to say and how to weave the varied layers of your story into one cohesive brand message that your clients fall in love with.

When I'm not acting as editor in chief for Vivid & Brave, you can find me geeking out over words here.

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