CAKE NYC: Reshaping Perceptions of Women's Sexuality

By Laura Barcella
Photos by Matthew Kramer

Childhood friends Melinda Gallagher, 28, and Emily Kramer, 23, may look like your typical New York twenty-somethings: stylish, attractive, and appropriately hip. But with CAKE NYC, their multi-platform women’s sexuality empire, Melinda and Emily are, in fact, single-handedly leading their very own sexual revolution. These intensely smart and dedicated feminists have built a grassroots business from the ground up, stemming from a far-reaching but straightforward dream: to make the world a more welcoming place for women to express themselves—in the bedroom, in the boardroom, and in the strip club.

CAKE is a multi-faceted and many-layered project devoted entirely to promoting healthy views of women’s sexuality. Although it has run just one print advertisement, CAKE’s monthly events draw an average of 700 attendees. A slick, multimedia enterprise (,) with zero funding and a staff of three, CAKE relies on the support of like-minded friends and members to help cover its expenses and finance its parties. Only women may apply to become CAKE members—and not everyone’s application gets approved. Only those who genuinely seem to support Cake’s mission gain entrée to the community. If her application is approved, a new member pays a one-time fee of $50, which gets her into CAKE NYC parties and events free.

Right now, CAKE is a localized New York City endeavor, but there are plans to open CAKE branches in cities across America—San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas will be among the first.

Over drinks last April, I encouraged founders Melinda and Emily to flesh out the theories, feelings, and inspirations behind CAKE, and their hopes that women across the country will be the better for it. Read on—at least here, you can have this CAKE and eat it, too.

Q: When did you first realize the world needed CAKE?

Melinda Gallagher: All my life! I went to NYU to get my master’s degree in human sexuality because I felt like something was missing. I worked in reproductive rights, which fulfilled a lot of my personal [and] political needs, but it really struck me that American society is extremely conservative when it comes to female sexuality. A lot of feminist thought was [devoted to] the idea that women’s sexuality has to be in private—that makes it easy to control. If it’s out in public, it’s much more amorphous and it becomes more threatening. It became my mission to get [female sexuality] out there in a way that has not been done before.

Emily Kramer: I think [CAKE is] a door opener to a lot of stuff that hasn’t been talked about in public before. Women’s [responses to CAKE] have been overwhelmingly positive.

Q: Once you had the idea for CAKE, what were your first steps toward making it happen?

EK: Melinda wrote out a ten-page document of all the possibilities for what Cake could be—how it fits into people’s personal lives, how it fits into mainstream media, different topics we could talk about. Then we were like, “Okay, let’s get started!” We put up a couple of pages on a website. We started a small e-list and we began writing CAKE.BYTE, a weekly sex-related tidbit. And then we had our first CAKE party in July [2000].

MG: We [thought], women should have this website, they should have these weekly e-mails, but we need them to get together in a physical space. So we decided to have a [pornography party], because the pornography thing is this big black hole. What is it, who watches it, and what do people like about it? We thought it would be a cool idea to invite some of our friends, have a [porn] screening, and then talk about it. That idea became CLUB.CAKE. Two weeks before the party, Emily and I rented 50 porn videos. We took clips from a huge array of pornography and edited them together to make female-friendly porn. The objective was to put this in front of the people at the party and get feedback from them.

EK: Everything we do is to question people’s assumptions. Like, oh, you want to talk about porn? Then let’s surround ourselves in a room full of porn. Or if you want to talk about stripping, then get up on the stage and see what you think about it. Are you feeling objectified, or could it be powerful?

Q: What sort of message do you feel our culture sends to women about their sexuality?

EK: That sexuality is about men’s perception of you. That your sexuality is to satisfy—

MG: —another, usually a man.

EK: Which, to me, is the most destructive idea for understanding your own sexuality.

MG: It’s disempowering. I’ve been in a relationship for 10 years, and it is about the interaction that I have with my partner, but it is not only about that. And I don’t feel like anybody actively addresses that.

Q: Do you consider CAKE a feminist venture?

MG: Absolutely.

EK: We’re both die-hard feminists. We use the word with pride. We understand the complications of the word, the social implications, the history.

MG: We run into feminists who say, “You’re pro-sex and pro-porn. Porn is inherently degrading to women. It’s exploitative, and you can’t be feminists and [think] porn is a good thing.” We’ve gotten into many, many discussions about that, and we’ve grappled with it ourselves. But we truly believe that if you’re going to help women change the world, you have to get in there and explore it—and you have to really get at the causes of things as opposed to just talking about the symptoms. Pornography and the [misogynistic] way it’s presented are not because men are evil or because sex is bad. It’s because there is a power [imbalance] in our society that you can trace through everything—through economics, marriage, family.

Q: Have your views about women’s sexuality changed since starting CAKE?

MG: Not the base, but my personal experience [has changed]. It makes my sexuality truly about who I am. Not about the image that I’m trying to replicate, not about needing to be X, Y, and Z in order to be orgasmic or sexual. It’s allowed me to get into the real inner core of what makes me feel sexy and what doesn’t make me feel sexy. It’s just been really good.

EK: I’m really enjoying this time of sexual exploration, of freedom. I feel like I am making my own judgments about my [sexuality]. I know the standards that are out there about female sexuality aren’t right.

MG: The community of women that we’re dealing with really understands that we’re putting this out there [for them to] experience and then tell us what [they] think. They feel like they’re part of the next thing. That’s always been the intention.

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