Mrs. Feelgood

Executive editor Skip Hollandsworth on getting Burleson's Joanne Webb to talk about her sex-toy business.

texasmonthly.com: When did you know that you would be writing this story for the magazine?

Skip Hollandsworth: I had read many newspaper accounts of Joanne Webb’s arrest in Burleson for selling sex toys. I was very interested in what Joanne had to say, of course, but what equally intrigued me was her nemesis, the woman whom Joanne believed was trying to push her out of town. Her name was Shanda Perkins, and she was the daughter of the town’s most prominent pastor, who happened to be a woman herself: Gloria Gillaspie. I thought it was enormously interesting that a woman was the head of a theologically conservative church in Bible Belt Texas, which seldom happens. I kept thinking that there was a much bigger story here than what was making the newspapers. “Was what was happening in Burleson,” I thought, “a larger cultural battle about American women and what they want?”

texasmonthly.com: How did you get Joanne Webb to talk about her sex-toy business?

SH: Joanne has always been available to talk about her business and her arrest. So I had no problem getting an interview with her. It was Shanda who refused to speak to the press. As a magazine piece, the story was not going to work unless Shanda and her mother talked. What I did was write them a letter and honestly tell them that for all the attention given to Joanne Webb and her battle to change the state’s laws about sexually oriented businesses, I wanted to write as well about Gloria’s and Shanda’s battle to keep Burleson an intently conservative, Christian suburb, which it always has been. The truth is that there are more women in this state like Gloria and Shanda than there are women like Joanne, and sometimes journalists don’t take the time to listen to those women. So I basically wrote them that I wanted to do a story that seriously explained Gloria’s and Shanda’s beliefs about why Joanne’s business was not right for Burleson. And they agreed to talk. I found them utterly delightful, personable women who were not defensive or angry. They were simply not going to be swayed from their belief about what the Bible teaches women about how to live.

texasmonthly.com: Was Joanne what you were expecting? Why or why not?

SH: To be honest, before meeting Joanne, I had that basic male bias about what Joanne would be like. Because she wore such short skirts and tight tops, I assumed she would be coquettish or flirtatious or perhaps not as serious as other women who don’t dress that way. But she was very thoughtful and well spoken when talking about her life and the controversy over her arrest. She made excellent points about her desire to help women get more in touch with their bodies, and she did it in a way that didn’t make her look like one of those two-bit sexual therapists who you sometimes see on HBO’s Real Sex show. She talked and acted like a very normal housewife and stay-at-home mom in most ways, and she still seemed to be a very grounded Christian. As you’ll learn in the story, she was a devout Southern Baptist for many, many years. She simply has no qualms, as she likes to say, about being both spiritual and sensual. She says there is nothing un-Christian about her love of skimpy clothing (which she says she wears for her husband’s pleasure) and her desire to sell sex toys at in-home parties to help other women.

texasmonthly.com: Were the people you interviewed for this story comfortable talking about sex? Did you have to change the way you approached people?

SH: I thought what was most interesting was that Shanda and her mother, Gloria, were not uncomfortable when I sat down and talked to them about their feelings regarding sex. They gave me very clear answers about what the Bible says about sex and about the joy of sex between married couples who are bound together by God’s love. With that kind of sex, they argue, there is no need for plastic sex toys. They make the argument that sexual toys actually prevent intimacy between a man and a woman. Whether you agree or disagree with them, it is

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