Female Disruptors: Author Charlotte Laws on Feminism, Animal Activism, and Shaking Up the World with her New Book
…It also bothers me that males in movies are almost always the instigators of relationships. Boy chases girl. This is sexist and makes women seem weak. It is unusual for a female lead to pursue the man and get him. This is why “Down with Love” and “Love in the Afternoon” are two of my favorite movies. In both, females pursue the love interest and prevail. This parallels my own life. I was never willing to play the romance game that casts men as hunters and women as prey. In fact, I invented the three-step persistence plan, as discussed in my book, to combat that mindset, to help assertive people who want to follow their heart rather than society’s outmoded and misogynistic rules.
Charlotte Laws is a TV star, former politician, and internationally-renowned women’s rights activist, often called the “Erin Brockovich of revenge porn” for taking down “the most hated man on the Internet” who was hacking nude photos and posting them online. Charlotte is also a vegan, known for her dedication to the animal rights cause and to the LGBTQ community. Her memoir, Undercover Debutante: The Search for My Birth Parents and a Bald Husband (Stroud House, 2019), is a bestseller and won a Publisher’s Weekly award. I am delighted to have this opportunity to interview Charlotte about her life and the book.
Welcome, Charlotte. Your life is fascinating. It seems like you’ve done just about everything from working as a bodyguard for a prostitute to lecturing at the FBI Academy. You’ve been a cab driver, a standup comic, the president of a legal corporation, a private investigator, an Emmy-nominated TV personality, and a politician. You were even a stripper.
Charlotte: I was a conservative stripper (laughter). In fact, I was constantly reprimanded by the club owner for wearing thick tights and a one-piece leotard. I looked like an ad for kiddie ballet.
Yes (laughter). And you were stalked by strip club customer one night, an alarming situation that turned into a high speed chase.
Charlotte: Unfortunately, it’s the only time I got to be Bruce Willis (laughter).
It seems like you’ve been Bruce Willis on a number of occasions. You’ve survived some scary situations. A rapist tried to strangle you, an attempted murderer showed up at your house while fleeing the cops, and a gunman broke down your front door in the middle of the night. Did you learn anything from these brushes with death?
Charlotte: I learned that I rely on my brain to finagle out of dangerous situations. I am five feet tall so I can’t count on physical strength. My only hope is my brain. But I don’t mean intelligence. In fact, I’ve always felt intellectually inadequate. What I’m talking about is “smart talent.” That’s the name I gave it as a child. Smart talent is the ability to see outside the box, to come up with unusual solutions, to dodge the rule book. I tried to outsmart those criminals. I used psychological warfare against them. Smart talent also came in handy when working as a private eye and sneaking past Secret Service to interview the president. It helped me evade security so I could meet Tom Jones and begin a relationship with him. It made it possible for me to track down my birth family. Smart talent even helped me contrive a scheme to get my commitment-phobic boyfriend to marry me. We’ve been together now for 25 years.
Those are provocative topics which are linked with fascinating stories in your book, and I wish I had time to delve into each of them. But I’d like to focus on one very dangerous situation. It was dangerous because it was illegal. You could have been arrested, possibly even prosecuted as a terrorist.
Charlotte: You are referring to the infamous pigeon heist (laughter). Law enforcement had locked pigeons in a building to starve, suffer, and die. In fact, they’d intentionally killed over 200 animals with lethal injections at this very location. They boarded up the windows, padlocked the doors, and made it clear that anyone who went inside would be arrested. As animal advocates, a group of us felt it was our duty to save the pigeons, so we planned a midnight rescue. None of my accomplices had ever before committed a crime. An elderly lawyer did the actual break-in. A UCLA professor drove the getaway car. Other conspirators included a city councilmember, a deputy from the mayor’s office, two lawyers from the city attorney’s office, and a famous newspaper reporter. There were so many bigwigs involved with this heist; it would have sent shockwaves if we’d been caught.
The interesting thing is… our crime was possibly more than a crime. It was a potentially a terrorist act due to an absurd federal law called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which can turn infractions into domestic terrorism. This law (which needs to be abolished) was passed to protect corporations that torture and kill animals; and it essentially states that if you commit an illegal act against a so-called “animal enterprise,” you can be prosecuted as a domestic terrorist. We were unsure whether our crime qualified under the definition, but we were certain law enforcement had a lot of discretion. Suffice to say, the caper was a success. We saved the pigeons and never got caught.
It’s a riveting story. You seem to be a risk-taker and adrenaline junkie.
Charlotte: I’m not really. I’m pretty cautious and normally don’t do things that could land me in trouble. For example, I’ve never had a glass of alcohol or tried illegal drugs, including pot. I’ve never wanted to risk addiction or being out of control.
It’s true I’ve gate crashed political fundraisers and award shows, and there’s definitely some adrenaline in that, especially when security is tough or it’s the Secret Service. But hey, what’s the worst that could happen? They’re not going to throw a party crasher in prison. With the pigeon caper, public sentiment would have been with us if we’d been caught so I figured the risk was minimal.
You clearly have compassion for victims: human and animal.
Charlotte: Yes. I’m against all forms of prejudice, including speciesism. Since childhood, I’ve fought for those who oppressed, silenced, marginalized, and forgotten. Maybe back then it had something to do with feeling like an outcast myself. I didn’t fit into the wealthy, debutante society of Atlanta where I was raised. Plus, I had a bleak home life. My adoptive mother committed suicide, my adopted brother was killed in a car wreck at 16, and my adoptive dad was verbally abusive. I felt trapped. I felt invisible. I wanted to escape.
Your childhood tragedies are heartbreaking. What does your adoptive dad think about you baring all in your memoir?
Charlotte: I doubt he’ll ever pick up the book. He’s 93 years old and has never read any of my books, including my first one over 30 years ago. This memoir details how I tracked down my birth family. This is a topic he has no interest in. He’s told me all my life that the adoption records were destroyed and that I could never meet my genetic family. He doesn’t want to know about it. He’s good at evading that which he wants to evade. He lives in his own bubble.
If he hasn’t read your book, does he know about your adventures, such as working at a strip club?
Charlotte: I’m starting to think you’re obsessed with strip clubs! (laughter) To answer your question: no.
I’m not obsessed with strip clubs. I promise. But there is a paradox I’d like to explore. You’re known as a feminist and are even listed by Buzzfeed as one of “the 30 most badass women in the world,” so do you think it was wrong for you to work at a place that demeans women?
Charlotte: No. There are male strippers as well, such as at Chippendales. Some people, both male and female, choose to be in the sex industry (or even in the beauty pageant world, which gets the same criticism). And many of these people actually like the work. They don’t view it as demeaning. I know a prostitute who is empowered by her job. Many people, however, condemn her. They lecture her about being complicit in a misogynistic profession, but she doesn’t see it this way. They take away some of her joy, as she puts it.
Society often tries to dictate personal behavior and personal choices even when an activity hurts no one. Society condemns those who don’t conform to its moral code. It wants to label them immoral or mentally ill or inferior. I don’t subscribe to this view and think people should be strong in their choices and do what makes them happy (as long as they don’t hurt others), even if their choices deviate from societal norms.
Where I see blatant sexism is in the movies. Women are frequently written as bitches and as overly-emotional. And they are usually given a “character arc.” This means a character starts out flawed and then comes to some kind of realization and changes for the better. But male leads are often written as perfect, as heroes, from start to finish. They are given only one flaw, which is not really a flaw. They are so dedicated to saving the world that they simply don’t have time for their family. This is not really a flaw, of course. Saving the world is obviously more important than playing ball with your kids. There are plenty of examples and yes, Bruce Willis is one. There are many tough-guy-hero examples: from Liam Neeson to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Women are rarely cast as heroes.
It also bothers me that males in movies are almost always the instigators of relationships. Boy chases girl. This is sexist and makes women seem weak. It is unusual for a female lead to pursue the man and get him. This is why “Down with Love” and “Love in the Afternoon” are two of my favorite movies. In both, females pursue the love interest and prevail. This parallels my own life. I was never willing to play the romance game that casts men as hunters and women as prey. In fact, I invented the three-step persistence plan, as discussed in my book, to combat that mindset, to help assertive people who want to follow their heart rather than society’s outmoded and misogynistic rules.
By the way, Hollywood is in the process of making a movie about my fight against revenge porn. Before the current producers got involved, I was approached by several people in the entertainment industry who told me that my story couldn’t be a feature film because I’m a woman. Features are about men, they told me. They said part of the reason has to do with the foreign market which frowns on strong female leads. They told me that movies about women are supposed to be on TV, specifically “on Lifetime, the woman’s channel.” They also said that my character would need a character arc because “no one wants to see a strong woman from start to finish.” They said I need to be a housewife who springs into action. Housewife? I barely know how to cook a meal or clean a toilet!
Wow. I didn’t realize some people still think this way! I wish we had time to explore this further, but unfortunately, we’re out of time. Thank you for talking with me today and good luck with your book and movie.
Kris Kelly is the founder and president of the Kris Kelly Foundation, which rescues animals from local shelters and finds them forever loving homes. She is also an actress, Director of Animal Welfare (DAW) for Pacific Palisades/Beverly Hills, and an animal activist. She resides in Los Angeles with her furry friends and is working on her memoir about her journey from the lights of Hollywood to the heights of giving back.