People: The 'Men of St. James Tavern' strip down for women's abortion rights
For decades, magazines, movies and other media have featured women stripping down for the entertainment of men. But St. James Tavern owner Michelle Hill is casting men in the objectified role with a new 2017 calendar, "Men of St. James Tavern." And with proceeds benefiting non-profit Ohio abortion fund Women Have Options (WHO/O), the St. James' guys are stripping down for the empowerment of women.
Conceived as a joke about 10 years ago, the calendar idea returned to Hill's mind following the recent presidential election.
"I feel like a lot of people were depressed, a lot of people were angry and I'm like, 'What can we do that's positive?'" Hill said in a late-December interview at the bar.
She selected WHO/O, a founding member of the National Network of Abortion Funds, based on her lengthy relationship with the organization, which distributes funds to clinics to help patients afford contraception, emergency contraception and abortion services. St. James Tavern has previously raised money for WHO/O by participating in the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon and hosting happy hours to collect donations from patrons.
"This bar has always been a safe space for people to chat about women's reproductive health issues," said WHO/O Executive Director Stephanie Craddock Sherwood, who partnered with Hill to create the calendar.
Finding the 12 models was easy; Hill quickly lined up staff, customers and friends strongly affiliated with the bar.
"All of these different men … I've known in various forms and for so long," Hill said. "A lot of them have supported me in different stages of my life in many ways. One of the guys was kicking guys out of bars who were trying to buy me drinks and harass me [in my 20s]."
"I said, 'I'm in,' immediately," said Mr. April - bartender Andy Scheinbach. "Because I believe in this [cause] whole-heartedly and … I believe in Michelle whole-heartedly."
While Scheinbach, pictured with an unbuttoned shirt, opted for a modest calendar photo, several men went shirtless. Mr. February is lounging on a pool table in his underwear and Mr. August is leaning against a pinball machine, wearing nothing but a baseball cap, boots and a healthy dose of self-confidence.
Many were "really willing to take their clothes off quickly, especially after I started pouring the booze," said Hill, who described the calendar as sexy, funny and playful.
Drawing on her background in photojournalism, Craddock Sherwood, along with Mark Koenig, shot the 12 men in under three hours at the bar. Craddock Sherwood also designed the layout.
Finding a printer was more challenging. Both an online, out-of-state company and a local company refused to print the calendar due to "content" issues.
"I'm like, 'What? It's side butt and then a guy in his underwear,'" Hill said, referring to the photos of Mr. August and Mr. February. "That would go on network television."
"We were wondering if it was other content," Craddock Sherwood said, referring to the pro-choice-related cause.
The ladies eventually found success with Columbus-based Citicom Print. The calendars were completed in late December and are now available for $20 each at St. James Tavern or online at womenhaveoptions.org. There will also be a release party and WHO/O fundraiser at the bar on Thursday, Dec. 29.
"For $5 you can get your favorite hunk to sign his month for you," Hill said.
With 70 pre-orders placed ahead of the shipment of 150, the calendars appear to be a hit. Speaking of the women in need of organizations like WHO/O, Hill's eyes watered and her voice broke. She's still moved by tales she's heard from clinic workers.
"This one woman told a story about how many times she's seen women who are dumping their purses out and … counting change," Hill said.
"It's a procedure that so many will get but it's not treated like medical care as far as payment. It's not covered by insurance [and] it's not covered by Medicaid," Craddock Sherwood said. "There are women that are homeless, there are women who are trying to leave their abusive partners and people who can't talk at all to their families or get any financial help. So that $550 - that's the cheapest that an abortion can be - is more than some women live on in their entire month. … And most of these women are mothers already, so it's coming straight out of their kids' mouths."
And new Ohio legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy is just another barrier that disproportionately affects poor women, Craddock Sherwood said. "We need to figure out ways to help fund women who have to go out of state for their post-20-week abortion," she said. "So thankfully we're small and nimble and our funding is flexible because it's mostly coming from individual donors."
Hill realizes that taking a pro-choice stance as a business might be a liability, but she hasn't received any complaints. "I've never hid my politics here," she said. "Not everyone runs their business that way. … But to me it's the only way that you can truly build a genuine, authentic community."
"Men of St. James Tavern" release party
6 p.m. Thursday,
St. James Tavern
1057 N. Fourth St.,