Why the 'Girls Gone Wild' Bankruptcy is Bad For Women

Many women's rights advocates saw Thursday's announcement that Girls Gone Wild was forced to file for bankruptcy as a feminist miracle. Seeing a franchise whose whole sophomoric business model consists of taking advantage of intoxicated female college students come crashing down brought joy to Twitter and Facebook.

According to a statement issued by the company to the Associated Press, GGW owes a total of $16.3 million in debt, while only holding $50,000 in assets. Could this mean the end of the tacky spring break soft porn genre as we know it? Does this mean no woman will never again have to hear the words “WET T-SHIRT CONTEST!!!” being howled in public ever again?

Sorry to rain on your female empowerment parade, but Girls Gone Wild's recent move actually means very little. In fact, it may end up doing more harm than good.

Firstly, Girls Gone Wild’s latest move will do little in terms of limiting their operations. As their statement explains:

"Girls Gone Wild remains strong as a company and strong financially […] This Chapter 11 filing will not affect any of Girls Gone Wild’s domestic or international operations […] Just like American Airlines and General Motors, it will be business as usual for Girls Gone Wild.”

Although I’m not sure comparing Girls Gone Wild to a company like General Motors is ever appropriate, the Chapter 11 bankruptcy GGW filed is essentially a restructuring process that businesses go into when they become insolvent. According to legal expert Debra Dandeneau at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, “unlike a Chapter 7, where the company winds down and liquidates, under Chapter 11, the business continues operations as a 'debtor in possession,' which basically means that they can look for financing and loans from other lenders on more favorable terms by giving them priority on future earnings.“ In other words, don’t expect to see those creepy late night infomercials to disappear anytime soon.

Secondly, the franchise is filing for bankruptcy to make their lives easier.

According to the company:

"The only reason Girls Gone Wild has elected to file for this reorganization is to re-structure its frivolous and burdensome legal affairs." 

What are these “frivolous” affairs? One of them is a $10.3 million debt to casino owner and business magnate Steve Wynn. If you want to call owing several millions to a notorious casino mogul a “frivolous affair,” I guess that’s your prerogative. The rest of their debt, however, is far from peripheral. It is owed to a Tamara Favazza, a woman who sued the company in 2008 after a member of the Girls Gone Wild crew exposed her breasts without her consent while filming in a bar in St. Louis. The footage was used for “Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy 2” (just typing that title literally made me gag) in which you can see Favazza’s top being lifted without her authority or permission.

At first, the jury had claimed that Favazza had offered “implied consent” (whatever the fig that means) to expose her breasts because she was dancing in front of the camera. The footage shows her tank top being lifted while she mouthed the word “no” (because nothing says consent like actually uttering an objection). She told the Daily Mail, "I was having fun until my top was pulled off. And now this thing is out there for the world to see forever." After she was given a re-trial, she was awarded with $5.8 million in damages.

So what does Girls Gone Wild’s bankruptcy means for Lavazza and the women who wish to sue the company? 

Legal expert Christopher Lewarne from Weil is skeptical:

“The plan can take a few months or a few years, depending on the size and complexity of the case. Women with pending litigation against GGW will have to assert their claims in the chapter 11 case, and those who have already received judgments will have to wait to get paid until a plan is developed for all creditors. This may take a few years, and, as unsecured creditors, the level of their recovery is likely uncertain. Many won’t see the day in court they were looking for, or get a paid their full share.”

In brief, although Girls Gone Wild’s financial perils may at first glance seem like a feminist victory, there is little to celebrate. Women such as Lavazza might not receive their full compensation for the irreparable harm they have suffered.  Moreover, the company’s newly acquired status may also make it more difficult for other women who want to sue the company for damages in the future. Their cases may be delayed, and their compensation may also be reduced because Girls Gone Wild are now unsecured creditors. 

It looks like a multi-million entertainment franchise profiting off young college women’s bare breasts may still be around for a while, and the women whose bare breasts they profited from may not be fairly compensated. I certainly will not be raising my Rosie the Riveter shot glass to that.

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Elizabeth Plank

Elizabeth is a Senior Correspondent at Mic and the host of Flip the Script.

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