author – activist – faculty – mom
Sooo….Playboy has decided no longer to have nude photos of women in their magazine. According to Salon,
“Playboy chief executive Scott Flanders explained that, essentially, the magazine founded by Hugh Hefner did such a good job making images of nude women acceptable, it’s no longer in any way taboo, illicit or even necessary to the brand. ‘That battle has been fought and won,’ Flanders told the Times. ‘You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.’
So Playboy is suggesting that they are responsible for the great era of “sexual freedom” that we currently live in? Have they never hear of the women’s movement? Al Jazeera quotes Flanders as also saying:
“The political and sexual climate of 1953 [when Playboy was founded] … bears almost no resemblance to today…We are more free to express ourselves politically, sexually and culturally today, and that’s in large part thanks to Hef’s heroic mission to expand those freedoms.”
Have they never hear of the Free Speech Movement? The culture wars? And as far as the battles for freedom being fought and won, I’m not sure what freedoms they’re referring to…Oh, right..men’s sexual freedom in a heteronormative world. What about gay men? What about queer women? Is Hef going to take credit for gay marriage, too?
As for heterosexual women, I’m not convinced. Currently, the sexual double standard is still going strong, not to mention women still being expected to be responsible for protection from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and being the ones whose reproductive health care is systematically attacked. In this context, Hefner/Playboy’s self-aggrandizing vision of themselves as heroes of the sexual revolution seems limited and self-seeking. Amanda Hess said it well when she explained in Slate how irrelevant Hefner has become: “The retro chic image of the Playboy playboy rocking a smoking jacket in a conversation pit has been replaced with that of a geriatric Hugh Hefner bumbling around his mansion.”
Part of the rebrand, also seems to include some pathetic attempts at faux feminism, perhaps even attracting younger female readers. Rachel Kramer Bussel explores that angle in Salon: “We have had feminist writers forever; we’re extremely pro-women,” spokesmen for Playboy said, although they “declined to describe the brand as feminist in an interview.” One of Playboy’s plans is to have a “sex positive” and “enthusiastic” woman to write a sexual advice column for their new version of the magazine that will have women who are clothed but in “provocative” poses. Apparently, Playboy’s new brand is about showing the usual type of mute woman–likely airbrushed and surgically altered–looking “provocative” while some other woman who writes well is the disembodied mouthpiece of sexual “enthusiasm.” I suspect they want her to be particularly enthusiastic about whatever men want in bed. For your information, Hef, has nothing to do with what sex positivity is about for women. True sex positivity is not about being yes-women to what men demand, it’s ultimately about women taking charge of saying yes and no in the service of constructing a sex life that feels good for our own bodies. This is in direct contrast to the post-sexual revolution prescription for us to construct our sexuality in service of men’s sexual and emotional needs feelings.
Men, I get it. You’ve been conditioned to seek sex as the only form of closeness available. And you’ve also been conditioned to feel ashamed of your sexual feelings. So many men feel simultaneously obsessed by and bad about their sexuality. Thus, they have an endless need for women to feign excitement for the desires they feel ashamed about. And an endless of array of media is available to indulge those intense, conflicting desires. And to reinforce the idea that women all over the world are here to make you feel better. But that’s actually not our purpose here on earth. Men deserve authentic healing for their traumatic sexual socialization, but getting “enough” sex or “the right” sex isn’t going to provide that healing. In other words, sexual comforting isn’t the kind of comforting that can uproot trauma. Men’s sexual conditioning is traumatic, but our culture doesn’t frame it that way. As I’ve written about in The Good Men Project, the violence of the sexual double standard against men is to deny them the ability to accurately name their experiences of sexual complexity. If every experience of sex makes you a winner and every moment you’re not having sex makes you a loser, it erases all experiences of uncertainty and trauma, and shames men for acknowledging any vulnerability.
And speaking of trauma and vulnerability, in the context of widespread sexual violence against women, authentic sex positivity also includes thinking about how women rebuild their sense of sexual desire and joy after sexual violence. A key area is how we can create space to push beyond the internalization of sexual fear and shame and sink into a place of sexual desire. Most women encounter challenges in this area at some point in our lives, and we need partners who have an emotional capacity for empathy and support. Playboy nurtures the opposite, a sort of male sexual narcissism. All in the context of one stop shop of sexism that caters to men who want to objectify women alongside their middle class pretense of sophistication. The Playboy brand is all about reinforcing male power and creating an intellectual conversation that women can’t enter as equals. The corollary advice that will accompany such a sexually narcissitc culture would skew toward men getting off and women pretending to get off on whatever a man likes. It has little room for the complexities of real women. Our actual bodies, our actual feelings, and our actual desires.
And in such a context, any real sex positive advice will be extremely limited. Like sometimes the biggest turn on would be a guy cleaning the house, going to our indie music performance, engaging more with the kids, or listening empathically to how we’re doing. Some women are turned on by men who can think about them holistically and not just about getting access to their ladyparts. There’s also the old tried and true emotional intimacy thing that turns a lot of women on, not to mention the time tested hotness inducing trick about a guy noticing or even being willing to hear about his partner’s experience inequalities and male domination in relationships.
But I doubt Playboy wants to hear about that. For their typical reader, that could be a real “boner killer.” So Playboy is attempting to co-opt women’s “sex positivity” as being positive and enthusiastic about men getting to have the sex they want with whoever they want, however they want.
And of course they will find a woman to write such a column, because in the current context of limited opportunities for women writers and rampant sexism, some woman will be willing to lower herself to play that role because in a male dominated society where sexist institutions hold so much power, we all need to make compromises, and we’ve all been trained to feel special when we get invited into the boys’ club, even if they’re fully dressed while we’re dressed in skimpy rodent suits. It’s not your rampant misogyny that disgusts me, as much as your hypocrisy, pretense, and smug self-congratulation. I write about sex work and sex workers. It’s gritty, messy, and about real bodies and real lives. It’s about class and making a living with your body. It’s work, and mostly women’s work. In the world I write about, everyone ages, not just the playboy in the center, who wrinkles and hunches as the interchangeable cast of twenty-something, busty, skinny blondes keeps hitting refresh.
But there’s good news, too. Penthouse executive editor called Playboy’s rebrand a “desperate gamble.” Sooo, Playboy, I hope you fail miserably. And here’s a puffy little piece of cotton to put on your ass in case the door hits you on the way out.