(originally posted 01/09 at wordpress)
by Blythe Pavlik Why is Playboy okay?I don’t get it. I don’t get why Playboy is still considered the “gentlemen’s” magazine or why it is exempt, in some groups, from critical critique. I don’t get it. I grew up in a house with Playboy magazines. The magazines were not securely hidden, as to send the message, if found, that there was something inherently evil or wrong about them. And when found, both my parents responded casually, as a team without alarm and without defense. It was the seventies and the moral issues of such a magazine were vastly different than they are today. At least in my eyes. I view the seventies as a time of release and genuine sexual expression in lieu of the repressed era of the 50’s. I am sure there are many aspects I am totally off base with... but, as a kid in that era and as a woman now, looking back - I simply remember women in softened tones, flirting with the camera. Breasts unevenly shaped and beautiful in their imperfection. Tufts of untamed pubic hair… women blending in with fields of daisies... Round hips… and on a conscious level, I didn't process what I saw as "bad." I remember my sister and I looking through the magazines as young girls out of pure curiosity. They were women’s bodies, naked. As I reminisce, I have a feeling of innocence about it. As strange as that may seem, the Playboy images I have in my memory from the 1970’s are soft, playful, unaltered and the bodies in the photos looked like the bodies in my daily life, the only difference being that they were naked. In 1980 I was incapable of making any sort of critique of Playboy, feminist or otherwise. I was five years old and obsessed with the musical Annie. But now at thirty-three, I find a jagged rock in my throat when reading news of eighty-two year old Hugh Hefner’s three girlfriends, all of whom are under the age of twenty-three. How can this be normalized? On the inarticulate surface, Playboy today is a magazine of plastic women. It is a magazine that promotes hyper ideals of heterosexual sex (accept of course for lesbian sex that serves a man or mens fantasies), youth, race (white/blonde), and intellect (or lack thereof). The women of the magazine have an orange hue, bleach blonde hair, breast implants, strategically shaved pubic hair and are, of course, airbrushed. That speaks to body image, but my biggest concern is identity and the portrayal of identity. In the era of normalized pornography, women have become experts at “playing” seductive. We have all seen these photos. We know them well. And many women are well-versed in how toperform as sexually aroused to either catch a man or keep a man. And we should be very concerned that such "skills" are commonly being taught to young men and women through sexualized media. The meta-view of current-day Playboy is that of spiritual, emotional and intellectual destruction. This is, of course, my viewpoint. After courses on “sex-positive” pornography and, more importantly, my own life experience, I have come to the personal conclusion that sexualized media distorts reality so much so, that women in 2009 still submit to men who abuse because the men have no idea how else to be intimate. It is my personal opinion that, as a culture, we are in denial of all the side effects of normalized pornography. Maybe there should be a new word coined for it, because I don’t think that all pornography is inherently evil. But I wonder about a culture that struggles to view sexual partners as equals (maybe this issue of equality within a relationship touches on why same-sex marriage is threatening to traditional views). I wonder about a culture that glorifies imbalance, dominance, and deviance. I wonder about a culture that blocks images of breastfeeding women from its webpages but permits sexualized images of underage girls. I wonder about a culture thats women suffer from high rates of depression and self-loathing and whose men are experiencing “erectile dysfunction” at (sociologically) alarming rates. I wonder about a culture in which celebrities go to parties at the Playboy mansion with no reflection on sexism and all the other “isms” that the Playboy empire promotes. Give me a break - how can we, in 2009, avoid discussing the "thinging" of women. Women are not objects or things, and by not discussing this, we are supporting the demoralization of women. In 1979, Playboy magazine seemed unalarming to me. I am sure some of my elder feminists would disagree. But in my childhood house, my parents tried to disarm negative attitudes about nudity by making nudity uninteresting and normal and Playboy was part of that learning process. Playboy was in many of our households growing-up, and how each of our parents chose to handle our finding of it also sent messages about sex and its relation to shame. In 2009, thirty years later, I feel that we are in a serious sexual decline. As a culture we have become disoriented and disconnected from substance and are promoting sexuality that is onlyskin deep. We are an airbrushed culture, embarrassed of the true aspects of who we are that make us unique and ultimately human. Why should the idea of “ugly” exist at all? If anything,ugly was created to instill insecruity in people so we would be tempted to buy into what ever "they" have to sell that could make us more attractive. And Playboy is a leader in this marketing plan. I have read pro-pornography viewpoints of Wendy McElroy and Susie Bright and consider myself sex-positive and a feminist but I don’t view harm as sexual or sex as harmful (unless it is). I don’t think sex has to have harmful attributes and I don’t believe harm has to play a role in sex to make it more interesting. I have been sexually harmed, like too many other women and I have been sexually respected by sincere, harmless people. At 33, I choose sincere and harmless sex. In my personal view, too many of us try to regulate the harm we have endured, sexually. It is not to say that women are sole victims. We are all victims of socialization. And this is not to force victim-hood on anyone. But I think symbols like Playboy express a sexual retardation of our culture. Playboy is not the only culprit; mainstream women’s and men’s magazines can be as harmful: Maxim, Cosmopolitan, Self… etc. All airbrushed, all sexist, all racist, all totally ridiculous as far as reality goes. For the sake of not turning this post into a book - I wont even get into the sexual retardation caused by televised media, like MTV. I am dismayed by news of Hugh Hefner’s newest 22 year old girlfriend. All I can really do is take a deep breath and hope people begin to ask questions about the over-sexed icon that is Hugh Hefner. All I can do is shake my head at the sorrow I feel for those people who buy into the myth that it is reasonable that the public is being marketed the idea of an 82 old man “dating” women (women not woman) 60 years his junior. As a culture, we are deeply disturbed by pedophilia, and yet we let the idea of an 82 year old man with three women under 23 pass as no big deal. I hope people get fed up with Hef and his playboy image enough to start talking about sex... real sex and how it has been distorted by capitalism and back lashes from oppression. We need accurate images in the media of both men and women as well as sex. … if parents today aren’t talking to their kids about sex… who is? MTV and Hugh Hefner?