My Love of Playboy Might Have Messed Up My Young Feminist Mojo

I've discussed this briefly on this blog before, but I have a different spin on it this time, ya know. I was a straight girl that looked at my dad’s Playboy’s back in the day. Why? Well, why not? I, in my adolescent horniness, was interested in seeing anything that had to do with sex and that was available. Yeah, it was mostly naked ladies, but it was good enough. Plus Playboy has those cartoons which are rarely funny, often don’t make any sense at all, are clearly aimed towards men over 50, living in the 50’s…but sometimes they had a penis in them, or two people having sex, and that was cool. Better yet, Playboy would have short stories, and sometimes they would be super dirty and hot. Those, my friends, were the real treasure, but I digress.

My point is…well, I don’t know…I used to really enjoy Playboys I guess. I would say it was an influential piece of my sexual upbringing. Cause really, I would venture to say that anything you got all hot and bothered about during the time in your life when you were just starting to notice that kind of thing, is inevitably going to help shape your tastes and feelings about sexuality. It’s just so raw and new and exciting at that time in your life. 

So, obviously the interesting part about this influential, pubescent grinding material I enjoyed is that its main sexual offering is sexy naked women. I’m a straight female, so it’d be like a straight teenage boy whose main jerk off material was focused on sexy naked men. I think that’s a pretty weird thought for most in our current cultural climate. 

Yet, my experience isn't that weird, because that’s just the reality – for me and for lots of other straight women. Most of the media focuses on the sexiness of females, not males. I mean save for a small percentage of cases, if women want to look at something erotic, it’s gonna mainly focus on women as the sexual objects. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with a straight kid enjoying sexy pictures of people from his or her own sex. However, the fact that this is often the only option for a female kid and very rarely an option for a male kid I think is kinda problematic and creates a very different sexual upbringing for boys and girls. You can chew on how that affects male vs. female understanding of their own body and own sexiness in relation to their sexual feelings.

I think there might be a weirder effect from all this though. For me, I think this had a part in shaping me as a young woman into someone who avidly denied any problems with women being sexy in the media; someone who pooh-poohed feminist musings on women being “objectified" in the media and how harmful it could be. The way I saw it, I was a woman (well – a very young woman) and I didn’t mind women asserting their right to be sexy in TV, movies, magazines, porn – whatever. I myself would have enjoyed the sexy and exciting opportunity to pose for Playboy. I felt that feminism had fought long and hard for my right to be as sexy as I wanna be – without society or other feminists judging me.

I remember a very influential line I read in a Playboy article (yeah – I read the articles too) that cemented my feelings about this. I was in my late teens – probably sometime between 1994 and 1997. It went something like “I’d rather a man cum on my paper tits than have people tell me I’m demeaning myself with the choice to display my body.” I could make an educated guess now and say this was probably someone like Camille Paglia or maybe some random a sex worker/writer. Again, I don’t know the real quote, but I know how it made me feel. I was like, right on, yo! I can do whatever I want. I am a woman with my own opinions and interests, and if one of those interest is posing naked for people to ogle, then everyone can just get the hell over it, you crazy ass feminists! (I’d like to point out that I think I would have considered myself a feminist at the time, just not a lame, judgy, anti-sex one). 

So, that was kinda my outlook…until I was old enough and away from parents enough to really engage more heavily in porn. That was when I realized that the fantasies I was looking for are not easy to find, and that male fantasy, male desire, and male orgasm are king - in prn and in regular old media. I for sure changed my tune when it finally really, really dawned on me that women were faking their orgasms in porn and men really weren’t. I suddenly realized that most of the people making the “choice” to be sexy, masturbating fodder for others were women not men, and I wondered if maybe Playboy and their pro-sexy feminist articles had been steering me wrong - that maybe it was a magazine that specifically took a hetero male-centric view on sex, on women, and on fantasy, orgasm, and desire. 

That realization (and some philosophy of science classes) started my journey of researching for this movie - Science, Sex and the Ladies.

I’ve put a lot of thought into that since then. I have never actually let go of that original feeling I had. I still strongly believe that our feminist foremothers work has allowed us to do things like unapologetically pose/act sexually for the sheer masturbatory pleasure of viewers, and I honestly understand the strength and pleasure associated with a choice like that. However, I am no longer na├»ve to the realities of our sexual culture. 

Of course all choices of how to portray one’s sexuality are technically open to women, but some are, well, easier to make than others. Currently, the choices women make that happen to depict themselves as attractive, pleasure giving, objects of sexual fantasy are pretty easy to get into. Although a realistic aspect of female sexuality, this type of role also fits well into our long established male-heterocentric sexual culture. On the other hand, the choice to be depicted as an orgasming (real, not faked), desiring, fantasizing women; a woman who ogles instead of being ogled…well, those are just not as easy to come by. There is less opportunity available to play those roles, less examples to guide us in portraying those roles, and there are less feelings of normalcy associated with those types of roles. 

It doesn’t mean a choice that happens to fit into the established hetero-male centric culture is a less feminist or unenlightened choice. In fact, if we lived in a world where all aspects of female sexual expression were acknowledged and widely accepted, that would just be a choice. It would not be wrought with feelings of giving in to the status quo or being “used.” Unfortunately that is not the case, though. Our culture’s acceptance (when there is acceptance) of female sexuality is much more complicated and quite often one-sided.  The truth is, there are ways of expressing female sexuality in the media that are more encouraged, more accepted, more available and more understood, and it can be an oppressive situation. 

So, after all these years, I would like to say to the Playboy author preferring jizz on her paper tits over judgment about her decisions: I understand why you might choose to express your sexuality in the way you have, and I also understand why you wouldn’t want other women to judge that choice. However, the way I recall it – your writing was pretty stereo-typey and judgy towards feminists. Now, to be fair, certain feminists probably sent some stereo-typing and judginess your way too, but the truth is that our sexual culture is not easy for women to traverse. I know all us ladies feel the various pressures, expectations, and boundaries deep in our bones, and we’re all just doing the best we can with a shit situation. 

This, my friends, is a great example of how so often in feminism, the personal is political and vice versa. All of us who would like a more accepting environment for our sexual expression and sexual portrayals, should get our shit together and start working together instead of against each other. We’re the only ones who care about this issue, and we’re actually working towards the same goals. We have to swallow a little pride and really try to understand each other’s point of view; ultimately incorporating each other’s points of views to make better, more widely accepted, and sensible arguments.

So I guess I just want us all to think a little about how our early sexual experiences with media affected how we think about other women's choices and about our own and other women's take on the sexual culture. Maybe there are places we can come together on personal or political levels, and maybe we can create a better sexual culture for ourselves. Maybe, one day “real” men will be depicted as attractive, pleasure giving, objects of sexual desire as much as women are; and “real” women will be portrayed as orgasming (real not faked – I can’t stress that enough), desiring, fantasizing people as much as men are. Maybe then, we can finally be dealing with female choices of sexual expression that are more directed by informed personal preference rather than the heavy weight of our culture’s one-sided celebration of female sexiness, and I think we'd all like that. 

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