Last week, Playboy announced they would be taking full nudes out of their printed American magazine. A move done online in 2014, the company is seeking a rebrand that’s receiving a lot of mixed attention. Despite its appearance, banning full nudity is not a step towards the gender equality in sexuality we were all hoping for. It actually has nothing to do with respecting women or other genders. Playboy is reinventing the wheel, trying to find new ways to exploit women and make a profit from it. So, here are five reasons why I’m wary about Playboy and the industry it wants to participate in.
- It’s Still a Straight Man’s Club
The very language that Playboy introduced and continues to use in statements is a glaring example of their heteronormative practices. In Hugh Hefner’s first Editor’s letter he stated, “if you’re a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you.” And much of that language still persists today. Not only is the magazine itself keeping to their straight man mandate, but I’ve found a lot of the press around it does as well. A quick google search will reveal articles claiming Playboy is an “essential” for boyhood (for example, in this NY Times article). Except, probably not, right? What about gay men? Lesbian women? Pornography and erotic content is an exploratory sexual experience that most people will use despite gender or sexuality. Playboy ignores this (and its potential for growth) to maintain itself as a straight man’s club, which is reflected in its hyper-heterosexualized content.
- It’s all One Big Market Move
Removing the nudity from Playboy wasn’t an attempt to respond to critics on the inequalities of pornography – rather it was to give in to capitalist pressures that have made Playboy obsolete. With the shift from print to web in everyday life, the multitude of nakedness (and intensely more explicit naked scenarios) is infinitely easier and cheaper online. Playboy’s circulation figures dropping from 5.6 million to 800,000 is a pretty blatant idea of why rebranding is so important to the company right now. But, we need to keep in mind that this is all it is. Playboy is recreating itself to stay relevant in a patriarichal economy. It is feeding the system that actively keeps women, LGBTQ+, POC and the impoverished (among other intersecting groups) in disadvantageous positions.
- Playboy is Still Seen as Sex-education, When it’s Anything But.
The uproar surrounding the move to clothing has a common theme: how will young boys consume their smut in a predictable way? To a lot of people, Playboy is seen as an eye-opening experience for young boys who steal a copy from their father or uncle. I know this may be shocking, but Playboy actually isn’t sex education. If boys are expected to learn from the glossy pages of glossy women, we are imparting to them what is attractive, what is sexual and looking only for that gratification is ok. You aren’t reading it for the articles, alright, we know that. This haphazard “learn as you go” culture hurts women in another way, in that young women or non-straight men are told their fantasies, their need for exploration in a realm that does not objectify or disrespect them is wrong. Looking is not learning. The Independent did a good job deconstructing this idea, as well.
- The Change Just Leads to Content Confusion
Playboy supporters will always defend one thing until they’re blue in the face, and that is the quality of its’content. “There’s nudity, but also look at this article on Bono!” Although innovative, interesting content would be refreshing to see, it’s not the case. Playboy execs, in their remodel, are trying to implement strategies to bring in a younger VICE-oriented crowd. Their solution? Introducing art, because “younger people are drawn to art.” I might be a purist, but if you’re trying to create content that’s unique and refreshing, it shouldn’t just be to push your cover off the stands. The disconnect between meaningful publishing and market success is where Playboy is failing, in my opinion. Readers can sniff false authenticity from a mile away. You can’t engage your readership while trying to trick them.
- It’s Still About Sexual Exploitation
And this, at the end of the day, is the most important factor of all. Sexual exploitation is sexual exploitation. You may be throwing clothes in your American models, but they will still be striking provocative poses, and be told to act in ways they most likely don’t want to. The gaze will still be cast on subject (or in their eyes, object) in a one-way sexual transaction. Scott Flanders, the company’s CEO, states that porn is, “just passé at this juncture.” The continuation of erotic themes but covering natural female body parts might actually be more detrimental. It associates those breasts and vaginas solely with sexual gratification and reinforces their view as taboo. The industry of pornography normalizes hypersexuality, even if there are a couple bits of fabric covering the body.
Sorry Playboy, but you’re not quite convincing us of anything.
There’s a rumour that the new sex columnist will be a sex-positive female, which would be one saving grace and possible positive change. Other than that, it looks like the company is just trying to find a way to outsmart and out-compete the pornographic economy that we all know puts women last and on the shelf.
[Image via x]