LAMBDA Volume 27: Issue 2
Problems with Playboy
A guest writer answers questions about porn in
light of Playboy's UNC visit
by Matthew Ezzell
In November 1998, Playboy released
its monthly magazine. The cover model was a blond woman dressed as a
cheerleader with a low-cut top next to a description of the magazine as a
“Hot, Hot, College Issue” on her right and the title of the spread “Girls of
the ACC” on her left. All of this was under the title and subtitle,
“Playboy: Entertainment for Men.”
On March, The Daily Tar Heel ran an
advertisement that started, “Attention female student body.” It was an
advertisement for Playboy’s newest “Girls of the ACC” pictorial. On April 5
- 6, Playboy staff came to interview UNC female students as potential
models. This is a problem.
What’s the deal? First, let me say
what the deal isn’t – it isn’t a call for censorship and it isn’t a call to
take away these women’s right to audition. It isn’t about being all in a
tizzy because our sensibilities are offended or our feelings hurt. What it
is, however, is a call to discuss how pornography is harmful.
What I’m about to say (in very few
words) is a critique of mainstream heterosexual pornography. This critique
is informed by a radical feminist perspective and the foundational work of
feminists throughout the last three decades.
Pornography is harmful. What does
Consider this: Playboy is an
enterprise that sells images of women’s bodies as “Entertainment for Men.”
It’s not rocket science: the magazine functions as a facilitator for men’s
masturbation and sexual pleasure.
When a man uses the images in these
ways, the woman who is represented in the picture is rendered a mirror for
his desire. This is sexual objectification. It dehumanizes the real women
that are used in pornography’s production, and it reinforces the
dehumanization of all the other women who are walking around on this planet.
Playboy’s spokespersons are clear on this: “You never know if the girl
sitting next to you in Biology 101 could be Playboy material.” In Playboy’s
world, women everywhere are available for heterosexual men’s pleasure.
When a group of people is seen as
less than human, it is easier to commit acts of systemic
violence against them. We see this
in war, slavery and hate-crimes. We see this in heterosexual men’s
co-optation of woman-woman sex for their own sexual gratification. We see
this in men’s violence against women.
“Does this mean pornography causes
rape?” No. If pornography were abolished tomorrow, rapes would still happen.
However, in a world in which our cultural landscape is saturated with images
of women as sexual objects, as things, and as body parts, it is more likely
that acts of violence will be perpetrated against them. Pornography doesn’t
cause rape, but it is implicated in rape.
“But isn’t pornography really about
sexual expression?” Not really. These images and videos are part of an
industry that, not including revenues from the Internet, has earnings of an
estimated $56 billion a year. Playboy’s online ventures alone are expected
to top $70 billion a year by 2006.
In that sense, these pictures and
movies are an industrial product that are churned out over and over,
reinforcing the same limited notion of what it means to be sexual. It’s a
patriarchal script that revolves around submission, domination and
hierarchy. While it can feel rebellious because it’s “dirty,” it’s not close
to revolutionary in that it’s a basic re-telling of the status quo.
“But if the models and actors like
it, that’s all that matters, right?” Not totally. We don’t live in a vacuum.
Individualism neglects that we are interconnected. It neglects that our
actions affect others. Even if a woman who poses for Playboy feels great
about her decision (although it’s telling that the women interviewed in
local press didn’t want to give their last names, despite the fact that
images of their bodies could be re-produced millions of times over for men
to look at and masturbate), we have to ask the question: What are the
consequences of this for women as a group?
“Does it hurt men, too?” Yes, but
not in the same ways. Largely through our choice to consume it, I believe
that mainstream heterosexual pornography limits our ability to connect with
women and other men by conditioning us to see other humans as means to an
end, instead of as ends in and of themselves.
In short: Patriarchal sex is about
what is done to, not with, another body. We can all be more creative and
expressive than that. ?
Guest writer Matthew Ezzell, a
sociology graduate student from Clinton, N.C., can be contacted at