Susan Braudy’s long piece at Jezebel, “Up Against the Centerfold: What It Was Like to Report on Feminism for Playboy in 1969″ is (constructively) less about Playboy than it is about her own feminist trajectory.
When you read these quotations, or Braudy’s whole essay, please bear in mind that, although Roxanne Dunbar(-Ortiz) gets one passing mention, it is entirely about white women, and thus replicates the great failing of contemporary feminism throughout most of its history (Laurie and I have a post in process about this).
Braudy brings in a surprise early:
Jim Goode, Playboy’s articles editor, … explained that Playboy wanted an objective account of the entire spectrum of the brand new “women’s lib” movement. “These women have important things to say, and I want our readers to hear them,” he said. “Let yourself go. Write anything you like but don’t pass judgment. Be fair.”
He concluded, “Write in a tone that’s amused if the author is amused, but never snide.”
He was more open-minded than Braudy was at that time.
At meeting after meeting I heard a wide range of women speak passionately or woodenly about their “women’s rage.” They hurled questions: Why did men insist they were “helping” a woman do her job if they did housework? Should women compete for power outside the home like men? Would women ever be as free to enjoy sex as men?
Yet I wasn’t ready to make the leap from anecdotes to political analysis. Of course I saw my husband as my superior intellectually and socially; that’s largely why I was drawn to him. I hadn’t consciously dared to resent this. I’d been given many votes of no confidence by men trusted with my higher education. My philosophy professor had given me an A before he bought me a chocolate chip ice cream cone and advised me to quit grad school and get married.
Braudy interviewed Ti-Grace Atkinson:
I said I loved my husband and I would have married him eventually, graduate school or no. But I had suffered during the early years of our marriage because my husband seemed so confident in his identity and work as a Yale graduate student of English, whereas I had no goal, except the marriage. “I pity you,” she said tears brimming her eyes. “How can you love the oppressor?”
… she added, though her manner belied the harshness of her words, that since I was taking advantage of the feminist movement to further my ambitions, I should expect little sympathy from her when Playboy put me out with the trash.
The article takes us through meeting with Gloria Steinem (pictured above as a younf Playboy Bunny in a nightclub) and marching with Betty Friedan. Steinem recently made me and my younger colleagues furious by making inexcusable comments about young women’s role in the current political process, which she has since retracted.)
While Jim Goode liked Braudy’s article, the story was not over:
I chatted with Nat Lehrman, the associate publisher and self-described “sex editor.” He (joked about castrating women, nervously jingling coins in his pants pockets.
My article had a couple snags, he said. By building my story around three central figures—Betty Friedan, Robin Morgan and Roxanne Dunbar—I’d been too sympathetic to “crazies” within the movement. Lehrman had penciled in a few suggestions which he said pointed up the differences between “the radical crazies and the moderates.” He apologetically read me his “minor” corrections. “It’ll be a snap,” he coaxed.
But within a few hours the experience of debating a Playboy muckety-muck about the existence of the clitoral orgasm lost its charm. I started to suspect our fights were turning Mr. Lehrman on. I was a soft-core interlude.
Hugh Hefner’s vast anti-woman diatribes followed Lehrman’s titillation. The article was cancelled, Shelley Schlicker was fired for trying to copy Hefner’s memos and get them to the press. Read Braudy’s whole piece for fascinating details.
Both Braudy’s trajectory and Playboy‘s panic are completely in line with their times. The article illuminates some of the tensions and complications of the women’s movement in the second half of the 20th century. I think it will be of interest both to people like me who remember those times, and people for whom the article is history rather than memory.