Category Archives: sexuality

Using Playboy to Peek into Feminist History

Debbie says:’

Gloria Steinem as Playboy Bunny with feminist captioning

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.

Debbie says:

etta_candy

Etta Candy deserves an entire blog post of her own, but the only things I know about her come from Rob Bricken and James Whitbrook’s piece at io9:

Created by William Moulton Marston only an issue after Wonder Woman’s debut, Etta Candy appeared like she should be the heroine’s comic relief. She was a goofy cartoon character who loved candy (carrying it everywhere), and she shouted strange catchphrases like “Woo woo!” and “For the love of chocolate!” But if you thought for a second that Etta was merely a joke character, she would have quickly corrected you, probably by punching you in the face.

Lucy Davis will play Etta in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. If she’s portrayed one-half as bad-ass and radical as she is in the panels Bricken and Whitbrook show, she will completely eclipse Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman — and I’ll be in line to watch her do it.

Laurie and I both blogged about the 2008 Newsweek cover showing Sarah Palin’s real (or nearly real) skin, and it’s interesting to see that people are still talking about it in the context of women running for office. Julia Baird takes it on in the New York Times:

The real question here is about perfection: the standards by which women are judged, and the seemingly ever-present, imposed need to airbrush the images of women. Even vice-presidential candidates. This is something we must ask if we want to shrink the too-long list of things that distract people from what women actually say when we try to speak in public.

Perfection is also at issue in the discussion of Zoe Saldana’s casting as Nina Simone . Samantha Cowan at TakePart examines the controversy:

A new official poster and trailer for the movie shows Saldana wearing a prosthetic nose and dark face makeup, reigniting the controversy surrounding the decision to cast Saldana as the titular character in Nina. Saldana has faced criticism since news surfaced in 2012 that she would replace Mary J. Blige—who had to drop out owing to scheduling conflicts—to play the High Priestess of Soul. Saldana addressed the situation in 2013, telling Allure, “It doesn’t matter how much backlash I will get for it, I will honor and respect my black community because that’s who I am.”

Saldana, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, has alternated between saying that people of color don’t exist and identifying as a black and Latina woman. Regardless of how Saldana identifies, many believe the role should have gone to an African American woman—or at least a woman with a darker skin tone and features that more closely resembled Simone’s.

When everyone is talking about how people (but mostly men) use Tinder and its ilk for faceless sex, a completely different kind of anonymous sex designed for women is apparently a new craze in London. Dominique Sisley reports at Dazed:

The process is simple. You head to the class, strip off from the waist down, and lie across an unknown, fully-clothed man while he strokes your clitoris. The aim? A shared meditational experience, and “the deeply human, deeply felt, and connected experience of orgasm”. …

Although [orgasmic meditation] is mostly marketed towards “free, hip, powerful” women, TurnON Britain (the official UK branch of the movement) also offers classes to men who feel a “willingness and desire to know the feminine” – or in other words, guys who could do with a little more guidance in that area. As the course summary eloquently puts it, “learning how to handle her pussy is equally important as learning how to handle the rest of her. Imagine what would be possible if you learned to do both?”

Leaving aside the unfortunate choice of “handle” in that quotation, this sounds like something from the 1970s, come back in a new guise. The article says that tens of thousands of young Londoners are participating; I hope they’re having fun!

In a completely different aspect of human sexuality,  uterus transplants are now a thing, and a good thing.  The procedure is designed for women with uterine factor infertility (UFI). I can’t help but wonder if and when it will become part of the suite of trans surgeries, and change the landscape of how pregnancy relates to gender.

etta_candy_2

We have, of course, been railing about BMI for decades. I’m still fond of my description of it as “braindead, meaningless, insidious” from 2007. Premiere statistics and data site fivethirtyeight.com is jumping on the bandwagon with this article by Katherine Hobson. Hobson is  too focused on “waist circumference” for my money, and I think she’s still deep in the belief that fat is bad for you, however it’s measured. Nonetheless, she goes against the grain of journalists everywhere by ending with a fat-positive quotation:

There’s another camp that doesn’t care about finding a better measure of excess body fat at all but would prefer to move beyond metrics of extra fat. “Sure, waist circumference is better than BMI, but the focus on fat and on body size has done us a disservice,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, a psychologist at UCLA and first author of the recent International Journal of Obesity study on BMI and health indicators. “It’s thrown off the focus on actual health markers.” And, she said, it has contributed to a stigma against the overweight.

She’d prefer to see a strategy that focuses instead on changing behavior. “If you’re eating healthy, exercising and sleeping well, I don’t care how much fat you have,” Tomiyama said.

And in that context,  Hobson should read Linda Bacon on fat ambassadors, allies, and detractors. Sadly, Bacon wrote this column because of how hard Sarai Walker, author of Dietland, is finding her new life as a fat ambassador.  Bacon has nothing new to say about allies and trolls: she just tells the truth well and clearly.

… a message to those who persist in “concern trolling” about health: Recognize this: respect should not be contingent on health or health habits. Educate yourself. Weight stigma and discrimination are much more health-damaging than fat tissue can ever be. If you are truly concerned about the health ramifications of someone’s large body, be part of the solution, not the problem: show others respect and compassion, rather than shaming and blaming people for their weight or suggesting they change it.

Lisa Hirsch sent us the Sarah Palin link. Otherwise, all are links from my regular reading, which includes Feministe, Shakesville, Sociological Images,, Feministing, io9, and TakePart, along with other sources. No, I don’t know why the background of this post is black; it happened during drafting, and my html skills don’t seem good enough to fix it.