When Playboy magazine was founded nearly 70 years ago, its images of women’s bodies came in an era of sexual restraint. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner said he wanted to change the social and sexual values of his time, arguing that the photos were emblematic of a sexual revolution, of sexual liberation and female empowerment. In the new A&E docuseries “Secrets of Playboy,” the women who posed in the magazine’s pages express a more critical view of how their bodies were used and who benefited from their bodies.
“The Playboy fantasy that he created did not allow for women’s consent,” said Miki Garcia, who appeared in Playboy as Miss January 1973.
The first issue of Playboy launched with a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe, although journalist George Barris reported in “Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words” that the photo was taken in 1948 when Monroe was broke and desperate for cash. The photographer paid Monroe $50. Hefner later bought the photo for $500 and used it in Playboy without Monroe’s permission.
Today’s American culture is more sexualized, some women have more social and economic power, and the media landscape has changed in ways that offer women more control over the spread of erotic content. Feminist historians and researchers who study pornography say this may make it more possible for some women today to reveal and profit from their bodies in safe and satisfying ways. But they also note that in a culture where concern for women’s bodies contributes to their objectification and exploitation, greater individual choice still has complex social consequences.
‘Playboy Secrets’:Hugh Hefner’s ex-girlfriends, playmates and employees allege a culture of abuse
“There are scenarios in which a person can be happy with what they produce and how they are paid for it, but if we go further, if we don’t just think about how that person who made the content feels about it, or how they feel viewer viewing the content, then we ask how it contributes to social norms,” said Emily Rothman, a professor of occupational therapy at Boston University who studies sexual violence and pornography. “If we’re monetizing someone’s sexuality, beauty, availability or instant access, there are all sorts of things that we’re monetizing in that situation that can have implications for how people treat each other.”
Whether it’s posting hypersexualized images on Instagram, performing provocative dances on TikTok, or sharing porn on OnlyFans, women in 2022 have more control over what they share about their bodies and how, but they still don’t control how those images are interpreted or experienced once they they enter. the public domain
Just Fans:Site suspends policy change banning sexually explicit content
“There’s what a woman intends that offers an image of herself, and then once it starts to circulate in the world, there are the very different meanings that it takes on, and women can somehow lose their power over that. “. said Sarah Leonard, a history professor at Simmons University.
Hugh Hefner was referring to “a very different kind of sexual liberation from what women were interested in.”
Leonard said that during the second wave of feminism, more women began to explore their relationship with their own bodies. Hefner, she said, twisted that idea for profit.
“It’s opportunistic for someone like Hugh Hefner to say, ‘Oh, women are experiencing this sexual liberation.’ I think what he was referring to was a very different kind of sexual liberation that women were interested in pursuing, which I think had much less to do with presenting their bodies for consumption and more to do with their relationship to sexuality and pleasure,” he said.
Leonard said that in the post-MeToo era, there is renewed attention to issues around women’s bodies and consent. These questions proliferate in a world of pervasive social media, where more people are showing off their bodies for a multitude of reasons. Some creators reject standard beauty norms, some want social capital, some seek approval, many want to make a profit.
Rothman says the OnlyFans site is a good example of how the landscape has changed. OnlyFans is a subscription service where content creators can earn money from users (fans) who subscribe to their content. It has a reputation for sexually explicit media. Someone who posts sexual content on OnlyFans can control the hours you work and the content you create. They can set their own price. No one may be telling them, “You have to do this” or “You have to do this this way.” A creator can make their own decisions and is less likely to be harmed by the experience.
Did Bella Thorne make $2 million on OnlyFans?:What to know about the site
Leonard said there are instances today where women can show off their bodies in ways that are empowering. Some women are participating in those displays while also criticizing the parts of those experiences that continue to be disempowering. Leonard points to Stoya, a writer and cultural critic who has appeared in pornographic movies.
“I am involved in creating and spreading good porn, though I still can’t say for sure what it looks like,” Stoya wrote in the New York Times in 2018.
Leonard said more women are exercising control over erotic photos and sexual content, but it’s impossible to ignore those decisions being made within a culture that still treats women as inferior.
‘Not all producers of sexually explicit images are the same’
Rothman said there are too many variables to make universal claims about women’s autonomy in the context of pornography or sexually explicit images. There are too many different types of artists and people creating it, marketing it, producing it and paying for it, she said.
Rothman points out that factors can also change for an individual that can make them more or less satisfied with the sexual content they consent to. An individual artist may have one day where she feels satisfied with an image she shared, but the next week, in a very similar circumstance, she will feel less empowered.
Since content is consumed, Rothman said it’s also important to think about the viewer.
“That viewer that we’re imagining right now, what is their background in terms of their family, their psychology, other risk factors that they might have or various issues that might come up based on the media that they’re watching?” she said. “What kinds of supports do they have in their lives? What kinds of opportunities for healthy learning and sex education? There are a lot of different factors that can affect what an individual viewer does with what they’re watching.”
Beyond the implications for individual creators and viewers, the spread of these images has implications for society at large. Sexually explicit content can perpetuate sexist ideas about sex and sexuality. Seeing women sexually objectified can make a woman feel that this is what she has to do to acquire social capital.
The sexual objectification of women can also affect their mental health and has been linked to anxiety, depression and eating disorders. A 2019 study found that “the objectification of women is a mechanism by which television consumption (even television that does not explicitly depict sexual violence) and pornography use are related to attitudes and behaviors that support violence against women.”
Rothman said that when a woman chooses to share her body as an individual action, she may also be aware of the larger social context in which she operates.
“There’s a way you can simultaneously try to push back against the social norms that you want to change,” he said, “by helping people interpret the content you’ve created, expressing your hope for the impact it will have.” .”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism