what I learned from Playboy magazine

I really have no shame, and not much pride. I will pretty much say anything, and I’m fairly  impossible to shock. Most of my family knows this. It’s probably why they sometimes have to be a bit dramatic, just to reach me. Here’s what happened lately:

I was tolerating my stepfather’s presence in my home, because he’s good to my kids and they don’t have many grandparents left. He sees this playboy magazine laying on my kitchen island.


I can tell it makes him uncomfortable, but I don’t care. My kids are eating cookies and drinking lemonade next to the magazine, oblivious. He finally says “jeez, do you think you should have this out?” as if it’s dirty or unseemly and should really be hidden somewhere, like under my mattress.

I respond with total nonchalance “yeah, why not?”

He seems flustered, then says one of the few things he knows might get a response from me: “your mother wouldn’t have liked that.”

I wanted to say something snarky like “that hardly matters, since she’s dead”, but I said nothing, just stared at him until he looked away. Then my kids went to play outside and he followed them out quickly to escape. When he came back in later he pretended nothing happened, and I sat on my couch and blatantly read the magazine, even though it was last month’s issue and I’d already read it, because fuck him it’s my house.

And I know it was rude of me, because he obviously had a reaction to seeing the magazine, whether due to the sexy picture or just the ‘forbidden’ nature of it, I don’t know or care. But I thought, so what? Why is his discomfort my problem? (hastily dismissing all rules of etiquette and hospitality)

The image on that magazine cover is not pornography. Is is slightly racy? Sure. But it’s in my house, not out on the front lawn. Keeping it hidden and secret implies that there is something dirty or wrong with the female form, and there just isn’t.  That urge to hide it away is like the first step down a horrible path.  Next comes men who harass women on the street who wear revealing clothes, and further down are men who convince themselves that a woman was asking to be raped because she wasn’t wearing any underwear. So you find something arousing. Deal with it. It doesn’t give you the right to act like an asshole, and it’s nobody’s problem but yours. Isn’t this the crux of so many problems in the world? When something makes us uncomfortable, or brings to the surface any strong, difficult feelings, we react with anger or avoidance. We blame and deflect.

Then I wondered… what would my mother have thought? I’d never talked to her about Playboy. (Truly, I get it for my husband, but I love it just as much as he does. I started the subscription when I saw him heading to the bathroom one day with a copy of ‘Martha Stewart living’ under his arm, and I felt sorry for him. Well, okay, first I got him Maxim, but he said it was too ‘young’ for him, so I upgraded to Playboy.)

I think she would have been okay with it. Eventually. See, my mother was a staunch feminist. So I think she would have seen the value in Playboy, but it might have taken some debate. There’s an interesting book on the subject, Bachelors and Bunnies by Carrie Pitzulo, which outlines all the ways Playboy was a positive force in the feminist movement. I won’t get into all the elements of it here, but there are a few points of my own I’d like to make.


1. Playboy might ‘objectify’ women – but so what? Why is that so bad? Don’t we do the same thing to men on romance novel covers and in advertising? They don’t often complain. You know what they do? They take that objectification and use it. It’s power, and they own it. Instead of seeing sexy pictures of men as degrading, they see them as valuing the male form. A picture of a beautiful man doesn’t offend them, it empowers them. Women should do the same. Let’s own this, and let it be a source of power for us.

2. Playboy is a celebration of the female. The women are presented nude, but they’re set up to look more like goddesses than whores. There is a reverence to the way they are portrayed. So yeah, maybe it’s meant as titillation, but why not? Women are beautiful! Women are sexy! There is nothing wrong with admitting that. It does not demean us to be sexually attractive, to have our bodies celebrated.

3. The women are ideal and perfect, but that’s what we want to see, isn’t it? I really do read Playboy for the articles, so I’d probably still buy it even if the women it featured were just ordinary, but I’ll admit I like to look at pretty people. (And if Playgirl had the same quality articles as Playboy, I’d be on that in a heartbeat.) But even if Playboy doesn’t feature women who look like me, so what? I’ve never seen a magazine or an ad with a half naked man who looks like my husband on it. The only problem is when we punish ourselves (or judge others) because we (or they) don’t fit the ideal mold. But we don’t need to pretend there is no “ideal”, or that we don’t enjoy looking at it.

4. Playboy is a quality magazine. Seriously, the ‘advisor’ alone is worth the cover price. Yes, there are naked women, but there are also great political and social commentary pieces, high quality fiction, fantastic interviews, lifestyle and home advice, and hysterical jokes. It’s fun and interesting and smart, and I love reading it. I like finding the bunny on the cover and I love the little comics.

So whether or not my mother would have approved of playboy, and even if it offends random family members, I’m going to keep reading it. Because I like it. And I’ll keep it on my kitchen counter, too. And maybe the next time someone raises their eyebrow at it, I’ll have something to say.

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