Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Playboy, Porn, and Pole Dancing

Share

By Sheena Vasani, Intern (2011)

“Would you rather have brains or beauty?”

“Beauty,” replies the Miss University London beauty pageant contestant adding because if she weren’t beautiful “nobody would want to listen to her anyway.”

Should we assume this quote came from newspaper archives, maybe from the 50s? Unfortunately not. The Guardian included this quote as part of a story reporting on the growing trend of UK university beauty pageants in December 2008.

Take a closer look and a disturbing pattern emerges.

The Guardian reported in 2006 that one of the UK’s leading retail groups WH Smith, reported its Playboy stationery line as one of its best-selling of all time. Ironically, its popularity lay not with boys, but adolescent girls. And while the BBC reports that WH Smith has since withdrawn these products, shops like Wet Seal in America still sell clothes promoting the Playboy bunny brand to teenage girls. Numerous large retail stores in both the UK and US sell inappropriate sexy clothing for children that many parents actually buy. Reports indicate the female public figure many American teenage girls look up to is Paris Hilton, well-known for her sex tape and rich father. And then I discovered that Brown University offers pole-dancing competitions, as does Cambridge University.

That’s right, folks. Forty years after feminism’s second wave burst onto the scene, 40 years after female activists burned bras, and 40 years AFTER Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny to expose the misogyny involved in that world, women have gone from being viewed as sexual objects to – you guessed it! – still being perceived as sexual objects, whose only real accomplishment and source of power lies in their lust-provoking abilities.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The second wave was about empowering women, destroying the ideology running rampant stating a woman’s sole purpose was to sexually please men. In many, many respects, it succeeded. Women received more opportunities to shine than their mothers, particularly in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor data from 2009, women held “49.8 percent of all jobs, their highest proportion in history.”

But if a beauty pageant contestant from one of the best university systems in the world admits her looks are more important than her brain, if young girls feel the pressure to look sexy that they purchase the likes of pole dancing kits, what is this saying about female liberation and gender equality?

Sadly, some women are also encouraging such choices, celebrating it as “post-feminism.” As Christie Hefner, Playboy CEO and daughter to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner explains, “the post-women’s movement generation has just a more grown up, comfortable, natural attitude about sex and sexiness that is more in line with where guys were a couple of generations before.”[i]

So, the oppression of females through sexual means by men back then was not so much a human rights violation as it was actually a portrayal of male enlightenment, and now that we slow and insecure females understand this we are reverting back to objectifying ourselves?

I’m all for sexual expression and liberation, and if participating in pornography or pole dancing satisfies you, then fair enough. But the fact is many women involved in pornography describe their experiences as unfulfilling, as the famous memoirs of Traci Lords and Jenna Jameson show. Yes, Jameson might be quick to promote the pornography industry, but one has to wonder why she also says if she ever had a daughter, “she would lock her in the house before she’d let her get involved in the sex industry”?[ii]

Not to mention, many women are drawn to the adult entertainment industry out of financial or emotional problems, often resulting from sexual abuse. Both Traci Lords and Jameson’s personal stories speak of childhoods or teenage years filled with trauma. As Mary Anne Layden, Ph.D., and Director for Women’s Psychological Health in Philadelphia states:

“Most strippers, as with other women who work in the sex industry, are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Research indicates the number is between 60%-80%. …Often as adults they reenact their childhood trauma by working as strippers, Playboy models, and prostitutes. The men who, now as customers, physically and visually invade the adult women’s bodies, reenact the role of the perpetrator. These women work in the sex industry because it feels like home.”

And what about the women who don’t work in the sex industry but want to associate themselves with Playboy and pole dancing? I don’t buy that this is genuine sexual liberation. It’s still about pleasing men.

Perhaps this happened because we grew overwhelmed with the impossibly hard to reach standards of beauty laid out for us by the images of airbrushed, artificially altered beauties? Perhaps we fell for the underlying message of ads flaunting such photos, that we are simply sex objects, who are only to be seen? Or maybe we just became tired of pointing out the objectification of women only to be dismissed, called prudes? Instead, we convinced ourselves life would just be “easier” if we repressed our anger and lived in denial? After all, who wants to be perceived as insecure and undesirable, especially to men? Whatever the reason, in an ironic move to feel “empowered” and wanted, instead of beating our oppressors, we are sadly joining them.

Next time you fantasize about being a Playboy bunny, feel pressured to visit a strip club even though you’re heterosexual, or to take up pole-dancing classes, remember the words of Susan Brownmiller, one of the most involved members of the real women’s liberation movement in the 70s: “You think you’re being brave, you think you’re being sexy, you think you’re transcending feminism. But that’s bullshit.”[iii]

Women of the West the battle still wages. Let’s join forces and get our acts together, lest we run the risk of selling out.

 

 


[i] Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (London: Simon & Schuster, 2005) 39.

[ii] Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (London: Simon & Schuster, 2005) 183.

[iii] Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (London: Simon & Schuster, 2005) 82.

 

Share

Comments

  1. Thank you for all of your comments, guys!

    @Tali: Wow. Thank you for sharing your experience. You’re incredibly brave for being able to get out of the industry and recognize its lies, and I’m so glad this article resonates with you.

  2. I totally agree. I never quite understood the the Playboy, porn, and stripper industry. Some feminists will claim it’s all feminism because these women are choosing their profession, which might be true, but like you said, it’s still all about pleasing and catering to men.

  3. Thanks for the great article! I agree with you on the irony of women perceiving their involvement in pole dancing and pornography as liberating. Women should stop fooling themselves. Involvement in industries that reduce women to sexual objects is not liberating; it perpetuates the belief that men are dominant and the only way to get noticed is to see ourselves as objects.

    There are men out there who appreciate women for their inner beauty. It seems like women have lost faith in this, and feel like they need to be something other than themselves to attract men. And besides, why are women basing their actions on whether or not it will be attractive to a man?

  4. As someone who has partaken in the activities mentioned above, I completely agree with you. As a sexual abuse survivor, and whilst rather unstable, I started “working” for an adult film industry…basically being a girl-on-girl pornstar. All the girls around me were so positive, and would go on about how “liberating and empowering” porn was, to the extent that I completely fell for it. It wasn’t until about a year later that I started to realise we weren’t empowered feminists who had complete control over men – quite the opposite! I started to realise the trap that I had fallen into – doing exactly what men wanted to see rather than being strong and independent. We weren’t empowered – we were slaves to an industry! Sadly there’s no way I can take down the many videos from the Internet, or reclaim the DVDs. They are left up for the world to see as a stark reminder of the foolishness of my, and many others’ youth.