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An Article: (On Playboy) Feminist Icon?

Feminist Icon - Article about Playboy 1

I found this article in a magazine in an airport while travelling through Europe in 2013, I can’t remember the publication but it has “” printed next to each page number so I’m guessing thats it.
The Playboy subject seems so trodden over already, by which I mean over-extrapilated I suppose, but this might also just be because I’ve worked for the company and it has come up in research over the last 11 years since I’ve been scrutinising all things female.
None the less, I kept the article and here is what it says which I find to be an interesting perspective (I skipped the first two intro sections which basically re-tell the mags history:

It’s 60 years since the first issue of Playboy magazine was published. Here, Rosie Boycott, co-founder of feminist magazine Spare Rib and former editor of Esquire explains how Hugh Hefner’s project changed society’s opinion on sex forever.


The Feminist Fight Back:
But as feminism gathered pace, no amount of literary acquisitions could prevent the brick-bats raining down on Hefners’s head. Gloria Steinem reputedly said that a, “woman reading Playboy feels like a Jew reading a Nazi manual,”and indeed, feminists of the late sixties and early seventies were quick to dismiss Hefner and his magazine as being nothing more than the mouthpiece of a world which wanted to keep women as objects of men’s desire and nothing more.
Hefner always countered by saying his centrefolds are “friends and equals” and, unlike most contemporary porn, Playboy models do have names jobs and opinions. In their interviews, they’re assertive and intelligent (profiles that are always demeaned by Playboy’s habit of always including their measurements).
But what was hard to argue with, and why I believe Playboy played a crucial part in the sexual revolution, was that Hefner always insisted that women had desire, indeed that we had a right to desire, just as society assumed men had. Over the 10-year period from the early Sixties to the time that Spare Rib launched, Playboy championed birth control, equal pay and abortion rights, something both impressive and surprising. Again, it can be dismissed as a cynical ploy to disguise soft porn as something campaigning and serious, but Hefner went further, writing about civil rights, racism and gay liberation at a time when those topics were mainly confined to small-sellingalternative publications.

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Twenty years after co-founding Spare Rib, I became the editor of Esquire magazine, which had just launched in London. Along with GQ, we were the only men’s magazines on the market. When I took the job, I was hounded by questions, “How could you, a feminist, edit a men’s magazine which included pictures of semi-naked women?” In the States, in pre-Playboy days, Esquire had been a high seller, with its mix of high calibre journalism and fetching photos of fully-clothed, though raunchily posed, starlets.

Hefner at the time, was a promotional copywriter on Esquire and he saw his chance, launching Playboy in direct competition to Esquire and almost instantly overtaking it in sales. In time, Esquire reversed their “no breasts” policy but it was too late to turn the tide.

I would answer the question in much the same way as I tried to answer my father, in December of 1973. Our Christmas issue of Spare Rib had shown a woman with her head thrown back in the supposed joys of orgasm. The cover line : “Orgasms? Have one yourself for Christmas”. Part of feminism’s mission was to reclaim our sexual rights and needs, or as Hefner put it years earlier, our right to desire. Unfortunitly, my furious father was not convinced by my embarrassed attempt to explain and the magazine was banished behind the fridge at my sisters house where it would remain until she moved 30 years later.

I relished the job at Esquire because it seemed to me that feminism will always be a one sided, and thus ultimately unfulfilled mission, if men aren’t equally engaged.  I had inherited a magazine culture where 4 or 5 pages featuring sexy actresses in various states of undress were “de regueur”.

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So we showed breasts, but never full frontal nudity. I felt comfortable provided the way they were photographed showed them clearly in control, proud of their bodies, up for some fun, never with that look of submission that characterises so much top-shelf pornography.
Kate Moss appeared on our cover painted gold; she recently did another far more suggestive I thought, photoshoot involving net, jewels and velvet. Now she is to appear on Playboys 60th anniversary cover.

Playboy, by the 90’s, had become a shadow of its former self; leap-frogged by a determined and ruthless porn industry to whom its cheeky centrefolds were merely quaint, the sort of image that might appear on a box of chocolates at Christmas time.
In time, the same thing happened with our UK mens market: Maxim, Stuff, ZOO, Nutz, took the basic mix of fashion, cars and stuff and injected pornographic images that are both ruthless and unsettling.

When that happened (in the 90’s) I left Esquire, aware that I was going to have to push the boundaries in ways that I didn’t feel comfortable about. In all those magazines, and across the internet, it seems to me that women have, once again, lost their voices and their sexual independence, existing solely for the pleasures of men, and for whatever sexual demand any bloke might desire. It is scarily stuff and it’s a million miles from the women who posed for Playboy during its golden years and the kind of magazine that Hefner created. Will the presence of Kate Moss, featuring as Playboys 60th Anniversary centrefold, change that? Sadly, I fear not.

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