November 17, 2008

Contemplating the significance of Playgirl’s end

Posted in double standards, entertainment, gender, phallocentrism, pornography, power hierarchy, representation, sex work, sexism at 10:00 am by LB

There was an article today in the New York Times about the recent end to Playgirl magazine.  Recently it’s publisher cancelled the magazine’s distribution.  I pulled out a few things from the article that I felt were very telling:*

So [in trying to rebrand Playgirl after the emphasis on gay imagery by previous ownership and editors] she and her fellow editors, all women in their 20s and all relative neophytes to the world of magazines — and pornography — resolved to fill Playgirl with something different. They aspired to bring Playgirl back to its roots, back to a time when the magazine covered issues like abortion and equal rights, interspersing sexy shots of men with work from writers like Raymond Carverand Joyce Carol Oates.

All the while, the editors juggled the demands of the publisher, Blue Horizon Media, which they said pushed to fill Playgirl with even more nudes and fewer words.


“I’m not a publishing expert, but it seems to me like it would be impossible to sustain a magazine on the quantity of ads Playgirl sold,” Ms. Collins said.

Although the Playgirl Web site is still running, the graphic content is geared more toward gay men. None of the magazine’s editors are involved.

Ms. Caldwell [one of only 3 editors] said Playgirl magazine suffered from the twin malaises of rising costs and declining sales.


Playgirl was started 35 years ago as a feminist response to Playboy and Penthouse. (Playboy sued Playgirl in 1973 for trademark infringement; the suit was settled amicably.) Over the years, the magazine changed ownership, began catering more to gay men, and whittled its operations down. Still, the magazine drew an avid readership, Ms. Caldwell said, selling 600,000 copies per issue in more than three dozen countries.


“For better or worse, this was a real blow for feminism. We were the only magazine that offered naked men to women.”

In the end, Playgirl was run by a skeleton crew of these three editors, along with what Ms. Caldwell described as “a whole horde of eager unpaid interns.”


The magazine had no marketing or public relations budget, so its editors sought to revive the Playgirl brand themselves, throwing parties at a Lower East Side bar. After Blue Horizon denied a request to finance a blog, Ms. Collins built one herself, starting it on WordPress, a free platform.

Their efforts, the women said, got virtually no support; indeed, their higher-ups, all of them men, usually resisted their push to give the magazine editorial heft.

Early in 2008, warning signs surfaced. While newsstands sales were up, Ms. Caldwell said, so were production costs. 


The magazine’s editors said they were never told why the magazine was shut down. But, they said, they were always struck by the paucity of ads.


I quote these segments, because I can see the writing on the wall: Read the rest of this entry »


July 9, 2008

Once a stripper, always a stripper

Posted in news, representation, sex work, sexual politics at 3:42 am by LB

This kind of bullshit phrasing happens all the time.


“Ex-Stripper Claims Affair With Alex Rodriguez, Calls Cindy ‘Smart'”

She’s not just a woman; she is was a stripper!

a) Does it really matter? Is cheating with a stripper somehow “worse” than with a “regular woman” (because see, strippers aren’t just regular women who have a job to pay the bills, they’re some sort of non-human exotic sex-being!) Would a headline similarly read “Accountant Claims Affair with A-Rod”? I think not.

b) She was a stripper. She is no longer. Why must women who are sex workers always and forever be accompanied with the adjective “ex-[insert sex industry job here]”?

Of course I know the answers to my own questions. It’s still utter bullshit.

(And this comes from our ever-“progressive” news source Huff-Po…ya know, the ones who recently celebrated Independence Day with a pictorial of women and men in flag-inspired bathing suits “hottie” female celebs in flag-printed bikinis.)

Not to mention that A-Rod’s marriage is none of our damn business and is nowhere near newsworthy.

(Cross-posted to The Reaction)

June 5, 2008

Sometimes Cosmo readers say interesting things

Posted in double standards, objectification, pornography, sex work, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 1:00 pm by LB

The problem this Cosmo reader encountered is one that I have always been irked by.

From a semi-related post on Female Impersonator:

This attitude was shown in one of the “Cosmo Confessions” featured monthly in Cosmopolitan magazine:

“Once a month, my boyfriend has a guy’s night out with his buddies. Normally, they shoot poll or go to a ball game. But last month, I overheard him making plans to go to a strip club. It really upset me that he didn’t bother asking how I felt about his sticking dollar bills in other women’s G-strings. Instead of confronting him, I did some investigating and found out that the night he was planning to go to the club happened to be amateur night, which meant that any girl could get on stage and dance. So I called a few girlfriends, and we headed to the club. After a few drinks, I surprised my guy as one of the novice strippers. He was so shocked that he just froze–until I started undressing. Then he jumped on the stage and begged me to come down, promising me he’d never go to a nudie bar again.”

I think it’s great that the male partner in this story realized how his female partner must feel about his being there by how he felt seeing her up there. I wish more men could have the visceral experience this one did. Many men say that they should be able to go to strip clubs, but wouldn’t want their girlfriend to strip. They justify this by saying that they themselves would not strip, and that they wouldn’t care if their girlfriend saw a male strip show. This is not a equivalent comparison to me, and I’m going to try to elaborate a little on why I think this. Read the rest of this entry »

May 1, 2008

DC Madam Commits Suicide

Posted in news, prostitution, sex work at 6:16 pm by LB

Thomas at Feministe says it perfectly so I’m just going to quote their post here:

The “D.C. Madam” has committed suicide.

Opinions among feminist about sex work vary widely, but I think we probably all agree about one thing: no just system would make things worse for the women that do the sex work, than for the men who act as customers. Yet, this blog has covered before, in this case, the johns were spared public humiliation, but the sex workers were dragged up on the stand and asked painfully invasive questions. This is not the first suicide in the case; according to the story, one of the women who worked for the service previously killed herself. A culture that puts women in a position of doing sex work and then so shames them and persecutes them for it that they take their own lives is deeply sick.

March 31, 2008

Prostitution: After the Sensationalism

Posted in empowerment, mass media, objectification, prostitution, sex work, sexual exploitation, sexual politics at 7:31 pm by LB

Well, it’s been a few weeks since the whole Spitzer-prostitute thing, and it would be an understatement to say the whole event created an online “buzz.” Some has been very good–as I wrote about previously, there has been much discussion about the criminality of prostitution, the differences between decriminalization and legalization, about the theoretical and “ethical” (?) distinctions between buying sex and selling it, and about how the prostitutes themselves (rather than their “pimps” or the “johns”) suffer the worst penalties and take the greatest risks. Some has been not so good, with the slut-shaming, and the objectification and dehumanizing critique of her body (“that’s worth $4,000?!), and the looking for any sexualized images of her that people might have, despite her lack of consent to the publishing context (yeah I’m taking about you, Girls Gone Wild and The New York Post).

While this story brought into relief the connection between male privilege and cheating via prostitution, indeed reminded us that paying for sexual services is often (not always) bound up in male privilege, I found myself frustrated, however, that this particular example of prostitution was the centerpiece of the discussion. For while Dupree’s “life story” (at 22 years old) is quite typical of sex workers generally–moved away from home at a young age, was homeless, drugs, no college education, possible abuse–her working conditions were not at all typical. It is easy to see why prostitution is “no big deal” and is just like any other physically exploitative labor-intensive work when you can hand-pick your clients and have to work very little to get a handsome paycheck.

This isn’t the truth of most prostitution work. And I think it’s important that we don’t forget that in all the glitz and glamor and sex-money-politics juiciness of this particular story that sound more like a made-for-TV movie. And not all of prostitution’s problems can be solved by legalizing and regulating it. Some of the violence and abuse on the job comes from how masculinity and sexual dominance and ownership is linked in out society. And sexual abuse and violence is a strong common denominator among those who get into sex work of all kinds, prostitution, stripping, porn, etc. When these things are so connected, it’s imporantant to not only talk about the legal issues but the social ones as well.

When becoming a sex worker is a way for women to cope, but not deal with, past sexual abuse, is it really beneficial to simply legalize it, call it their choice, and wash our hands of the damaging social factors that perpetuate both the “supply” and “demand”?: the social inequality of men and women, sexual violence against women, the objectification of women, the way men feel emasculates in a society where women have become more independent and in control but we have yet to produce a positive egalitarian idea of masculinity. Many of these women need emotional and physical counseling and support, they need help coming into a healthy relationship with their bodies; they don’t need to be alienating their bodies as a response to previous abuse. And we need a serious revolution in the ways we value women’s work. What does the instant fame, glamor, and big dollar sex contracts thrown at Ms. Dupree say to our young women working hard in school? When Lindsay Lohan is a train wreck and is throwing her life away, but stop the presses, because we may have found a video of her giving a blow job? When being called the Unsexiest Woman Alive can shake Sarah Jessica Parker, who on TV represented a self-reliant, successful, self-defined woman for so many woman my age? Whose post-TV work has been about women’s fashion and mothering, and not about bodily alterations or posing for men?** Just saying.

I am not saying some women who hasn’t been abused or is not in such economic dire straits that no other options are viable should not be able to choose prostitution or other sex work as an informed choice. But I think that sex work is a social and legal and cultural issue and needs to be addressed on both levels. We need to talk about how male privilege to (own) women’s bodies is part of the cultural breath we breathe. We need to talk about women’s connections to their bodies and sexualities and how social objectification, self-objectification, and sexual violence all disrupt that connection. And women’s bodies and desirability need to stop being the measure of a woman’s worth. Period. There need to be better economic options for women who are in desperate situations or who are single mothers (or both) so that prostitution and other sex work is not “choice” via coercion. Addressing these issues will help sex work being a truly informed choice. And further, we need to be aware of the realities of prostitution and other sex work when we are discussing and debating solutions, and not just what is glamorized by the media and films.

Here’s a visible look at some of the daily realities, lest we get too comfy with the pretty-young-choosy-expensive-glamorous prostitute image we have been inundated with lately. (image via Mentrual Poetry):

visit Prostitution Research and Education for more info.

**(and as an actress, her target audience was for women’s entertainment and inspiration, not at all for men. And she’s the “unsexiest woman”? She also hasn’t caved in to “fix” her “Jewish” nose. Either one coincidence? Prolly not).