"Tough Women in the Unlikeliest of Places” The Unexpected Toughness of the Playboy Playmate
James K. Beggan and Scott T. Allison
The Playboy Playmate model is often conceptualized in American culture as a highly sexual, commercial object vulnerable to exploitation. The mainstream media communicates the notion that the general public is operating under the narrow-minded preconception that women should strive to act and present themselves in a sophisticated and modest manner. Most critical examinations of Playboy tend to focus on the ways in which this publication reinforces the patriarchal conceptualization of women.
What if Playboy was actually intellectually progressive, rather than regressive? How would that impact gender roles and women studies in our society?
In this scenario, men could be characterized as nonconformist. They are rebelling against the stereotypical life plan that dictates that they should find a cute little wifey, get married and start a family.
The typical Playmate is defined by a strong, athletic, ambitious and intelligent character. These masculine attributes are reinforced by far-reaching readership engagement. In effect, men are widely responsible for the socialization of a new, more masculine definition of femininity.
This contemporary idea of femininity originates in the Playmate’s ability to assert dominance in a context that seems to reject the socialization of such characteristics. Female sexuality has become reconceptualized. It is not longer a form of patriarchal oppression, but a means to hedonistic satisfaction. Feminists have been known to defend these oversexualized images as a form of free speech. They argue that to censor these images would be to deny sexual pleasure to women and men alike.
Why would American women would settle for anything less? The paradox of women’s representation in the media is that women’s magazines frequently commercialize women as objects for profit. Seventy-five percent of the content in these magazines is paid for through companies that objectify women in their advertisements. However, in Playboy the readership is primarily male. There is no alliance between the magazine and companies that promote the sale of female products. Despite all of this, the media continues to distribute predominantly negative rhetoric about Playboy and its models.
Men indirectly support liberal feminist ideology. They have contributed to the development of a new branch of feminism. Patriarchal Feminism.
“Men may encourage women to adopt attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors consistent with feminist ideologies because they are in fact attracted to women with these characteristics (816).”
These characteristics include attributes such as a fit physique, competence and control over emotions, unwillingness to experience fear, ability to act in a thoughtful and intelligent manner, contemplative, shows leadership, and engages in risk-taking behaviors such as challenging authority.
Is Playboy inherently immoral because they provide modeling positions and career advancing recognition for attractive, strong women in America? Or is the media scandalizing the advancement of feminist ideals to reflect the fear and insecurity of uptight, righteous hypocrites across the nation?