There’s a lost-innocence-of-our-children panic piece in the G2 section of yesterday’s Guardian. Rachel Bell asks “what’s going on?” that Playboy-branded stationery and other accessories are number one with little schoolgirls in Britain. The right sort of people are quoted telling us what to think, alongside someone from commerce telling us that the people he represents don’t think at all.
You can probably write the text for yourselves. Playboy is axiomatically evil: it contains pictures of naked women, it’s American, and it’s shamelessly consumerist. It’s full of boys’ toys and lust and ambition and other terrible capitalist vices. How could our sweet little girls treat its merchandise as just a bit of fun? You know the sort of thing: mirror-image Daily Mail—just as reactionary and conservative in its conclusions, but with pseudo-Left arguments instead of pseudo-Right ones.
I bet the author has never properly read the magazine. I used to. Don’t get me wrong: I bought it for the naked women rather than the articles, but the often superb writing was a huge bonus—like the cooking would be if you were married to Nigella Lawson. And if I had a young daughter I’d prefer that her attitude to sex was informed by Playboy than by some supposedly liberated women’s magazine like Cosmopolitan, which I also used to read. (Once upon a time I munched through glossy magazines like a paper recycling mill.)
In the editorial pages of Playboy, sex is something grown-ups do responsibly for fun. They set out to maximise their mutual pleasure and minimize the damage they could do to each other, emotional, physical or otherwise. To Cosmo, sex is still something women do to please men, to keep them around, to get things from them. At the height of HIV-fear I remember that, in Cosmo world, safe sex was something Cosmo girls practised until they “got to know him properly”—the subtext was that if he “committed” sufficiently she should “reward” him by letting him do it to her without a condom. (Heterosexual women are most likely to contract HIV from men they are in a committed relationship with.) The current issue of UK Cosmopolitan magazine boasts the front-page headlines “THE TEN THINGS THAT REALLY MAKE A MAN COMMIT” and “YOUR SECRET SEX WEAPON”.
The schoolgirls interviewed in the Guardian talk about the kudos they get from flaunting the Playboy logo. They feel glamorous. The author of the piece is horrified. I’m not. Most women’s magazines seem designed to make women feel inadequate and dull and ugly. Better that women should celebrate the power they have over men rather than worry that they have “cellulite” or the wrong kind of breasts for this season’s look.
On Radio One this morning, the irresistible Sara Cox read out a letter from a married mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. She wrote about how, at one of the lowest emotional points in her treatment (which included a full mastectomy and reconstruction, plus courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy), her friend Victoria had taken her to learn pole-dancing. She described it as the most exciting and exhilarating time in her life. She explained how “sexy and sassy” it made her feel. She asked for Coxy to play the Beyoncé track she and Victoria had learned to dance to and dedicated it to her friend. I bet they don’t read The Guardian.
The Guardian piece begins by describing approvingly a protest by 15-year-old schoolgirls outside a branch of WHSmith that sells Playboy stationery. The girls are from a Catholic convent school. As Norm would say, such is the state of progressive politics.
UPDATE: Wouldn’t it have been great to illustrate this post with a photo of them demonstrating and caption it “Catholic Convent Teens Stand Against Playboy”?