"One giant leap backward for sports womankind."
January 21, 2001 5:03 PM   Subscribe

"One giant leap backward for sports womankind." Playboy runs an article about female sports-casters. (ESPN and ABC told them to "get stuffed" when asked for photos and bios. Bravo!) And there was a reader poll. The winner of the poll was supposed to get an offer of a million bucks to do a nude pictorial in the mag. (She declined. An even bigger Bravo!) More interesting is that third place in the poll went to woman who described herself as having "reached the 175-pound mark during her third pregnancy, at age 38". (I wonder if it was a protest vote, like when "Hank the angry drunken dwarf won People Magazine's online "Most beautiful people" poll. [I voted for him.]) Of course, the kicker is that Playboy is run by Christie Hefner, Hugh's daughter. He retired from the business a long time ago. So, today's quiz: Is Christie Hefner a symbol of the success of American Womanhood, or a traitor to the cause?
posted by Steven Den Beste (43 comments total)
Which cause? Are you asking if she's a success as an American woman (something about which there's no question), or as a feminist (something I've never heard her profess to be)?

Snap answer: Neither.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 5:14 PM on January 21, 2001

"It's a mix."
posted by hobbes at 5:19 PM on January 21, 2001

I was going to get all long winded but it seems to me that it would be far simpler to ask a question:
Is it offensive to find female nudity attractive? And I mean that in a completely abstract sense.
The effect of the assumptions that you make about what goes along with finding female nudity attractive (i.e. the ways in which you fail to abstract the question) will probably say a great deal more about you than the answer you give itself.
posted by davidgentle at 5:44 PM on January 21, 2001

I can not speakfor others but I love female nudity. So too the Greek and Roman artists.And I am not even Greek or that old.
posted by Postroad at 6:07 PM on January 21, 2001

I don't think Steven's question has anything to do with female nudity, it's the question of whether Christine Hefner is "doing the right thing" by running articles that attempt to get female sportscasters to pose nude.

Female sportscasters are something new in America, because women aren't supposed to like sports or have anything meaningful to say about sports (these are prevailing old-school opinions, not mine). So a woman breaks through all the gender bias, gets elevated all the way to on-camera talent, and is finally valued for her opinion (on sports of all things), and what is Playboy mag trying to do? Portray that same woman as a sexual object (and remember, she would do it for a million dollars - in essence, "prosituting" her good looks) in order to sell magazines.

What if someone bought into the poll? If the winner actually posed nude, do you think she'd ever get taken seriously again?

This lady Hef is a traitor, because her entire business depends on women as sexual objects, not to be taken seriously, that all women are airbrushed fantasies that enjoy water skiing, skinny dipping, and long walks on the beach. It's vital to Christine Hefner's well being that we don't take all women seriously as people.
posted by mathowie at 6:13 PM on January 21, 2001

Christie Hefner is a symbol of one thing and one thing only:

"Getting a soopa-phat job from Daddy".
posted by Optamystic at 6:16 PM on January 21, 2001

D.G: Offensive to who? Humankind? Women? I can't understand what harm could be caused in finding nude women attractive, unless you are implying it is impossible to relate to women on other level because of this enjoyment.
posted by thirteen at 6:17 PM on January 21, 2001

davidgentle, I would think it would depend on the way the female nudity is displayed or presented. And how you responded to it. I think. I don't know, I'm not good at responding to tricky questions. So on to the easy question:

Is she a symbol of the success? Of course not. At least not because she owns the Playboy company. It was given to her. Let's say she makes Playboy into an even bigger and more successful business. Some would consider her a symbol of female power, others would consider her just short of a high-class madam. As for the traitor to the cause bit, that's a little more in a grey area. Some women see posing nude as empowering. Others deem it a form of prostitution. And still others deem prostitution an empowerment to women and the right for them to do what they wish with their bodies. It all depends on you ask. If you had asked me...she's neither a full-on success nor a full-on traitor.

Okay so it wasn't as easy as I thought. Fine. I'll shut up now.
posted by crushed at 6:58 PM on January 21, 2001

This lady Hef is a traitor, because her entire business depends on women as sexual objects, not to be taken seriously, that all women are airbrushed fantasies that enjoy water skiing, skinny dipping, and long walks on the beach. It's vital to Christine Hefner's well being that we don't take all women seriously as people.

I'm sure there are people who can't take a woman seriously once she's removed her clothes and posed for Playboy, but their stunted emotional development strikes me as their problem, not Christie Hefner's.
posted by kindall at 7:01 PM on January 21, 2001

Christie Hefner is actually quite an attractive woman herself, and was even better looking (in the sense that Playboy would evaluate it) when she first took over (being much younger). Now it's probably been ten years since I bought a copy of Playboy and I don't keep up, but if she ever posed herself, I never heard of it.

I find myself comparing and contrasting her to Danni Ashe, a woman for whom I have enormous respect (as I've said before here). There are striking differences: Danni Ashe does pose (she doesn't ask anyone else to do what she herself won't). Ashe only publishes pictures of established nude models; she doesn't try to coerce celebrities to pose.

And perhaps the biggest difference: Ashe's business is successful and growing, while Playboy Enterprises has not done so well during Christie Hefner's time runnng it. The stock peaked in 1999 and has declined since then. The volume sales of the magazine is well down from its historic high, and the web site apparently isn't profitable. According to their SEC filings they've gone from slightly profitable in fiscal 1997 to losing money in fiscal 1999 (10K). Since then, they've still in the red (10Q).

Just to demonstrate that I don't think nudity is the issue, I would say that Christie Hefner doesn't represent a good role model because she got her job through nepotism and doesn't seem to be doing it well. Ashe, on the other hand, I would suggest is a good role model in this sense: she decided what she wanted to do, she started doing it all alone and built a business out of it, she's having a blast, she's making a fortune, and she's not a hypocrite. What more can anyone ask than that? What she's doing isn't the point; it's that she likes it and is successful. She is a classic example of an American entrepreneur.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:07 PM on January 21, 2001

I wonder if it was a protest vote, like when "Hank the angry drunken dwarf won People Magazine's online "Most beautiful people" poll. [I voted for him])

Just a side note...

Nationally Syndicated Radio Talk show guys 'Don & Mike' were doing the Hanna Storm push. They were trying to make her win, but fell short.
posted by stew560 at 7:24 PM on January 21, 2001

On sales of porn magazines: I've never actually read Playboy (I'm not denying reading porn, I just haven't read that particular magazine) but I assume that it's pretty softcore. Given how easy it is to see nudity these days (certainly compared to the 50's and 60's) maybe it's just not compelling. It's also possible that the Playboy "standard" of beauty is not as accurate as they think.
posted by davidgentle at 7:29 PM on January 21, 2001

I find it offensive that "the Playboy spread" is considered a logical step for women in the entertainment industry. Voted off the island? Possess a vagina? Playboy wants to hear from you. There's something terribly depressing about the media's "we await the call from Playboy" attitude, as if it's a mainstream endorsement of vapid (and vaporous) celebrity.

As mathowie said, we're finally reaching a stage where women in sports broadcasting are journalists, not celebrities. (A case in point: Gabby Yorath, now fronting the lunchtime football preview on ITV.) What it says about Christy Hefner, then, is that the Playboy approach, which attempts to shape a woman's career along a "C-list, tits out, B-list" path, is terribly dull.
posted by holgate at 7:33 PM on January 21, 2001

So, can we aqssume that there's a distinction between nudity for the sake of making a buck (i.e. porn models) and nudity for the sake of making a career move?
I doubt that if I wanted to establish myself as a TV presenter I would get my kit off to do it but (if I had the...uh...credentials) I wouldn't mind doing it as a source of income.
posted by davidgentle at 8:43 PM on January 21, 2001

It is, to me, extremely telling to look at the types of women who have posed for Playboy. They have largely been either vapid girls who don't have the "look" to do fashion modelling but can capitalise on their bodies in this way, TV types who are already known as brainless bodies or actresses trying to get a PR boost that their actual careers cannot give them. I can't remember the last "serious" actress/celebrity who was in Playboy but the pages have been rife with the likes of Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, Downtown Julie Brown, Darva Conger, Chyna and Sable from the WWF, and so on.

Simply put, women who value their credibility or whose careers are dependent upon an image of being serious and thoughtful just simply cannot take their clothes off for magazine shoots. No matter how "tasteful" the photos and regardless of their own personal thoughts on nudity/pornography/feminism, they know, as well as anyone, that doing Playboy strikes a death blow to a successful and rising career.

In trying to get these female sportscasters to undermine themselves, Christie Hefner sends a very clear message: no matter what, you're still a girl in a man's world, so why not play that to the hilt? Your words, your thoughts, your insights and expertise notwithstanding, there will always be the element that'd rather just see you as a silent, submissive object, so why not give them what they want?

The very idea is repulsive. Kudos to all of the sportscasters in question who turned a deaf ear to the whole thing.
posted by Dreama at 8:47 PM on January 21, 2001

A similar question might be to ask enterprising men if they'd pose for Playgirl. Do you think you'd get on the fast track to becoming a supreme court justice or company CEO by showing your "bits and pieces" for a million bucks, or do you think you'd get laughed out of your profession for having sold your body in such a way?
posted by mathowie at 9:47 PM on January 21, 2001

I don't think there's anything wrong with women getting naked to make a buck. I probably wouldn't do it, but if someone else wants the money, why not?

What upsets me is that they are then judged and dismissed for making these choices.

A lot of feminists are anti-porn, and think that the social institutions that make it acceptable need to be torn down so that women are no longer objectified. But I think it's okay to objectify people sometimes. Sex is not only, always about love. Sometimes it really is about objectification. And porn is a just step away from this.

Maybe what we really need to do is make objectification of men commonplace as well.

In any case, it's ridiculous that we all get so worked up about nakedness. As much as Playboy is considered porn, these women aren't doing anything degrading beyond presenting their bodies to the world.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:48 PM on January 21, 2001

As a disclaimer, I have many friends working at Playboy, and have been up for many jobs there myself. I have no great insite into the organization, but I have read a bit over the years.

I don't think that this is a gimmie job for Christie Hefner. She had a successful career before she took over the reigns. I don't remember exactly what her job was, but she was making some money. I seem to recall she did not grow up around Hef, and had little contact with him. Hef asked her to take over the business because he wanted to keep it in the family. The woman is rich in 8 different ways, she does not need to have things given to her. Her husband is a former senator, who owns a nice chunk of the loop, and helped create the horror that is the Rainforest Cafe.

I don't mind if you all hate what the Playboy thing is, but I don't think it is right to judge this woman. Why shouldn't she run it? If she doesn't have a problem with it, what do you care? Would you prefer a man to run it? No one is forced to pose for playboy, and I know there is plenty of time to opt out. There seems to be no shortage of women who desperately want to be photographed.

I don't know any women who read Playgirl, only gay men. I have a feeling if women were more into it, there would be no problem getting guys to peel for the camera. It doesn't take much to gut guys naked as it is. I certainly wouldn't give a guy any grief if thousands of women were willing to pay to see him.
posted by thirteen at 10:28 PM on January 21, 2001

When did we bestow the score-readers on the tube the mantle of "journalists"?
posted by red cell at 10:40 PM on January 21, 2001

Here's the Daily News article that Olbermann mentioned. (The rarin'-to-go sportscaster in question was, allegedly, Summer Sanders.)

Personally, I think Olbermann over-reacted. ("Set back TV journalism several years"?!) The reason this has turned out to be a more touchy subject than any of the dozens of similar polls Playboy's held over the years, or before that, created editorially within the magazine, is probably due to the long-delayed acceptance that women sports journalists have finally achieved. If you ask me, sports journalism is as much as 20 years behind the times if feminism is just peaking there now -- almost everywhere else post-feminism has taken root, at least everywhere else in the entertainment industry.

The female athletes themselves have begun to celebrate their sexuality, and they're actually encouraging some of the boys to join in. Heck, Michael Jordan posed naked squatting with a basketball between his legs, and because it was "artistic" (well-known Chicago photog Skrebneski), nobody said a peep. The books, though not the posters, were in McDonald's restaurants all around the city.
posted by dhartung at 10:44 PM on January 21, 2001

Olson writes in her column, "The women who popped up regularly on our TVs these last few months reporting on the presidential election were mostly ordinary looking, a refreshing sign of progress."

What channel was Olson watching with the plain-looking reporters and anchors? Norah O'Donnell, Campbell Brown, Ashley Banfield and Mika Brzezinski were never away from the screen more than five consecutive minutes during the post-election coverage on MSNBC.
posted by rcade at 11:01 PM on January 21, 2001

I think the biggest step backward for women in sports is how Anna Kournikova is covered by the sports media. She has never won a singles title, yet the press covers her like the second coming of Martina Navratilova because of how she looks.

Here in the Jacksonville area, we have a women's tennis tournament every year where the male hosts of sportstalk radio shows cover the event strictly to slobber over Kournikova. This was going on as early as 1997, when she was 16 years old.
posted by rcade at 11:09 PM on January 21, 2001

A similar question might be to ask enterprising men if they'd pose for Playgirl.

Doesn't this suggest that men have a problem, rather than women? Why should someone be laughed out of a profession because photos of them with no clothes on exist? What's the connection?

I can not speak for others but I love female nudity. So too the Greek and Roman artists.

In all likelihood they considered slavery normal too.

Anyway, it seems to me that there's very little wrong with posing naked, provided there is little direct exploitation involved - I'd be a lot more worried about someone doing something they didn't want to do because they were desperate for money than a relatively successful celeb appearing in Playboy. Note that "doing something they didn't want to [...] for money" doesn't mention nudity at all, which suggests that poverty, rather than nudity, might be a more important issue.

posted by andrew cooke at 12:55 AM on January 22, 2001

I just find this as depressing an issue as the perennial one that crops up in tabloid interviews with actresses: "So, have you appeared nude? will you appear nude? why won't you appear nude? what was it like to appear nude?" It's that combination of the voyeuristic and the prurient that sickens me.

and red cell: if women are just "score-readers" in the US, then too bad. They've got the atrocious Craig-Kilbornesque pretty-frat-boy no-brain jockism of ESPN to deal with: something that is thankfully much less prevalent over here. Perhaps the networks are scared of intelligent discussion on "SportsCenter"?
posted by holgate at 5:08 AM on January 22, 2001

The human body is a wonderful thing. We should not be ashamed of it. If any woman (or man for that matter) can make some money (or get an ego boost, if that is the case) by showing off their body, more power to them.

Why is a baseball player making millions of dollars a year any different? Both are "exploiting" physical attributes. A woman with beautiful breasts or a woman who can slam dunk a basketball should both be glad they have what they have and they should be glad the public (via a corporation) is willing to pay money for it.

posted by bondcliff at 7:48 AM on January 22, 2001

My, but I love these debates. ;-)

No matter how "tasteful" the photos and regardless of their own personal thoughts on nudity/pornography/feminism, they know, as well as anyone, that doing Playboy strikes a death blow to a successful and rising career.

Obviously, Dreama and I live in different universes.

I was going, Steven, to include you in calling Olberman, and our esteemed host puritan reactionaries based on your reactions to this issue... but then I read your comments about Danni (which I had missed on earlier threads).

So now I can't. :-)

I will assert here, though, that it's important for people who wish to make such comments in public to decide whether they're being descriptive, or prescriptive. I feel it's the latter, and I think that's the only real reason why there's anything wrong with what Playboy did.

These women are adults. If they judge that it's a Good Thing for them to do this, where the *fuck* do we get off telling them otherwise, regardless whether we read the mag or not?

In this instance, Playboy tried to be upstanding and go through these people's employers... which is why there's a stink about it.

Isn't it ironic... don'cha think?
posted by baylink at 8:07 AM on January 22, 2001

Oh, BTW: Olbermann's agahst-ness at being included in theor second poll?


Didn't anyone ever explain "being a public (sorry) figure" to him in Famous Broadcasters School?
posted by baylink at 8:12 AM on January 22, 2001

A clarification: Christie Hefner runs the Playboy empire; Hef runs the magazine.
posted by tregoweth at 8:30 AM on January 22, 2001

Why should posing nude, in any capacity, be tantamount to committing professional suicide? Why are we equating nudity with a loss of respect?

I agree with the post above that observed that if we are going to stop exploiting physical attributes, we really need to start with sports players, not sportscasters. Athletes get endorsements worth multi-millions based on their physical abilities. Are they also being exploited? Who would we be better off giving those endorsements to?

Personally, I think it has to do with the reaction nudity elicits. Often, seeing nudity will evoke a strong sexual reaction, whereas watching sports players on the field might energize you, but it probably doesn't stimulate you in a sexual way. And, it seems that even in the 21st century, Americans still trouble dealing with sexuality. So we call it "exploitation".
posted by goto11 at 8:40 AM on January 22, 2001

If they judge that it's a Good Thing for them to do this, where the *fuck* do we get off telling them otherwise...?

Sure, it's their choice. But like the "nude scene" in an actress's film career, it's a choice that's increasingly becoming an expectation. And where the *fuck* does Playboy and its cohorts get the belief that the offer of a shoot is some kind of American order of chivalry. "Arise, Lady Pamela, and take off your bra: Playboy has so honoured you."

And yeah, kudos to Danni Ashe: it's her attitude that will win the day.
posted by holgate at 8:52 AM on January 22, 2001

No matter who runs the magazine, there's no way they could budget a million bucks for something like this without Christie's knowledge and consent.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:18 AM on January 22, 2001

calling Olberman, and our esteemed host puritan reactionaries

Puritan? That's about the most offensive thing you could call me baylink. I have no problem with Playboy. I have no problem with porn. Fuck, I love porn, I wish there were fisting videos in the checkout line at the grocery store.

I have a problem with disrespect.

You don't walk up to CEOs or senators or police chiefs or mayors and say "dance for me and I'll give you a hundred bucks. C'mon, fucker, dance!"

And you don't find successful women and say "hey, if I give ya a million bucks, will ya let us all look at yer boobies? C'mon, get naked for money, what's the harm in that?!"

Among other things, it's disrespectful.
posted by mathowie at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2001

...or do you think you'd get laughed out of your profession for having sold your body in such a way?

I've got fairly mixed feelings on this issue, I guess, but I must take exception to the way you've phrased this. In no way does letting someone take pictures of you (naked or otherwise) constitute "selling your body." C'mon!

posted by rushmc at 11:57 AM on January 22, 2001

Fuck, I love porn, I wish there were fisting videos in the checkout line at the grocery store.

I nominate this line to be added to the rotating queue for the MetaFilter banner.

As for your point about disrespect, I don't see an appreciable difference between asking a woman to do a photo spread for Playboy and asking her to do one for Vanity Fair. In both cases, the magazine expects to make some coin off her physical beauty or the resulting scandal (*cough Demi Moore cough*) They can clothe it in "respect" and "admiration" in the accompanying feature article, but the difference is simply a matter of degree and style. VF may be more "artsy," but they'll still show just as much skin as Playboy will.

It is a fact that both men and women are judged by their looks. It is also a fact that not everyone is comfortable with this. (Hey, not like I'm Fabio, either...) But until someone figures out a way to re-wire the societal psyche, it's going to be there.
posted by mikewas at 1:50 PM on January 22, 2001

Why are we equating nudity with a loss of respect?

Because it happens in that way with such frequency that even if there isn't a causal connection, there's still a very high probability that the respect you'd garner from a large segment of the population as something other than a body is going to diminish once you're naked in print?

Holgate and mathowie have the right idea -- it's not nearly so objectionable an idea for a female sportscaster (or other female in a profession where her physical attributes aren't the key to her career) would do a Playboy layout. Nor does the problem lay in the question of whether posing for Playboy is exploitative objectification or empowering personal choice, or perhaps both. The trouble is fully in the way that this is promoted, as though it's somehow a coveted honour -- "You've done well in your career, you're popular, and as a treat to you for your success, we'd like to photograph you naked."
posted by Dreama at 1:51 PM on January 22, 2001

While I fully agree with mathowie and holgate, let me play devil's advocate for a moment:

What if instead of "You're a woman in the public spotlight who's doing well; now go get naked," you took it to mean "You're a woman who is famous for doing something she loves, you're successful, and most people respect you for your mind. Would you like to also show these people that you're a sexy woman who is comfortable with her body?" Would we then consider it as sickening as we do now? I don't think so. Therefore, it all depends on how the nudity is is displayed or presented. And the reasons behind it.

I think it depends on what type of nudity as well. Women who bare their breasts for a shoot might retain their respect but a woman who does a shoot spread-eagle I somehow doubt would.
posted by crushed at 3:39 PM on January 22, 2001

Good point, crushed: I think it's a matter of context. There's more cultural space to be "smart and sexy" in continental Europe, I think, where you don't get as much of the Anglo-Protestant doublethink: that combination of juvenile titillation and old-fart prurience that can only be summed up by the words "Benny Hill".

But again, it's also a matter of respect: why should women feel any compulsion to show their "sexy" or "glamorous" side? Noam Chomsky doesn't get asked to show off his six-pack. Alan Greenspan may get asked to pose in a slightly outré suit for GQ, but that's the limit.

Call it the Lois Lane complex: it's still a male invention, as seen in She's All That and teen films passim. I only wish there were films where the pretty high-school girl finally gets to show off her inner geek.

Modern culture seems to offer a paradoxical position: women have to be serious, but not too serious; driven, but not to the point at which it becomes "testosterone-driven"; smart, but not too smart, and with an ability to scrub up that makes their smarts amenable. (The media presentation of Oxford neuroscientist Susan Greenfield seems a case in point.) It's a right mess.
posted by holgate at 4:57 PM on January 22, 2001

Actually, it happens to men, too. (You had to know it was Fox doing it, of course.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:35 PM on January 22, 2001

While I have no quarrel with setting high journalistic standards in sports reporting, I'm not sure it's healthy to sustain the illusion that they are in anything but the entertainment industry.

I also found Olbermann's attitude very Victorian, as in, how dare you insult the lady, suh! SLAP I shall defend her honor in a duel to the death with the likes of you! I mean, can't these women object on their own? Maybe they're being polite. Maybe Olbermann was calling more attention to the issue (as Playboy implied with their response, and Brill's assisted with a live link) than would have occurred otherwise.
posted by dhartung at 6:51 PM on January 22, 2001

What they said, Matt. But I do retract 'puritan', and apologize; it was a touch OTT.

I do still want to take issue, though, with
It's vital to Christine Hefner's well being that we don't take all women seriously as people.

I have no problem taking women seriously as people, be they Playboy model quality or not (failing to stammer is another matter entirely :-), and yet, I enjoy reading -- yeah verily and looking at the pictures in -- Playboy, and Perfect 10, and even Gent and Hustler occasionally.

Whomever it was who pointed out that America, as a country, just does not seem to be able to shake off her Puritan roots hit it right on the nose.

It's bleeding. :-)
posted by baylink at 8:11 AM on January 23, 2001

Therefore, it all depends on how the nudity is is displayed or presented. And the reasons behind it.

Mm, so now we're down to the subjective discussion of artistic nudity, right?

And the reasons behind it? Hmm, yes, so many people look at the nude photos in Playboy in order to have a better understanding of female anatomy. Oh, and then there are the detached earlobe/toe length correlation studies. . .
posted by Dreama at 10:04 AM on January 23, 2001


I look at them because they're attractive and I'm straight and horny.

posted by baylink at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2001

Dreama, I think you kind of missed the point I was trying to make. I never suggested that people looked at Playboy for a better understanding of the female body. Nor was I talking about whether or not the nudity was artistic.
posted by crushed at 6:16 PM on January 23, 2001

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