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November 01, 2005


I'm late to the party on Dowd's bizarre article on how feminists are responsible for her singledom, but I do think this piece on two academics who submitted all the text of Playboy pictorials analysis is an interesting accompaniment:

Beggan began in 1998 to assemble a database that contained all the photos and text from the 204 Playboy Playmate pictorials that appeared in the magazine between 1985 and 2001. Much of it was distilled from a cache of Playboys he found gathering dust in a Louisville bookstore. (And, of course, in the interest of scholarship, he just had to rescue them from oblivion.)

Beggan and Allison, writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Popular Culture, found a pattern to the way that Playboy's wordsmiths described the women who graced the magazine's centerfold. They were typically strong, career-oriented, aggressive and, in a surprising number of instances, downright "tough." Adjectives suggesting vulnerability, submissiveness or passivity appeared less frequently.

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How do you get a job like that!

Posted by: Dave Justus | Nov 1, 2005 5:06:50 PM

...and therein, perhaps, lies the secret to Playboy's sliding circulation figures and the rise of Maxim and the other laddie mags - boys looking for safe, pliant objectified women needed to look elsewhere...

Posted by: weboy | Nov 1, 2005 5:11:40 PM

"lies the secret to Playboy's sliding circulation figures"

Yeah, my complete collection (including all outtakes) of jpgs stops in the early 80s. More interesting and complete studies can and have been done. The current models are expectedly much taller, with larger busts and smaller hips, and a little bit younger than the 60's.

Playboy's circulation actually peaked around 70-71, and has slowly declined ever since. As has the magazine, the photography and style, and to a much lesser degree, the models. The models may have been less accomplished and confidant in the late sixties, but the photographs in both skill and intent, were magnificent. Amateur natural models, in their one & only shoot, with minimal makeup, photographed using only sunlight in ordinary apartments and outdoors. It was very expensive and ostentatiously difficult.

But that I guess was at the dawn of the sexual revolution, and women and young men's tastes have changed since then.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 1, 2005 6:51:19 PM

I don't know, maybe I am an old sexist fool:

1. Brunette sitting in a rocking chair on a country porch at sunset, wearing bluejeans with the top button unfastened, plaid lumberman's shirt unbuttoned all the showing a hint of curve, looking at you with a half-smile

2. Completely nude pole dancer thrusting her crotch in your face in time to an hip-hop rhythym

I guess the first is passive and vulnerable and the second is aggressive and even tough. Time has passed me by.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 1, 2005 7:09:41 PM

Could part of the explaination be that the 'girl-next-door' pictorial became passe in the early 70s with the rise of the porno theater and XXX movies at about the same time?

Posted by: The Dark Avenger | Nov 1, 2005 7:33:20 PM

If Dowd is looking for some company, she can give this young liberal lad a ring. Even though what she says sounds downright crazy to me at times, her manner and delivery screams my type. And I'm a glutton for punishment. ;)

Posted by: Adrock | Nov 1, 2005 8:33:37 PM

Right there with ya, Adrock.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Nov 1, 2005 10:48:53 PM

Also, you might notice that Playboy almost always features white, mainly blonde, breast-augmented chics. Whereas Maxim sports a greater variety of women. And the readin' in Maxim is waaaaaaayyyyyyy better, too.

Posted by: Roxanne | Nov 1, 2005 11:41:40 PM

The readin' in Maxim is indeed much better. And I'll back you up on the diversity of the women. The only issue of Maxim that our neighbors stole was the one with Beyonce on the cover. (They gave it back later, although we weren't sure we wanted to touch it.)

Posted by: Pepper | Nov 2, 2005 12:54:54 AM

Adrock and Neil get something right there: on paper, I'd marry Dowd. She's attractive, bright, accomplished, rich...a bit older, but age is just a number. But the fact that so many other guys have dated and decided not to marry her makes me think they know something I don't. The problem, it seems clear, isn't with feminism or men, it's with Maureen.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Nov 2, 2005 10:11:03 AM

The problem, it seems clear, isn't with feminism or men, it's with Maureen.

Right you are, Ezra.
It is human nature to first blame outside forces for your problems. Most people have much, MUCH more power over their lives than they believe.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 2, 2005 10:23:01 AM

Maxim and FHM and the like are for guys who are too chicken to buy actual pr0n.

Posted by: Thlayli | Nov 2, 2005 10:55:42 AM

Feministing had a pretty interesting post about this study, commenting that the juxstaposition of powerfully described women with very passive and available poses is what is important here. http://feministing.com/archives/002176.html Anyway, it's unclear whether these descriptions are top-down (and just indicative of editorial decisions - HH is more feminist than many of his colleagues) or in anyway reflect bottom-up effects (and thus telling about cultural changes).

Dowd is just absurd. Even if her evidence demonstrates real trends (dubious), everything she says is about positional values. Maybe the more assertive women have trouble dating, but what does that have to do with feminism's progress? There will always be more assertive and more submissive women, no matter what the average value in society is. She's a outspoken female columnist for the NYT. Maybe men are intimidated by her now, but would they not have been intimidated 30 years ago? Does she think the NYT should just have no female columnists?

And not to mention all these brash generalizations about the social changes that affect romance are pretty insulting to any idealistic view of love.

Posted by: Tony Vila | Nov 2, 2005 12:58:06 PM

A lot of feminist bloggers found the alleged "Tough Bunny" trend misogynistic. The thought the fantasy was about putting tough girls in their place by describing them as tough and independent, but showing them in submissive poses.

I had the opposite impression. A lot of men are obviously attracted to toughness and independence. Look at the aesthetics of video games and comic books--you see lots of sexy female characters who also kick ass. If the Bunny study suggests anything, it's that Playboy is (slowly) catching on to some very encouraging trends.

Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Nov 2, 2005 2:13:18 PM

Or, you could chock it up to living in an increasingly aggressive world that demands more aggression on all fronts.

Posted by: Roxanne | Nov 2, 2005 4:24:17 PM

Reading Katie Roiphe's article on Dowd in Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2129290/?nav=ais), I felt I had to share this passage:

I don't mean to suggest that there is something inherently wrong with using one's own life in political writing. But one should use it honestly, rigorously, complicatedly, like critics such as Mary McCarthy, Rebecca West, Joan Didion, or Andrew Sullivan.

Now, I refuse to read him, but has Andrew Sullivan commented honestly yet on his site about cruising for bareback sex while knowingly HIV positive?

Posted by: NY Expat | Nov 2, 2005 11:04:12 PM

You might be able to make an argument that the "Tough Bunny" thing is more misandrist than misogynist. The wish-fulfillment for the reader, of course, is that these strong, beautiful, agressive women are available to him, the same way that the beautiful women are available to a not-particularly-good-looking guy in stereotypical porn.

Which requires a reader who as some level believes himself a schlub whom attractive women wouldn't give a second look in real life.

Posted by: paul | Nov 4, 2005 1:29:09 PM

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