A Plea for Porn

Last time I checked, Playboy<> was a pretty tame read. A lot of big-breasted 18-year-olds running around naked for a few bucks, but nothing dangerous. A hell of a lot less raunchy than what you might find in the back pages of many newspapers -- including this one. With that in mind, I hope Amanda Proctor's friends are goofing on her. I hope that she, at 19, just panicked a bit after a few classmates criticized her for baring her bra.

Proctor, a sophomore, was the only one of 50 Harvard women who gave her name to the school paper after taking test shots for Playboy'<>s occasional feature, "Women of the Ivy League." She's also the only student who nabbed a return spot on the Harvard Crimson's<> front page last week -- this time in an article detailing the not-so-positive reaction to her decision.

For the test shot, Proctor wore an open sweater exposing her bra, and a blanket over her legs. She posed in a dorm room littered with textbooks. (Those wacky Playboy<> people: students just love to strip down to cram for finals.)

In the Crimson<> that day, Proctor proclaimed herself a feminist wanting to dispel stereotypes about Harvard women being stuck up. (That's the spirit!) Since striking the pose, though, Proctor says she's been shunned on campus and even forced to step down as head of the Native American organization.

"I have lost friends. I lost my boyfriend," she told the Crimson<>. "I can't believe that people who have been my friends for so long would not want to speak to me for the rest of my life." It's hard to say how much of Proctor's predicament is her own doing; a member of the Native American group says nobody forced her to resign. It's even harder to understand why her boyfriend presumably dumped her. (It's not like she slept with a donkey.)

Then again, all that's beside the point. The real question is: what's the big deal about Playboy<>?

For years, dirty magazines have spawned passionate protests from armchair psychologists. The argument you'll hear is made by Harvard sophomore Julie Suk in the Crimson<>: Playboy<> objectifies women. An ingenious theory, indeed, and about as revolutionary as the boiled egg. Of course it objectifies women. That only scratches the surface. The reason for objectification, the gaze, whatever you want to call it, is simple: men have eyes. There's something wrong with men. Not being a scientist, I can't tell you exactly what it is, but somewhere inside our heads lurks something that makes us worse than women. Many of us have learned to keep ourselves in line; then there are the others, chumps who treat women like prizes at the county fair. There is no male disease as incurable as the roving eye.

Don't blame pornography. It doesn't whistle at short skirts, pinch waitresses, and pay tired whores $50 for a pop in the back seat.

What pornography has done, to its credit, is expose the difference between how men and women first see sex. Every boy has stared at Playboy<> (usually thinking "I will never see a real naked body"). Women who buy Playgirl<> are rare and considered freaks.

I'd guess the real trouble with "women's" magazine like Playgirl<> is the penis itself. It's a rather unattractive object, shrivelled like a chewing-gum wrapper most days, sticking out at odd and uncomfortable angles during active moments. Are women supposed to get off on that?

Playboy<> has always been a passive player in the smut wars. While MTV videos -- as a UMass professor details in a new documentary -- thrive on men slapping around bikini-clad sluts, Playboy<> at least plays its cards in the open. Women in Playboy<> tend to do things like lie on beds, walk through cornfields, writhe on the barn floor. (All, of course, activities women like to perform naked.)

Unless you're an altar boy, these will be your first images of sex. And nobody gets hurt.

Thinking about all this, I try to determine what sort of damage I suffered from Playboy<> encounters as a young teen, but can't recall much besides the famous people who posed -- Bo Derek, Joan Collins, Martha Raye (just kidding). Porn opponents might argue, "they were just bodies to you, legs and nipples and asses, objects for your consumption." I'd shrug, and say politely, "No duh." Camille Paglia, our favorite contrarian, goes even further, offering a glowing endorsement of the dirty page.

She writes that posing is a woman's "elevation to high priestess of a pagan paradise garden, where the body has become a bountiful fruit tree and where growth and harvest are simultaneous." (Exactly what I was going to say.)

Remember, nobody forces anyone to pose. It's a choice. That goes for Amanda Proctor, Nancy Sinatra, Patti Davis, and Shannen Doherty. This isn't the slave trade. Women are offered money, and for whatever reasons, they accept. At the same time, nobody forces us to look. In most places, the rags are kept almost out of view behind store counters.

And for those of you who think Playboy<> screws up the way men and women relate, take it easy. It's not like if I hadn't seen Shannon Tweed (centerfold in '81) in Playboy, we'd have met instead to discuss Che Guevara over latte.

The saddest thing about the whole Proctor affair is that for all her trouble, she probably won't make the cut for the October issue. Playboy<> has already whittled the group of 50 Harvard applicants down to 10. That pool then competes with women from Penn, Columbia, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Yale, and Dartmouth for the final shots. Even if she does make it, Proctor will earn next to nothing. The Crimson<> reported that Playboy pays $500 for total nudity, $250 for a topless shot.

(Give credit to a pair of Yale women who outwitted Hef's posse, raising $1000 to pay would-be posers on campus to reject the lens. One Yalie accepted, and the other used the offer to push Playboy's<> bid higher.)

I tried to reach Proctor, but she didn't return messages left at her dorm. As for her colleagues in the Native American club, only one returned my call; he said he didn't have a problem with her posing.

Venus McGhee, a member of the Native American group, did talk to the Crimson<>. "Part of being Native American for many of us is being part of a community," McGhee said. "She claims it is a personal matter and that it only affects her, but it really affects all of us."

Here's my advice, Venus: when you walk around campus, especially as the weather warms up, watch the eyes of your classmates. Notice where they dart -- how men of all ages, races, and religions are united in the need to scope. And after taking in the stares, think about whether a silly little airbrushed magazine means all that much.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
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