‘Playboy’ part two: common comment themes

Last week, I wrote about how Playboy, despite a contract to the contrary, repeatedly tried to coerce Olivia Munn into getting naked for her photoshoot in the magazine. After getting picked up on open.salon.com (where I dual-post blogs), it got a decent amount of comments, which provided some insight into how some people view Playboy, the media industry, and “deserving” certain treatment.

Here, I’ll highlight some of the common themes and why they are problematic.

1. It’s Playboy — what do you expect?

Some of the commenters said that Munn is solely culpable because she agreed to do a photoshoot with Playboy — because of Playboy‘s reputation, she shouldn’t have been surprised they tried to get her naked:

“I agree that Playboy is sleazy but anyone who shows up thinking they’re going to be photographed wearing their business suit is either very naive or very stupid.”

or:

“Should Munn have gone into the shoot expecting that nude is normal in the Playboy world. Yes, she should have, and as a result, she shouldn’t be surprised when a Playboy photographer expects her to get nude.”

or:

“It’s Playboy for Chrissake. Don’t be so naive.”

This theme was the most common, and it was also really concerning. It reminded me of a lot of other arguments that victim-blame and qualify reprehensible behavior: “Sure she was sexually assaulted, but did you see what she was wearing?” or “Sure she was sexually assaulted, but she went to a frat party and got super drunk, what did she expect?” There shouldn’t be a “but …” anything in these instances.

Yes, it’s Playboy, and yes, nude women are in there — but that doesn’t make its coercion tactics OK. Why should a business get a free pass to bully women and make/break agreements simply because they are powerful and have a certain reputation? Sure you can call Munn or Kardashian naive, but their naivity doesn’t leave Playboy off the hook. It’s the same, “Yes, women, you should be living in constant fear” tactic that blames women if they are assaulted while walking alone at night, wearing “revealing” clothing, etc.

Playboy is a magazine with articles and pictures of women, typically naked, but not always completely naked. It’s not farfetched for someone to think that, after signing a contract not to be nude, the magazine will honor the contract because Munn likely isn’t the first person to not be totally naked in the magazine. But we say, “It’s Playboy, of course it exploits women,” instead of saying, “Wait, isn’t it bad to condone something that’s always happened simply because it’s always been that way, instead of looking at whether it should always be done that way?”

2. Why didn’t Munn just walk off the set?

Another common theme is commenters asking why Munn didn’t just walk off the set and sue, instead of staying and continuing to take pictures and harassment:

“What was stopping her from walking out of the studio, NOTHING!”

or:

“Yeah, obviously these broads could have walked out if they were THAT upset……but look at how much more publicity they’re getting whining about being pressured to show their girl parts.”

or:

“I wonder, why she didn’t walk out. No doubt they would’ve played it like she ‘couldn’t cut it’ but they wouldn’t have been able to sell her coercion pictures.”

Initially when I hear this question I think, “That’s not the point!”, because instead of focusing on the coercion that was rampant on the set, they just shrug and wonder why she didn’t just walk away. Aside from my initial knee-jerk reaction, the question is valid: Why stay and keep being harassed?

A few reasons: as one commenter pointed out, “That would place her in breach of that same contract. Further, it would give Playboy the opportunity to publicly disparage her as a pretentious bitch.” I don’t know the logistics, but I’m sure there’d be reason for Playboy, with its bigshot lawyers, to find fault with Munn for walking out on the set if it’s a he said/she said argument about what happened on set. Playboy‘s people say she wasn’t pressured, Munn’s people say she was, and maybe in the legal world she runs into the same “Well what did you expect?” attitude and Playboy is seen to be the victim.

That’s one possible scenario, and the other, as the commenter said, is the bad publicity that might come from it. Whether she made a poor choice to pose for Playboy is irrelevant because she is already on set, and she has to decide whether she tries to keep her cool and continue with the photo shoot because it’s good publicity, or leave the set and be seen as “storming out” or whatever else they’d say.

3. She made the choice to do this

A few people, kind of tying into the first theme, commented that it was her choice to do the photoshoot, and she has the right to choose to do whatever she wants but therefore must balance the implications and consequences of those choices and decisions:

“As a feminist I support the decisions women make. She’s an adult who chose to do something fully knowing the implications. She knew she was working with playboy – she could have just left the shoot. I’d be far more compassionate if this story was about someone who couldn’t make an educated decision. She could. She did. She chose.”

or:

“Women have fought long and hard to own the right to choose how they live their lives. Choosing to be photographed for Playboy Magazine is the choice to display your body.”

Yes, Munn did make this choice. She made the choice to be in Playboy — but not to be nude in it. Her choice was made with stipulations and those stipulations were thrown to the wind once she got on set. In her defense, I’d say she probably did think she was making an educated decision — get to be in Playboy but don’t have to be completely naked — a win-win decision.

As Munn said recently in a Salon interview, she did know the choice that she was making, but the choice wasn’t just about taking her clothes off and getting publicity — it was also about being on the cover of a magazine that is typically advertising only a certain type of beauty:

It did mean something for me to be on the cover. There’s such an image of what beauty is: Women get their lips done, and their boobs done. But I’m multiethnic. I’ve got smaller boobs. I’m 5-foot-4. If they’re saying that’s what sexy is, then I think it’s a better image to perpetuate than the stuff that still influences me to the point that I wonder: Should I get my lips done?

Basically, it’s telling that people are quick to blame Munn instead of Playboy, especially considering Munn’s admission that she did want to be on the cover because she wanted to bring a different type of beauty to the table. She was willing to deal with a certain amount of the “reputation,” but that doesn’t make their additional pressure or their routine pressure any less inappropriate.

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