Hugh Hefner states that this culture is “being embraced by young women in a curious way in a post feminist world” (Levy 2005:5). This is as a result of modern feminism being associated mainly with “an image of sexual liberation” (Platt Liebau 2007:174). Hefner’s envisioning of women, as seen in the iconic bunny and the bunny costume, is alarming. His reasoning for this comparison is that, “you feel like caressing it, playing with it. A girl resembles a bunny” (Levy 2005:58). The fact that he has reduced women to the likeness of a rabbit can be seen as an indication that his ‘philosophy’ sees women as not being equal to men but rather subordinate and for men’s entertainment pleasure. He gives the impression that a woman is no more than a plaything, an unequal playmate. The fact that women look up to porn stars and porn barons for instruction has led to a new, “cartoonish sexual stereotype” (Bancroft 2005:1). This stereotypical concept of sexiness is that of a big breasted and sexually available woman. It is rather disconcerting to realise that women are more than ever looking up to women whose “job it is to imitate arousal” (Levy 2005:1). Furthermore Playboy is now selling its products to women, who may think that the manner in which this magazine represents women is what they should aspire to be (Wolf 1991:135).
Contemporary women want to be the women in these men’s magazine and as a result, “traveled an arc from fighting objectification to seeking it” (Dowd 2005:183). It is evident that women’s progress is a challenging terrain and that there are times of empowerment and times of regression (Dowd 2005:5). The increasing popularity of lad magazines may indicate that we are in a state of regression. This is clearly the case as it seems now that “the triumph for feminism would last a nanosecond while the backlash lasted forty years” (Dowd 2005:8). The processes of transforming women into objects and to “eroticize the degradation of women have arisen to counterbalance women’s recent self-assertion” (Wolf 1991:142). In today’s society, “women of all ages are striving to become self-actualized sex kittens” (Dowd 2005:176), so this counterbalance seems to be welcomed by women themselves.
Some are of the belief that raunch culture is not a bad occurrence and that it is actually, “about women having the confidence to show off their bodies and not be afraid to take the lead in relationships” (Gibbs 2005:1). It is probable then that the women whose representation will be analysed in the lad magazines are of this belief. However Levy (in Bancroft 2005:1) argues that “there is more to female empowerment than sexual freedom”. Sexual liberation may be the reasoning behind the representations of these women. Yet, if the main media message being sent out to women is that their “primary objective should be to elicit lustful reactions from men” (Platt Liebau 2007:184), then this does not suggest emancipation, especially if it is women’s sole way to gain authority. Rather it indicates a regression to subordination. Furthermore this empowerment is still “on men’s terms” (Object 2004:6). Raunch culture can be damaging as it leads to women feeling “inferior and cheated, incapable of living up to airbrushed and surgically enhanced perfection” (Paul 2005:260). This inaccessible sexualised beauty stereotype fervently promoted by the media, understandably leads to women finding it “flattering to be considered attractive this way” (Ginsberg 2007: 1). The requirement for this type of approval has increasingly led more women to buy into these representations and disturbingly to, “competition that is profoundly antifeminist” (Platt Liebau 2007:186).
Women are assuming the social construct of sexual liberation, while embracing a form of sexuality which is embedded in patriarchy. They are “co-opting the system presented by men and taking it on as their own” (Platt Liebau 2007:195). This hyper-sexualised model has lead women “to imitate the men that ridicule them” (Baldwin:2). This “masculinization of sex” is [a], “rather impoverished view of liberation” (Paul 2005:114). This robs women of any sexual agency. If they believe that they need to appropriate masculine ideas of sexuality, it reinforces the idea that female sexuality is lacking and therefore robs them of their innate and unique desires. It also forces them to adopt a homogenous version of empowerment and sexuality deemed suitable by popular culture. This form of empowerment can be argued as being no more than an excuse to use the women’s movement and the supposed empowerment it has given as a new means to fulfill men’s requirements. Women have “built a self-imposed prison by acting like sex objects” (Das 2005:1) and by objectifying other women, while men on the other hand “can’t believe their luck” (Das 2005:1).
Lad Magazines, Raunch Culture and the Increasing Pornification of … Media, by Dominique Rizos. Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfillment of the Degree of Masters in Arts.