Men embrace women who embrace retro sexism

Adam Bisby at The Globe and Mail is thrilled that it’s not just men who are participating in the retro sexism trend.

When his friend gifted him a vintage Playboy mag he wondered why his “modern, liberated, platonic pal” would give him something that ” many women find [to be]… an objectifying affront to feminism.”

Photo via The Globe and Mail
Photo via The Globe and Mail

Bisby was relieved to learn that some women have bought into the notion that objectification is ok when it’s retro, ironic, or vintage. Sometimes referred to as “hipster sexism,” this is nothing new. In 2010, Anita Sarkeesian defined “retro sexism” or “ironic sexism” as “modern attitudes and behaviours that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.” You’ll notice that burlesque performers and fans will also defend the strip shows they put on or attend on account of it being some kind of “throwback” which somehow nullifies the sexist aspects of these performances.

Bisby writes:

Across the country, vintage, antique and used-book dealers say back issues of Playboy are flying off the shelves. The magazine came to life in December, 1953, and pre-1980s issues are hilarious retro romps. The mid-century-modern aesthetic they showcase is all the rage – “These magazines are showing up on a lot of coffee tables,” [owner of west-end Toronto vintage emporium Mrs. Huizenga, Catherine Huizenga] says. The pictorials, interviews, cartoons and kitschy advertisements are being embraced by interior and fashion designers, and celebrated in museum exhibits and on the female-dominated Pinterest digital bulletin board.

It’s no real surprise that vintage porn is a trend, even among women. I mean, look at the encouragement and support they receive from men when they play like sexism and objectification is totally cool and sexy… Are women somehow expected to remain unaffected by the messages our culture throws at us constantly about how sexualization is sex and that female sexuality is whatever patriarchy/pop culture says it is?

The reason women “embrace” this trend is the same reason women feel like they should hang out with the bros in strip clubs and watch porn with their boyfriends — they’re told that’s what “cool girls” do and men fawn all over that shit, telling them they’re sooo open-minded and empowered and sexy (unlike those prudish bitches who aren’t turned on by their own objectification).

This is the kind of “feminism” dudes like Bisby can get behind (i.e. the kind that perpetuates the subordination of women).

This is one trend I can embrace: More Playboys could be coming my way as gifts (from anyone); I like the idea of my wife giving me one (for any reason); and I like the idea of women giving them to one another.

But he’s confused at the same time:

But it still doesn’t add up. If the goal of feminism is to achieve equality between the sexes, then shouldn’t modern, liberated women oppose the dissemination of “Entertainment for Men” from any era?

Why yes! Unfortunately you don’t have to look to far to find someone who will back up bastardized feminism (also known as “sex positive feminism,” also known as “not feminism”). Bisby did. Jennifer DePoe, director of Toronto’s annual Feminist Porn Awards and manager of the Good For Her sex shop explained to him that,

In the sixties and seventies it was taboo to be empowered by your sexuality. Your role was to be an object for men,” she says. “These Playboy models went out and said, ‘I own my sexuality, I’m going to put myself in this magazine and I’m going to get paid for it.’ This was pretty feminist for the times.

I’m sorry, but no. “Getting paid for it” is not the purpose of feminism. Cash does not negate sexism. And Playboy is not a feminist magazine — it is a magazine that profits off of the objectification of female bodies. I don’t care if that idea is boring or “unsexy,” the point of political movements for the liberation of human beings is not “Be Sexy!” Also, for the record, posing naked so that men can jack off to your image has nothing to do with female sexuality.

Poe thinks that the kind of objectification that happened in the 70s doesn’t count as sexism because, she says, “Back then, people weren’t expected to have this very specific body type that’s impossible to achieve. Looking at old Playboys nowadays, it feels like you could almost be that person.”

So let me get this straight — if you objectify real boobs instead of fake ones that doesn’t count as objectification?

Bisby complains that he’s “getting mental whiplash from all the backlash” — I can relate. Luckily he speaks with Anne Eaton, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois-Chicago who specializes in feminist critiques of pornography and actually has an intelligent response to the garbage spouted by Poe, saying,

Pornography is pitched to women as a way of affirming their sexuality, and in a sense, of being feminist.

… The rise of vintage Playboys… extends the reach of raunch culture to a cultured, “hipsterish” demographic that embraces the vintage images with an ironic, playful wink. Feminist critics, the professor says, face the classic accusation of being “deeply unlikeable, unattractive, humourless bitches” who can’t take a joke.

Poor old Bisby is so confused. Luckily his friend Amanda, who gave him the 1973 copy of Playboy for his 40th birthday, is there for him, ready to reinforce and encourage his desire to accept sexism as feminism:

“Women like looking at old Playboys because there are real bodies inside,” she says… “Men like looking because those bodies belong to naked women. It’s natural.”

And there you have it. Patriarchy is “natural.” Objectification is empowering. Your sexuality is dependent on and defined by male erections. Get with it, ladies.


Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her very beautiful dog.