EDITOR’S NOTE: Since publishing Steve Coruzzi’s post, there has been a response to his points about objectification and sexual empowerment. We decided to run both the post and the response, because we believe the discussion to be important.
Steve Coruzzi: “I Would Not Be Proud if My Daughter Posed for Playboy.”
My son is 9 and my daughter is 7. They’re getting to the ages where I’m starting to get concerned about how the choices they make will affect their lives, my daughter in particular. Not because I see something wrong in anything with her, but because I remember all the dumb ass things I did and if fathers knew what their daughters might be doing…let’s just say there is not enough wine in the Napa Valley to help me cope.
And it’s a daunting responsibility to teach my daughter to be the best woman she can be based on her intelligence and not on how she looks (she’s gorgeous by the way and I’m not just saying that because I’m her father!)
I was listening to the radio this morning on the way to work; a particular morning team based in Philly that I have been listening to for years. And although I love 90% of what they do, there’s the 10% of the show that focuses on strip clubs/hot women/boobs etc. that I’m not all that fond of. In my twenties that kind of stuff piqued my interest but now, it just makes me feel creepy. And as I get older it amazes me more and more that women in this day and age would subject themselves to being strippers or posing nude in Playboy, which was the subject of this morning’s radio show: an interview with a local Philly girl who appears in next month’s issue as Playmate of the Month.
The interview was of course extremely juvenile, peppered with questions about the current state of her pubic hair, the authenticity of her breasts, and what actors she was dating now that she’s “famous”. She, of course, had the prerequisite “helium-pitched voice” (What is it with that anyway? Does that just automatically develop once you have a naked photo taken of you or is it faked because that is what women are taught men want? I doubt Marie Curie sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk.) She had a non-surprising work history: the flirty bartender, the country club cart girl who danced in the sand traps—she basically sounded like someone who lived off her looks her whole life. And how did she end up in Playboy? Her regular bar customers encouraged her. No doubt concerned that bartending was a dead end career path and for the security of her future she should explore something more suited to her talents. I wonder why they weren’t encouraging her to go back to school?
The interview left me feeling sorry for her. She’s probably making more money than I’ll ever see, but I felt sorry for her. And that’s my problem. Is this young woman a product of male sexual dominance or is she empowered? Is she being victimized or has she truly taken the reins of her life with confidence and strength and I’m just projecting my own issues onto her?
I’m no angel by any means. I look at beautiful women (hell, I look at beautiful men! Beauty is beauty!). I’ve watched porn, I’ve gone to strip clubs, and I’ve had my share of romantic indiscretions based purely on physicality. But I like to think I’ve grown and evolved to the point where I appreciate women on a more mature level. Don’t get me wrong, if the doorbell rang and Diane Lane stood before me my eyes would probably pop out of my skull like a Looney Tunes character! But I find there is a line I won’t cross anymore out of respect for my wife, my kids, women in general and for myself. (And that line seems to get more prude-ish the older I get!).
One thing that Miss August mentioned was how proud her dad was of her. Really? Is her dad a Lohan? I’d like to think I’d love my daughter regardless of what she does, but choosing to appear naked in a magazine that is purchased for the sole purpose of ogling women (and the other stuff that is done while looking at those kind of pictures). I want to be able to ask the questions. I want her to be empowered by her mind, not her body.
Here’s what I think. Any empowerment a woman (or a man for that matter) gains from a purely sexual pursuit is misguided. True self-respect cannot be attained by being used. Let’s face it, if you take off your clothes to pose for Playboy or do porn or even work at Hooters you are being put in a subservient position under men. I don’t care how much you cry out that you’re in control and it’s your choice and you’re just free with your body and sexuality and you’re financially secure, you’re being used. To me, sexual empowerment exists only by not being used for your sexuality.
But that is just my opinion. If a young woman is happy and healthy and secure then who am I to say that she’s wrong in how she gets that way? Well, I’ll tell you who I am:
I’m a father.
Steve Coruzzi, 43 years old, is married with two kids, 8 and 6, and lives in Newark, DE. He is on a continuing journey to discover the true nature of humankind through satire, sincerity, and sarcasm.
Here is the response:
Caitlin McGuire “Welcome to the life of a woman.”
In the wake of Scarlett Johansson’s nudity scandal, a male friend once asked me if I could imagine myself posing nude. I wasn’t sure at the time. This shocked him: how could I consider putting myself in a situation in which I was near-guaranteed sexualization, objectification, exploitation?
My answer: Welcome to the life of a woman.
In Steve Coruzzi’s essay, “I Would Not Be Proud if My Daughter Posed for Playboy,” Coruzzi talks about wanting to raise his daughter with a sense of self-worth, and then moves on to dehumanize every woman he’s ever objectified. Every stripper he’s watched in a strip club, every porn star he’s done “the other stuff” to – a charming euphemism for masturbation – and the women with whom he’s shared “romantic indiscretions based purely on physicality.”
The logic behind his argument is that a woman who chooses to benefit from her sexuality, whether that be financially, professionally, or even, simply, sexually, has traded their sexual empowerment for a position of inferiority to men. To make good use of the objectification and sexualization inherent in the lives of women is to show your hand to the misogynists. Here is my body: here is my value.
The essential issue is not one of nudity or pride, but of a woman’s right to the sexualization of her body. No one goes into a Playboy photoshoot expecting sensual prints she can frame and hang in the foyer. Does the same trade-off of power exist when a woman poses nude for an art class? Would Coruzzi be proud of his daughter if she inspired artwork? If her face, which Coruzzi himself calls beautiful, or her body had value independent of everything that lay underneath? If she enjoyed the expression of her body, artistically or sexually?
Let me clue you in on a little secret: objectification is an inevitable element of the female experience. You could close your eyes and picture me naked. The extrapolation of what body parts follow from my neck and then below would be inexact. But the fact remains that humans are born with imagination, and clothed or unclothed, male or female, no one owns every usage of their body.
The most concerning part of Coruzzi’s argument takes place at the end of his essay, in which he asks, “who am I to say [that a woman] is wrong” in how she comes by happiness, healthiness, and security? He answers: “I’m a father.”
The same flawed logic behind well-meaning slogans fighting violence against women – “She’s someone’s mother/sister/daughter/wife” – applies here. To assert that a woman should be treated with respect because “she’s someone’s daughter” implies that a woman deserves respect because of her relationship with a man. That a woman, on her own, isn’t capable of making the “right” choice in how she constructs her sexuality or the way she wears her body. That a woman has to depend on the most obvious of patriarchal society’s figureheads, the literal father, for the construction of her own value.
Coruzzi claims that being a father makes him uniquely qualified to pass judgment on how a woman chooses to use her body. Being a father no more qualifies you to judge the usage of bodies of women you’ve never met than does being a rhinoceros or a book spine or a coffee mug or the tail of a dog.
In a few years, Coruzzi’s daughter will be no more inoculated against the naughty thoughts of her pubescent classmates than any other girl is. And when she grows up, nothing changes. Playboy model, bank teller, doctor, gas station clerk, mother; when it comes to objectification, it’s all the same. The only thing that changes is existence of the living document.
If Coruzzi wants to ensure that his daughter is never exploited by the eyes of men, he can go the way of old fairy tales and build the tallest tower for her, install her in its highest room. But if we learn anything from the stories we tell young women before bedtime, we should learn this: no one ever stays in that tower forever. And since Coruzzi can’t put blinders on every man who might ever meet his daughter without marriage in mind, better not to teach her that to be sexualized is to be devalued.
Coruzzi’s pride for his daughter is, of course, his own prerogative, and the relationship he has with her as a consequence is business of his own. But for his daughter’s benefit, I sincerely hope that he reconsiders his view on how the value of a woman is constructed. A woman’s “rightness” is not determined by the minds of men, not by future partners or bosses or men who buy nudie mags in brown paper bags, and not by her father.
And if he doesn’t, I want to tell Miss Coruzzi: the only person with the right to judge the way you use your body, or the way your body is used, is you. And when you judge that value, remember to be kind.
Caitlin McGuire is a James Dickey Fellow at the University of South Carolina, co-managing editor of Cartagena Journal and fiction editor for Yemassee. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Whiskeypaper, Booth, and Paper Nautilus. She is a daughter, a sister, a partner, and a person; tell her what you are @cemiggy.
photo of 1972 Playboy magazine by kaspar roelle / flickr