Playboy's response to hacked celebrity photos: Just a ploy for clicks and feminist credibility?

As the site rebrands itself to appeal more to women, it could stand to dig a little deeper

Published September 4, 2014 9:01PM (EDT)

 (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters)
(Lucy Nicholson / Reuters)

For possibly the first time in its history, Playboy is urging its readers not to look at photos of naked women. Specifically, the notoriously naked-woman-friendly website does not want people looking at the leaked personal photos of several female celebrities, whose private nude images were hacked and posted without their consent over the weekend. On Thursday, the site published a slideshow titled "Here Are Those Celeb Nudes You're Looking For," containing absolutely zero pictures of nude celebrities (or people at all, in any state of undress). Rather, the slideshow simply contained one giant, 19-slide-long admonishment for anyone sleazy enough to seek out the stolen photos.

In keeping with the goals of its recent rebranding, meant to make the site's content "safe for work," Playboy seems not only to be trying to increase traffic, but to appeal to female readers as well. Just last week, the site posted a fairly feminist, fairly informative guide to avoiding street harassment, which doubled as a quick lesson in sexual consent. Combined with the response to the celebrity photo hacking, it would seem that Playboy is taking a genuinely feminist bent. The thing is, Playboy needs to dig a little deeper.

None of this is to say that the site’s two most recent forays into feminist thinking aren’t welcome advancements; Playboy’s rebuke of both street harassment and the violation of female celebrities’ privacy is a welcome and laudable change. But in neither case does the site explain why, exactly, it’s wrong to engage in either activity. Last week’s flowchart comes closer to a substantive explanation than this week’s slideshow, which ends by telling readers that they shouldn’t look at the celebrity photos because they should “be gentlemen — damn it.” The real reason readers shouldn’t look at the photos, of course, is because doing so is a disrespectful violation of people who have recently been victims of a massive crime, and disrespecting other people’s privacy and dignity is shitty and wrong regardless of one’s gender. It has nothing to do with being a “gentleman” and everything to do with being a human who has some regard for the integrity of other humans.

Playboy’s current efforts at expanding (or at least respecting) its female audience seem contrived, as if the site has picked up on a few feminist buzzwords that might gain favor and traffic from readers that might have stayed away otherwise. Again, that’s not to say that taking a remotely feminist stance is bad or unwelcome — it’s simply to point out that Playboy still has a few things to reconcile and many good opportunities to explain. It is, after all, a site that still offers images of many, many naked females. Why say “don’t look at those nudes — look at these nudes” without pointing out the difference? Why leave readers only halfway educated?

No, the point of Playboy is not to “educate” per se. But if the site is going to step into the nuanced world of the feminist Web, it’s going to have to do more than offer a surface-level understanding of feminism. No, street harassment is generally not welcome without explicit permission; yes, it is wrong to look at the stolen photos of nude celebrities. But why? Please, Playboy, enlighten us. We can handle it.

By Jenny Kutner

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Celebrity Nude Photo Scandal Feminism Internet Culture Playboy Sex Sexism The Fappening