Gloria Steinem, Linda Lovelace, And ‘The Playboy Club’

I don’t really think that the Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfriend (there are several, one has to keep track) is going to do what The Playboy Club should have and didn’t do: capture the benefits and pitfalls that the sexual revolution offered women, including the freedom to have more sex without fear of pregnancy, and the corresponding expectation that they’d be more sexually available. But I do think it sounds like it might argue the inverse of The Playboy Club‘s silly assertion that the show was going to be about women’s empowerment, and take a hard line against pornography. My guess is based mostly on the fact that the project’s cast Demi Moore to play Gloria Steinem, suggesting her 1980 Ms. Magazine piece “The Real Linda Lovelace” will be some sort of frame device for the movie.

I don’t really think that either of these perspectives really captures the tension of the period. Just because Linda Lovelace was coerced into performing in pornographic films, or because Chuck Traynor coached her on her oral sex skills doesn’t mean no woman can ever find fulfillment in the adult industry or enjoy performing oral sex. Just because the Playboy Club wasn’t a model employer doesn’t mean that no woman ever found independence by working there. There’s no question that a pornografied culture has made headway in America, but it speaks to the success of feminism that it’s made those advances by wrapping itself in the mantle of women’s liberation and independence. Neither a purely anti-porn pitch, nor a pitch that women will be most happy by making themselves sexually available and fine-tuned to men has proven entirely successful. What women wanted was more subtle and complex than any one very successful pornographic movie then, and it remains as tricky and elusive now.