A gay man on Playboy fails to smash any stereotypes
Bretman Rock's cover feature is still distinctly feminine
Playboy is smashing gender stereotypes. This month’s digital magazine cover was fronted by a man: specifically, Bretman Rock, a social media influencer from the Philippines who gained his fame on platforms such asYouTube and Vine.
He’s not the first man to grace the cover of Playboy. Other than Hefner himself, that credit goes to Puerto Rican trap artist Bad Bunny, photographed for a Playboy digital edition last year. But Rock’s appearance is self-consciously attempting to be subversive — he may not be the first cover boy, but he is the first man to grace the magazine while dressed as a ‘Playboy Bunny’.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
Playboy and Rock both frame this as a victory for queer visibility. “For Playboy to have a male on the cover is a huge deal for the LGBT community,” Rock says. What’s less clear, though, is whether Rock has actually smashed any stereotypes.
Rock’s social media persona seems to centre on being both male and flamboyantly feminine. That he is male makes this superficially a challenge to stereotypes, but his objectification is still coded as feminised. And in this sense his platforming by the sexual revolution’s most iconic and culturally influential purveyor of masturbation-fodder tells us nothing new.
As transgender cultural theorist Andrea Long Chu argues in Females, “femaleness” in “its barest essentials” is “an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes”. The stereotype is not smashed; the only change is that feminisation is now an option for males as well.
And if Bretman Rock is claiming for males the right to self-objectify in a feminised style, we might also reflect on what manner of ‘opportunity’ is being equalised. For insight, we can revisit feminist insights from the early days of the sexual revolution’s supposed ‘liberation’ of women and sexuality.
In 1963, Gloria Steinem spent a month undercover as a ‘Playboy Bunny’, and described the reality of what Playboy marketed as ‘the top job in the country for a young girl’ in her now-iconic essay A Bunny’s Tale.
Steinem described how tights, makeup and beauty sessions were paid out of wages. Bunnies were both incentivised to induce drinks-buying by flirting and pretending to find customers interesting, while also strictly forbidden to disturb the ‘aura of glamour’ that surrounded them by going out with customers away from the clubs. In total, the ‘Bunny Bible’ promised glamour and liberation, while imposing a system of rules, fines and surveillance that formed as constraining a metaphorical corset as the iconic Bunny basque did a literal one.
Fifty years on, everything is now pornography. That is, the tension codified in Hefner’s Playboy ‘Bunny Bible’ between elusive mystery and commercialised self-exposure characterises the whole digital economy. If you want to be visible in digital culture, the swiftest route there is finding a way to expose yourself for others’ titillation. As the highly public meltdown of ‘extreme eating’ YouTuber Nicocado Avocado shows, it doesn’t matter how self-destructive this is, provided it delivers a voyeuristic hit.
From this perspective, Bretman Rock’s appearance in the most iconic of all corsets strikes a blow less for liberation than for equal-opportunities access by all Gen-Z humans to this pornified mode of subsistence.
Congratulations, Gen-Z men: you, too, can now don the digital corset and sell yourselves as objects. Welcome to equality, 21st-century style.
“For Playboy to have a male on the cover is a huge deal for the LGBT community,” Rock says’.
… news to me.
A non-alphabet ‘community’ gay guy (aka the majority of us) who likes his men with a shaved head, tattoos, a broken nose and a criminal record*.
*ok last one optional.
Does anyone still ‘read’ Playboy? At least in The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp acknowledges that his compulsion to present as a woman in order to attract a manly man was a self defeating exercise. Seriously, what proportion of Playboy’s readership actually want the publication to feature a man in a bunny costume? Or do they really buy it for all the ‘lifestyle’ features?
Thank you to transgender cultural theorist Andrea Long Chu for saying the quiet part out loud.
” argues in Females, “femaleness” in “its barest essentials” is “an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes”. “
Only a man completely saturated in hardcore pornography could come to this view about women. These perverts need to get offline and back to reality.
Well, at least Playboy didn’t call it subversive or daring or iconoclastic. Or interesting, for that matter.
But if this is “visibility”, LGBT people are surely better-off without it.
That we are in the 21st century is a fact. That this represents equality is an illusion. Equality of what?
It is the Marquis de Sade’s vision of equality, sadly.
They have achieved equality of not understanding their customer base, along with Nike, Gillette, etc.
My favorite part of modern society is narcissists taking off their clothes in front of cameras and telling us they are freedom fighters.
I am pleased that Mary did not mention the usual “meat avatars” in this article. I think she was working up to it in the final few paragraphs but it did not quite “materialise” in this one.
Really, as I see it, these various fringe firsts, including the “Playboy Bunny” are just expressions of humanity’s experimentation with “self”. They are peripheral OK for column inches but not much else.
Erm, there is no need to resort to swearing and foul language to make your point. Although that transgender theorist’s views are well over the top, especially with the view that most men wish to anally penetrate women, there is something in the view that many men do routinely objectify women sexually, talk about them disrespectfully, refuse to take anything they say seriously, abuse them etc. Or otherwise worship their mothers etc, as long as these non-sexual women consent to playing a certain role. The whole sluts vs madonnas thing. It is pretty deep-rooted in our society, although of course by no means universal. And having a simpering effeminate man emulating the most sexually degrading positions of sex working women is hardly liberating.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe