Don't Play With Playboy" Protest Timeline
by Rebecca Whisnant & Vicki Behrens
Monday, March 16: Beginning of Women's Week, marking 100 years of women at UNC.
Tuesday, March 17: Playboy runs its first ad in the campus paper, recruiting women students for its "Women of the ACC" (Atlantic Coast Conference) pictorial. Serendipitously, on the same day, Wheelock College sociologist Gail Dines visits campus as the keynote speaker for Women's Week. Dines' slideshow and lecture on pornography and sexism in the media inspires several students to begin planning a protest against the Playboy visit. An email listserv is set up for those interested in participating. The protest plans are informally christened "Bunny Hunt."
Wednesday, March 18: Cameras and reporters from a local news station arrive at the office of the Women's Issues Network, demanding to know what they are planning to do about the Playboy visit. No one from WIN is in the office at the time, so the reporters harass members of the other two organizations who share the office space. It is unclear how Channel 11 knows that anyone is even thinking of planning anything at this point, since only one impromptu informal meeting has been held. Moreover, those students who are in fact considering a protest are not doing so as part of WIN, but as a new and independent organization formed to respond to the Playboy visit. . . . Later this evening, students develop a petition to present to the staff of the Daily Tar Heel, demanding that they stop publishing Playboy's advertising. They also compose a Statement of Purpose explaining the reasons for their opposition to Playboy.
Thursday, March 19: Word travels fast. The Daily Tar Heel publishes a snide article about some students' plans to present a petition. Meanwhile, the petitions are circulated at a Breaking the Silence T-shirt-making event during the afternoon, and at the Take Back the Night rally in the evening. 103 signatures are gathered. Following the Take Back the Night march and rally, about 10 students go to the Daily Tar Heel office to present the petition. Although they have no signs and are neither loud nor disruptive, the manager rudely asks them to leave since the editorial staff is not there. They politely persist, and proceed to read the petition and statement of purpose. They then hand both documents to the manager and leave.
Friday, March 20: Misogynist, anti-feminist graffiti is discovered in the very early morning. The previous night, at the end of the Take Back the Night event, women and men had written chalk messages in the Pit (a central campus gathering place) concerning their experiences and fears of sexual violence and their hopes for safety and equality. The vandals have marked out these messages and replaced them with such slogans as "Feminists swallow," "Get off your high horse and into the missionary position," and "Give me nudity or give me death"-- and, of course, numerous renditions of the Playboy bunny icon. Fortunately, rain washes away these hateful and threatening messages before most students see them.
Sunday, March 22: A feminist student involved in the protest writes a letter to the editor about this incident of campus hate speech, drawing connections between Playboy, pornography in general, and violence against women. The Daily Tar Heel never publishes this letter. Indeed, they never cover the incident at all, except in a board editorial several days later in which they blandly denounce its occurrence.
The next couple of weeks: Plans continue, via email and meetings, for the protest. Some of the protestors call Playboy under false pretenses to find out where they are planning to do their "interviewing" and to sign up for some of the time slots. They also call Playboy to ask if permission has been granted to use the "ACC" name and logo. Playboy responds that they do not need such permission, since they are using "ACC" merely as a "geographical distinction." One student writes a superb guest editorial explaining the reasons for protesting Playboy, but the Tar Heel refuses to run it, claiming they don't publish guest editorials (a patent lie). They finally publish it several days later as a letter to the editor, significantly shortened, and with text actually altered (e.g. "Feminists have been much maligned in the media" is changed to "feminists have been much ignored in the media"-- hardly a content-neutral, space-saving change). When challenged, the editors respond that "the scanner must have picked it up wrong."
Tuesday, April 7: A female Playboy representative -- formerly a Playmate, now an employee -- visits campus to drum up enthusiasm for the next week's recruiting. She plants herself in central campus locations, handing out free issues and keychains. When asked the reason for her presence, she says that it's because of all the bad publicity.
The next few days: Organizing efforts intensify. Informational flyers are designed and put up all over campus. Since much of the campus discussion of the issue has assumed that Playboy is just pictures of naked ladies, many of the flyers reproduce text and cartoons from Playboy which trivialize or celebrate violence, molestation, and the use of women as objects. Few of the flyers are left more than a day before being ripped down . . . . Meanwhile, students are meeting to make posters and banners for the protest, calling local media outlets to announce it, and getting the word out. The theme of the protest: "Education, Not Exploitation: Don't Play With Playboy!"
Tuesday, April 14: The day of Playboy's recruiting visit -- and of the protest. Flyers have been plastered over central campus by people who choose to remain anonymous: "Freedom of Speech" is emblazoned across the body of a Playmate, and the flyers proclaim that "Playboy is welcome at UNC." We gather at 12:30 in the Pit and march over to the Carolina Inn, where Playboy is holding their "interviews." After some speeches, the gathering is silent for 21 minutes, symbolizing the 21 years during which Playboy has been targeting college women for exploitation. We are standing on a street corner in a light rain, and people passing by in cars look at us curiously while waiting at the red light. They read our posters: "Women of the ACC . . . Anger Causes Change!" "This Bunny Brings Rotten Eggs" "What's Wrong With Playboy? sexualizes children, ridicules feminism, programs male sexuality, trivializes sexual violence, eroticizes inequality . . . PLENTY!" "Carolina Men Don't Want Playboy's Fantasy Objects" "Anti-Sexist College Campus -- No Place for Playboy" "Women of the ACC Cry Foul: Don't Play With Playboy!" We can see some of the parents explaining to their children who we are and what we're doing. Other students pass by on the sidewalk. Some laugh nervously and refuse to meet the eyes of protestors who say "hello." Some men make rude comments; most just stare. Occasionally a woman in a car honks her horn in support, or a woman crossing the street whoops and gives us a thumbs-up. We march up to Franklin Street, the main drag, chanting "Education, not exploitation!"; some protestors are stopped and asked for interviews by local TV stations. Back in the Pit, we reread our Statement of Purpose, and a few male students begin to shout us down. The speakers continue talking, and invite everyone who is watching to discuss the issues surrounding the protest with us. Some protestors stay a while and argue with the angry men, while others head home, having had our say, if only for an hour or so, about Playboy.