Letter to advertiser and response to Playboy publisher

Complete version of a letter Linnea Smith wrote to advertisers in Playboy magazine and response to Playboy publisher (July, 1995).

Dear Advertiser:
          "I'm writing to express my concern about your support of Playboy magazine with advertising dollars. Like you, my approval was by association. I accompanied my husband, head coach of a Division 1 university team, on a Playboy photo shoot for the magazine's annual All-America Team Coach of the Year. At that time, we didn't question Playboy 's content or its unorthodox team selection process. This non-sports publication, with no publicized method of selection or panel of experts, only chooses players and coaches who agree to be photographed, and so, legitimize the magazine. Playboy rejects players unwilling to have their pictures associated with the magazine, its content, and underlying messages. Like you, we didn't stop and think. Besides, we may have been influenced by stereotypes and wanted to avoid appearing prudish or repressed.
          But in 1984 we stopped and thought; and so did a lot of other people. The publication of the disturbing results of ever-increasing studies, testimony by researchers, and a Department of Juvenile Justice content analysis of Playboy indicated what many of us have known for a number of years: pornography, defined by the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography as primarily sexually explicit material designed to arouse, is a public health concern. And it's an ethical issue when it comes to the sexualization of children, and even the depiction of children as appropriate sex partners for adults, a long-time feature of Playboy issues. In the face of this research and rising public opinion, the magazine acknowledged guilt by backing off its use of children, a little--all the while denying culpability.
          But now, they're at it again. This subtle but insidious practice of sexualizing children is slipping back into their material. One method is their centerfold layout, which juxtaposes explicit nude posters of young women, featured only for their sexual desirability and 'easy access,' with very young childhood snapshots and childishly written essays on first grade primer paper. If boys and young men are brought up to believe that success in sex depends on the domination and conquest of a submissive partner, or even that sexuality is linked with power over another, then portrayals of children like those pictured within Playboy 's hypersexualized context may help turn young boys and girls into acceptable sexual targets. The children's dependence and lack of power are effective stimuli for insecure adults. For many people, and not just pedophiles, these images serve as powerful rationalization for their sexual interest in, or actual misuse of, children.
          While you have chosen to 'wink at' Playboy 's depiction of women as indiscriminately available sexual playmates by advertising in the magazine, others in increasing numbers have decided to take a good hard look. And they don't like what they see. It is the insidious and 'legitimized' entry of pornographic culture into our homes. It is the commodification and the sexual subordination of women. It is the distorted and dangerous objectification of women and children. Some research findings indicate that such dehumanization is an important trigger for aggression and cruelty to others. we must seriously question Playboy 's decision, despite persistent criticism, to present children not only in this manner, but at all within its highly sexualized context. Most child advocates and professionals would find this practice grossly inappropriate and socially irresponsible.
          We need yourhelp. Many corporations have taken a stand. Don't relinquish your corporate social responsibility. Show that you value the equality and dignity of women. Do you really want your customers to associate your products, and so support, with this demeaning and compromising depiction of women? The absurd philosophy that 'if it sells, it must be good' is wrong, and bad business. Playboy tells young readers that sex is disconnected and exploitive, and women are a sexual commodity for sale to any and all consumers. New research and public opinion is showing that using demeaning sex to sell may not only be socially irresponsible, but also damaging to the best interest of companies. More and more we're seeing naked women, but are they the most effective sales vehicle? They're mostly selling a warped view of human sexuality and female value. Is this the message you want to send to your purchasing public?
          In the time it takes you to read this letter, two women will be forcibly raped. We live in a society where between one quarter and one half of American women have been raped at some point in their lives, and 10 to 23% of college men will admit to having raped a woman in the past... A society where 61% of the forcible rape victims in the U.S. said they were 17 or younger when assaulted; 29% were younger than 11... A society where our youth say they'd rather be respected for physical beauty instead of intelligence and inner beauty... A society where sexual harassment of girls in elementary and secondary schools is rampant according to a survey by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. Publications like Playboy may foster feelings of superiority and entitlement among male readers, many of whom are adolescents, by casting women in the role of inferior and sexualized 'Other.' According to author David Mura in the 1991 Law and Politicsarticle, 'Bad Entertainment for Men,' Playboy fosters 'a view of sexuality predicated on voyeurism, that is, on distance and needs of a single consciousness... The women in the photos are forever receptive, passive, conscious of their role as something to be surveyed...The key to the appeal of the idealized playmate is that she is totally controllable, subject to the whims of the purchasers of fantasies..."

The goal of a just society must be to recognize the full humanity of all its citizens. I'm asking you to please...now...demonstrate your commitment to the equality and security of women and choose other magazines to support with your advertising dollars. I'm writing as a professional in the health care field. I'm writing as a member of the largest consumer population in the U.S.--women. When you advertise in Playboy, you're saying to the world that it's OK to devalue women, to objectify them, to see them only as sex objects--and children as smaller versions of the same.

Thank you for your time and attention. I hope my appeal moves you to make smarter advertising buying decisions, and I look forward to hearing from you about this important issue. Please expect more letters like mine soon. I've enclosed a brief booklet citing examples of the abuse we're trying to halt.

Linnea W. Smith, M.D.


On August 18, 1995 Richard Kinsler, Playboy's executive vice president/publisher, wrote to Linnea Smith. He had received word from the Seagram's alcohol company that Smith had contacted them with her findings on the magazine. While Kinsler's letter was directed to Smith, she believes that its real audience was the Seagram's company, who received a copy. The following letter is what Smith wrote in response. She went section by section, answering Kinsler's letter (shown here in italics) in the way people communicate within the Internet.

"October 31, 1995

Your letter, Mr. Kinsler,
was distressing to me. I know it's not possible that you actually didn't understand the materials submitted to you*-- or your own publication's content, for that matter. So, I've countered the points of your brief missive to me dated August 18, 1995 with some information I think you'll find interesting, if not enlightening. I ask you to read your August 18 letter to me with my response written directly under each of your points, with the same openmindedness that you requested of me, and, more importantly, truthfulness on your part.

Thank you.
Linnea Smith, MD


The letter, Dr. Smith, ...you've written to Mr. Edgar Bronfman, Jr. at Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Ltd., has been passed on to me, as a matter of information. I would very much like to respond and ask that you have an open mind in reading my remarks as I am indeed sensitive to what you have written.

It's funny, Mr. Kinsler, the way you carelessly throw around words and phrases that should have meaning and importance. At the same time that you ask me to have an open mind and understand your sensitivity, I see a magazine that refuses to accurately inform its readers and the general public about its methods and content. From your letter to me and Seagram's, I see these same shenanigans played out with your business clientele as well.

How can there be any meaningful dialogue when you deny what is in print and stored in your own archives...Not to mention lying on coffee tables, in boxesin closets and under the mattresses of your readers young and old? Once again, this dishonesty has influenced me to distribute these disturbing depictions of what you say "in no way have or would" do. Can you honestly, with an "open mind" as a "sensitive" person, look at these depictions and once again, as in your letter to me, deny their very existence?

As far as our all American team selections, they are made by Gary Cole, our sports editor, who's well versed and extremely knowledgeable about all college sports programs across the country.

In what way is Mr. Cole well-versed? How knowledgeable is he? What in his background qualifies him alone and not a committee of respected professionals to be select All-Americans...and then disqualify them if they refuse to participate in the weekend photo session? Why does this have an impact on whether or not they make your "team"? Hardly sportsmanlike, Mr. Kinsler.

The question of pornography is certainly subjective. We at Playboy do not think of our magazine in that context and in fact specifically target the publication for readers over 18. Our median age is 32.

At least 30% of your cartoons and illustrations are child magnets*- Santa Claus, the Wizard of Oz, etc.. Why, if you're NOT targeting the vulnerable juvenile audience? The average young male sees his first Playboy at age 11. Ninety*-seven percent of young males in middle school have been exposed to your or other gateway magazines. ALL*-100% of males in high school have read or looked at your publication and similar "men's entertainment" magazines.

We in notway depict the "sexualization" of children, nor would we.

Please look again, Mr. Kinsler. Research counted an average eight child images per issue of Playboy *--5% of your total imagery (1954*-1984). Are eight depictions of children per issue, most in sexualized scenarios, the same thing as "no way"? Please, feel free to open an issue and count them yourself...or refer to a review of the original date featured in the 1994 book Media, Children and The Family: Social Scientific, Psychodynamic, and Clinical Perspectives, edited by nationally recognized researcher Dolf Zillman, Chair of Communications for the University of Alabama.

Major studies have shown the pictorials Playboy features in no way lead to aggression or cruelty to others as you mentioned.

What major studies, Mr. Kinsler? I'd be very interested in reading those studies you mentioned*- with the same open mind, of course, that you read my material. The only ones I know of are the phony front organization and PR campaigns your group financed to discredit the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography and its findings, especially findings about your own content. What studies, excluding publications you paid for, can you recommend for my reading?

The magazine is offered to adults as a matter of choice. I certainly recognize your fundamental right to express yourself and believe you must give the same right to other people on this and many other subjects. Sincerely, Richard Kinsler.

You talk about fundamental rights, Mr. Kinsler, and choice. There is no choice without truth. It is dishonest to dupe the general public and advertisers into choosing without first giving them accurate, honest information. This whole issue as I see it is about truth...being able to open your own magazine, see these sexualized depictions of children and admit, 'OK, so we DID print child pornography. And it's wrong.' The issue is about honesty...being able to read and weigh the merits of the scientific data that says pornography is a public health hazard endangering all citizens. Of course, we both know there won't be 100% consensus on such a complex social issue. But there certainly exists an increasingly growing body of sanctioned, internationally recognized and respected scientific data that supports this concern. But we're not just talking about so-called hard-core violent material. The evidence implicates non-violent and dehumanizing pornography as well. It harms not only women and girls, but also men and boys--your primary consumers. According to Garyaaamm. Brooks, PhD. in his l995 book The Centerfold Syndrome, "The Centerfold Syndrome represents one of the most malignant forces in contemporary relationships between men and women,"impairing male sexuality and sabotaging intimacy.

I know in the spirit of openmindedness and truth, you agree. What do you choose to do, Mr. Kinsler?

Linnea Smith, MD

P.S. The day you're willing to appear naked*--bent over, legs spread (air-brushing allowed)-- and say it's NOT demeaning to you, then you can make that claim for women so displayed. I look forward to being able to understand and share your view with Seagram's and other corporate sponsors."

back to Linnea's Playboy page

Go To Linnea's Homepage