French Minister Marlene Schiappa has angered her political rivals, allies and a large section of citizens by posing for the April cover of Playboy magazine. She also did a 12-page interview with the controversial publication on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. The 40-year-old has been the Secretary of State for Social & Solidarity Economy & Associative Life of France since 2022.
On vous dévoile la séance photo de Marlène Schiappa dans Playboy 👇 pic.twitter.com/JEw04I7Lum
— BFMTV (@BFMTV) April 4, 2023
Her colleagues in the French government are not impressed. CNN affiliate BMFTV quoted Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who said it “wasn’t appropriate, especially during this period.” President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reforms have triggered civil unrest, with massive protests across the country.
Schiappa became France’s first-ever Gender Equality Minister in 2017. Even before entering politics, she was a feminist author. In response to the backlash, she wrote on Twitter, “Defending the right of women to have control of their bodies is everywhere and all the time. In France, women are free. With all due respect to the backsliders and the hypocrites.” It’s an empowering statement to make. But can the same be said for the move itself?
Défendre le droit des femmes à disposer de leurs corps, c’est partout et tout le temps.
En France, les femmes sont libres.
N’en déplaise aux rétrogrades et aux hypocrites.#Playboy
— 🇫🇷 MarleneSchiappa (@MarleneSchiappa) April 1, 2023
The fight for women to be able to express themselves and their sexualities openly puts her on the right side of history. Especially when it comes to women in positions of political power, we hesitate to see them as human beings with sexual freedoms. Countless male politicians accused of sexual assault, violence and rape continued to hold their positions. But Finland’s former Prime Minister Sana Marin, for instance, received criticism just for attending a private party with her friends. It’s a sexist double standard – if a woman isn’t one-dimensional, modest and reserved, she doesn’t deserve a seat at the table of world leaders at all.
However, Schiappa’s case is more complicated. Playboy has had a long and disturbing history of objectifying women and catering to the male gaze. It’s not a brand that advocates for women to take charge of their narrative, but one that profits off their sexualisation. Women have never been at the helm of Playboy’s content.
In 2022, Secrets of Playboy, a docuseries on Hugh Hefner and the media empire he built revealed allegations that him and his friends drugged and raped women in Playboy Mansions. He sold videos of several women to pornography websites without their consent. Playboy then came out with an open letter, saying, “We trust and validate women and their stories, and we strongly support the individuals who have come forward to share their experiences. As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security and accountability are paramount, and anything less is inexcusable.” They said that Playboy no longer associates with the Hefner family, and that “today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy”.
Regardless of claims that the publication has taken on a new approach today, one cannot ignore its past and the women who have shared their traumatic experiences with Hefner. In this light, a feminist author and former gender equality minister affiliating with and promoting Playboy doesn’t make the statement she thinks it does. Liberating oneself from the shackles of what a woman leader should look, dress and behave like is empowering. But choosing a magazine that has never put women at the front and centre of anything but objectification and even caused them real-life physical harm to do so may not be the best choice.