For many young men in the 1970s to the early '90s, Playgirl was their first (or only) way of getting a peek at man flesh, although it was ostensibly a magazine for women (who can forget Greg Louganis stripping for a centerfold in 1987?). Of course, soon enough there was a renaissance of actual gay men's magazines for men, by men (including this one, Read Out's 20th Anniversary coverage). But somehow Playgirl stuck around.
In 2007, Jessanne Collins was a young woman looking for an entry into the world of glossy magazines and she got her chance with a job as managing editor at the notorious monthly. “From day one, when I discovered on my desk a deflated blow-up doll, a pile of dildos, and a package of something called 'adhesive underwear,' I was in alien terrain,” she begins her mini-memoir, "How to Be a Playgirl," available as a Barnes and Noble e-book.
Collins went on to become managing editor of Out magazine as well (she's currently at Mental Floss), so don't think the year she spent at Playgirl damaged her—or her reputation. We got her to go on a rampage (with the help of a little rosé) to explain why she decided to write about her times at the magazine—and whether it was really a gay magazine in disguise.
How long did you work at playgirl?
I was there for just over a year, from the summer of '07 til the fall of '08.
Wasn't it another woman who hired you?
Yes! Well, as I explain in the book, operations were overseen by an editorial director who was a guy, who oversaw all the magazines the company published. So I did interview with him. But the editor in chief, Nicole, was a young woman about my age, and she more or less hired me.
After years of trying to get a chance at a magazine job, you probably found that it was a male-dominated world. Did you find it unusual that women were running the show at Playgirl?
Actually, the situation ended up being the reverse. I'd been lucky up to that point to have always had very powerful female bosses and mentors. The situation at Playgirl was definitely unusual but not in the ways you'd expect. If anything, I was in a little bit of culture shock because I'd always taken for granted that women could hold positions of real power, and at Playgirl, that wasn't exactly the case.
There was sort of a puppet show going on. On one hand, in many ways, we did direct the nitty gritty of the content and it was pretty incredible how much control we had, and how little supervision—and I don't mean as women, but more as young, relatively inexperienced editors. On the other hand, we did in the end answer to these man-pornographer bosses, and, it's not just that they were men and we were women, but that they were straight men, who's primary business was to make porn for other straight men.
So in the end, there was something lost in the translation about what it was they wanted to make and what it was we wanted to make. And it was, actually, now that you mention it, my first experience with a world that actually was incredibly male dominated. <<Read More>>