Last week I received a copy of an invitation to our students from Playboy magazine. Would one of them like to represent Cedar Crest in a special pictorial edition on women's colleges? The less she wore the more she would be paid. Try-outs for students and alumnae were scheduled in a few weeks at hotels in Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta. The finalist would be flown to Chicago for full photo sessions later in the winter.
In fact, the planned Playboy feature is the latest in a long series, begun with cave drawings, of women as sex objects. From that time to this, the dominant images of females have fallen into two categories: madonnas and whores. With the decline of religion and the proliferation of pornography, the pictures of women displaying their sexual attributes have dominated the visual landscapes. In advertising, promotion of products has been most successful when canisters of shaving cream or cans of beer are interspersed with female body parts.
What is most offensive about the specific focus Playboy plans on women from women's colleges is that it runs counter to all that these institutions represent. No longer associated with the old stereotypes of convents and finishing schools, these colleges have established a reputation for producing leaders. From Corazon Acquino to Pat Schroeder, from Katherine Hepburn to Meryl Streep and Barbara Walters, the figures who graduate from these schools are more likely to be pictured on the front page than in the centerfold.
Just as we have replaced Barbie, with her feet permanently shaped for high-heel shoes, with more life-like baby dolls with natural bodies, so it's time to look at the real images of women. Most of us don't look anything like the plastic flesh of the women featured as the "Birds of Britain" in the December Playboy.
The images of women today and tomorrow are quite different:
1) According to John Baisbitt in "Megatrends" by the next century, the number of women in leadership roles across all sectors will increase sevenfold. This means we will have to get used to pictures of women in the business section, in sports, as scientific newsmakers -- in all sections of the paper and society -- just as during the past months we have gotten used to seeing the figures of female soldiers as part of operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia.
2) For the last decade, women have been the majority of new entrants into the labor force. Not only are they nurses and teachers, they are 20 percent of the doctors and lawyers and 52 percent of all those receiving bachelor's degrees.
The members of the new majority go to college to expand their minds and to develop capacities to contribute to a complex society, not to expose their bodies.
For most women, Playboy photos are already an anachronism. As a sophomore at Cedar Crest said, "We don't have to take our clothes off to get attention."
DOROTHY GULBENKIAN BLANEY is president, Cedar Crest College, Allentown, Pa.