It’s generally accepted in feminist circles that third-wave feminism officially began in the early 1990s, though some place its sex-positive roots in the 1980s. But if you want to get technical, stiletto/sex-positive feminism as we know it today was born in the early 1970s. The sexual revolution was at its height, and, to the horror of second-wave feminists, women began to celebrate their femininity and all the benefits it brought them. Turnabout became fair play in carnal matters, and for the first time, it was men being objectified. Cosmopolitan published the first-ever nude male centerfold, and Playgirl magazine was launched, promising to be the savvy woman’s source for all things feminist, political, sophisticated, and sexy.
Described as a feminist porn comedy, Minx, the new HBO Max show debuting this week, is a thinly disguised fictionalized telling of the launch of Playgirl. Against a backdrop of all the retro-70s pop culture expected in a period piece, a young and spirited Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) sets out to publish a magazine she calls The Matriarchy Awakens, a feminist manifesto as angry as it is humorless.
As luck would have it, Joyce runs into Doug (Jake Johnson), a notorious pornographer impressed with her high-minded ideals who offers to publish her magazine with a few tweaks. Matriarchy Awakens is rebranded as Minx, and following the meteoric success of a nude Burt Reynolds on a bearskin rug in Cosmo, Doug suggests the new magazine feature a monthly male centerfold in all his glory. Joyce protests, of course.
“Don’t get me wrong, [your idea is] good, it’s just ya gotta hide the medicine,” Doug tells her, inferring the magazine’s feminism needs to be disguised as fun and sexy. “It’s like when you give a pill to a dog; you dip it in peanut butter first?”
The main attraction of Minx – other than more male frontal nudity than any other show in history – is how it captures American culture at the time the women’s liberation movement was ramping up. Despite her scholarly musings on that social movement, Joyce is clueless about how to reach the women she’s trying to influence. But the mostly all-female staff Doug brings on board certainly do because they’re that exact demographic. Young, sexy, and not too serious about anything other than having a good time, they’re the antithesis of Joyce, who has been toiling away on her feminist magazine idea since seventh grade.
“What I’m trying to do is real, and it’s hard, and there are no shortcuts,” she tells the far more experienced Doug, lamenting how her lifelong idea is being turned into something lighter and fluffier. She doesn’t realize that Minx Magazine (if it is a mirror of Playgirl) will be far more influential in the American feminist movement than The Matriarchy Awakens ever could be.
Doug is as ambitious as Joyce, seeking to add a more consequential magazine to his roster, but he also knows what sells, and Joyce’s original concept ain’t it. This dichotomy between the two becomes the show’s heart as their off-beat partnership begins to change each other, though her more than him. In one scene, she gives in to the sexual proposition from one of the centerfolds. Honestly, though, what woman wouldn’t? He’s hot as fuck. What this scene represents, though, is gender role-reversal. We’re used to seeing male bosses take advantage of their female underlings on TV and film. Seldom do we see anything approaching the opposite. Doug, to his credit, takes some of Joyce’s idealism to heart as well, as demonstrated by a racist conversation he declines to take part when he might have previously.
Though the attention to detail Minx gives to early 70s settings and fashion exceeds that of other shows set in the time period, it’s the penis parade that will make the show so irresistible to most.