The relationship between women and weed has always been an interesting one. Within the industry, there has long been the image of the "Bong Babe"—a.k.a. the scantily clad (or naked) woman used to promote a certain marijuana lifestyle. Sexualizing women isn't anything new, and using sex to sell (whether a product or a lifestyle) isn't particularly scandalizing anymore. However, in an industry where women are fighting to be taken seriously, do sites like Naked Weed Report help or hurt?
As long as there has been marijuana and a way to consume it, women have been there, growing it, preparing it, cooking it, or smoking it. Their presence was not necessarily acknowledged in a serious way on a larger scale like men have. Instead, the idea of "hot girl smoking weed" seemed to be the louder narrative when it came to women and marijuana in the late 20th century and for much of the early ’00s.
The stereotype of the hot stoner girl was only perpetuated from early industry leaders with contests that were (and are still) held, akin to Miss Universe (but with way more skin!). I'm still waiting for the contest with the scantily clad men.
Women are, of course, no strangers to having to work against stereotype in order to come up in an industry. And that's exactly what they've been doing in the cannabis industry. Women are starting to ascend, taking on executive roles at a higher rate than in U.S. businesses overall. Their leadership roles in the industry continue to grow at a fast pace.
And yet, as women begin to be taken seriously, there are still those who continue to push the stereotypical image of ladies, sex, and pot. At the website Naked Weed Report women strip while reading cannabis-related news stories. Unlike previous projects, where men were the ones behind sexploitated women and weed, the CEO behind Stoned Media Group, the company that owns Naked Weed Report, is Bree Whitehead, a woman.
In a feature for Vice's subsite Broadly, Whitehead discussed the website and how she sees nothing wrong with it. "I find humor in the people who get mad or call our sites cheap, because we bust our asses for this," She told Broadly. "The women we work with are some of the most brilliant people I've ever met in my life. The woman who was on the cover of my calendar last year speaks four languages and owns three businesses. You can't make that up. She just also happens to be insanely hot and free with her sexuality.”
But in an industry where women continue to fight to be taken seriously, is Naked Weed Report helping or hurting? Leah Heise, CEO of Women Grow, an organization that connects, supports, and empowers women in the cannabis industry believes that it comes down to the individual. "Women Grow has always fought hard to eradicate the exploitation of women in cannabis culture, in particular the use of women as marketing tools. That being said, we are also about female empowerment,” Heise told MERRY JANE. “If a female is choosing to capitalize upon her femininity of her own free will, I, personally, am all for it, though it would not be the advertising venue I would choose."
There doesn't seem to be an easy answer for any of this. Some might see it as Whitehead continuing to work within the patriarchal system that exploits women and their sexuality for business, while others may see her as using her own agency as a woman to profit in an industry that has continually underestimated women. In the end, she's just one more woman in this growing industry trying to make her way through it.