In this week’s issue, one of our contributing writers wrote about Hugh Hefner and his legacy, specifically relating his philosophies concerning sexual freedom to the beliefs of feminists. It would be an understatement to say that I have some serious problems with the points he raised, which need to be put forth.
Let me say as a precursor that I knew very little about Hugh Hefner and what he did during his 91 years of life before writing this response. When I first started learning about and becoming interested in feminism, oddly enough my first instinct was not to turn to the slimy old man who created “Playboy” as an inspiration of feminist ideals. This was first compounded by the writer’s mention of Hefner being buried in proximity to Marilyn Monroe, calling it strangely “fitting” that even in death, beautiful women can’t escape his presence. Not only is this an ineffective way to begin an argument for Hefner’s feminist values, but serves as a disgusting mental image to associate him and therefore feminists, with.
From there, the equation between Hefner and modern feminists continued on, and became more infuriating to absorb. The writer states that while feminists once hated him, “his philosophy is now theirs.” Since the writer is holding feminists at arms length, I’m going to assume he’s not one of them and since he’s not one of them, then he should feel free to step back from these assertions. He doesn’t know what feminist ideologies are, and as an actual feminist I can say that people like Hefner repulse me and everything I stand for. Maybe me and other feminists like me are a “new generation of Victorians” — whatever that means — who “despise catcalling” and demand consent to be a part of our sexual experiences, but it’s not because we’re drawing on “Playboy” as inspiration. First of all, disliking catcalling and requiring consent in any sexual situation is basic common sense to all women, which you could find out if you asked literally any woman at all. Secondly, catcalling as a practice is embarrassing, degrading and bottom-line is something that no one has asked for or wanted. Consent, on the other hand, has only been harped on in recent years because it seems as though men specifically don’t know what it is and it’s become imperative to remedy this fact.
There’s also the idea that Hugh Hefner was some sort of sexual liberator and that his promotion of free sex is therefore in line with feminists’ wants to have control over their sexuality. This false equivalency reveals a lack of understanding about why feminists stress this freedom to do with their bodies what they’d like. Sex for women has always been regulated and criticized, both by other women and, largely, by men. Double standards abound for a woman trying to navigate her sexual lifestyle, trying to maintain a reputation as a respectable person that would be “sullied” by sleeping around too much. Feminists believe that what a woman wants to do with her body is her business; others can be free to criticize, but at the end of the day a woman can have dignity and be regarded with respect and have the sex life that she wants.
This is a far, far cry from what “Playboy” and Hefner promoted, promoting grown women dressed as bunny rabbits as sex objects. Feminists who know anything about the things that went on at the “Playboy” mansion wouldn’t hold up Hefner as a liberator of women, but rather as someone who objectified and subjugated women sexually. As Suzanne Moore, a reporter for The Guardian who Hefner once threatened to sue for calling him a pimp, stated in a recent article, “The fantasy that Hefner sold was not a fantasy of freedom for women, but for men. Women had to be strangely chaste but constantly available for the right price.” Hefner’s brand of “feminism” advertised a woman’s freedom to have sex, but only on a man’s terms. There’s a distinct, unignorable difference here between women taking control of their sexuality, and being objectified by men looking to profit off their exploitation.
The writer acknowledges that Hefner’s life and beliefs were “an embrace of pubescence,” which is correct, if pubescence means he was a man who never grew up to learn how to properly respect women and not treat them as sex toys. Hefner was the opposite of a feminist and maybe his written philosophies will say differently, but he lived his life as one who made his living off of selling women as items in his magazines. He twisted a woman’s willingness to have frequent sex as a thing to be used for his personal and financial gain, something I abhor and do not identify with in the slightest as a feminist.