Good Riddance, Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner, owner and founder of the multi millionaire Playboy franchise (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017).

Many mourn him. The New York Times referred to him as a man who built an “empire.” People are recalling his cries for sexual liberation, calling him a mogul and a true businessman. And they’re not wrong. Hugh Hefner is hugely responsible for building an industry; the mainstream porn industry to be exact. Hugh Hefner was the mogul of a business that capitalized off of objectifying women. As a self identified pusher for sex positivity, it might seem hypocritical of me to defame a dead man who loved sex. But nothing Hefner did was positive, even if it was sexual.

Hugh Hefner did not care about free speech or sexual liberation. He cared about money. Hefner’s form of “free speech” AKA humiliating and violating women was protected because degrading women for entertainment purposes has always been legal in our justice system. Playboy just found the best way to profit from it. Mainstream porn, as we know it, is quite literally the legitimate business of buying and selling women’s bodies, and as we know, Hefner was good at business. He transformed back alleys to Wall Street and brought small town girls to mansions. He made dreams come true. It must have seemed like a miracle to anyone young and vulnerable to suddenly find a wealthy man taking an interest in them. And that’s what Hefner did. He preyed on young women by feigning interest and luring them into a trap of a glamorous lifestyle like an abusive Jay Gatsby. He’s even self-described himself as a “boy who dreamed the dream.” But for a red light and daisy dukes.Hefner would like us to believe that he lived an iconic red-blooded American dream, dying with hot women begging to sit on his lap. But in reality he was a misogynistic old man who thought a pipe and an old robe would create an image greater than his history as an abuser. Let’s not let this happen.

Initially Hefner curated an image as a crusader against the social order of the 1950's, reveling in hedonism in the era of Edgar Hoover and other gatekeepers of sexuality. But Hefner used this newfound power of being a public figure to traumatize women for decades. Playboy may have started more in fun than in moral, but good intentions only go so far.  Sure Hefner told torrid stories of his generation’s sexual stricture and acted on resentment of his own so-called sexual repression, but he used sexual violence to get his point across. Hefner blamed the vague notion of “society” for being a virgin well into his 20s and mixed libertine and libertarian arguments to create a sociopolitical stance that equated to “women can have rights and sexual freedom as long as they’re done on my terms.” Much like the cishet white men who were pro Gary Johnson last November, he cared about decriminalizing pot and repealing laws that stripped people of sexual autonomy, but had no true care for women’s rights, poor people, or really any sort of interest in civil rights. The Playboy franchise was blatant consumerism under the guise of the freedom to indulge. Hefner did not fight for civil rights, he sold a belief system. Hefner’s “philosophy” was seen as a progressive for his time. He was a public advocate for free speech and civil liberties, even winning awards for it. Playboy writers discussed figures like Jean Paul Sartre, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. Hefner even showed a dislike for Jim Crow laws. Playboy fucking bought the Fahrenheit 451 for $400. But the topics and guests appearing in Playboy articles then would be now considered your typical liberal arts boy circle jerk material- Nabokov and Vonnegut.

Truth be told, despite Hefner’s ideas being leftist within historical context, I think he would say and do anything (literally) to keep himself in upstanding reputation. He wanted to have an edge, to remain a controversial focal point. So, as a true business man, he spoke about the things people in charge did not want to hear about. Not for collective gain for marginalized communities, but for a capitalist venture. Hefner wasn’t the first to feature nude women in his publications, but he was the first to gain so much from it. His veiled objectification of women made him an instant celebrity (and a driver of mainstream porn).

As any feminist could tell you, Hefner’s viciousness was first brought to light by a 28yo Gloria Steinem who went undercover as a Playboy Bunny for two weeks while writing for Show magazine. And her findings  disgust us to this day, though they were unsurprising. Her 1963 article detailed an entry to the mansion as forced conscription to the Playboy franchise. Rooms full of women literally dressed like animals for the sole purpose of stroking men’s egos. Forced to wear high heels, too small corsets, and keep their mouths shut, Bunnies lived under inhumane conditions for the sake of being appealing for men. Hefner very specifically designed a role for women in his manifesto, that they are important as long as they are sex objects and not multi-faceted beings. Hefner had the audacity to assume that he was fighting the conflict of the mind and body and solving it with capitalistic sexual conquests. Hefner himself commented on feminist activists in 1970, so eloquently stating “these chicks are our natural enemy. What I want is a devastating piece that takes the militant feminists apart.”

 

Ex-Playboy Bunny and mainstay “girlfriend” of Hefner, Holly Madison, in her memoir of her time as a Playboy Bunny, also explains how she was forbade from seeing a psychiatrist to deal with the deep depression living in the “mansion” caused her. Make no mistake, Hugh Hefner was a predator. He chewed out vulnerable women for a living, giving no thought to what purpose they had besides serving him. Mental health wasn’t needed because objectification was in demand. Sexual services performed by women in the Playboy club were non-consensual acts done in guilt and socialized obligation.

I have no doubt that cishet white boys who went to liberal arts school will commemorate Hef, doing their typical mental gymnastics to imagine an abuser as anything but (see men who are “interested in art's obsession with Woody Allen). Men will whine about Hugh Hefner’s supposed contribution to anti-racist struggles as they call cops who confiscated their weed “pigs”. Ask yourself why such a champion of civil rights would willingly make millions selling disgusting racism in damaging pornography. Your slick, silk adorned revolutionizer of feminine sexuality exploited women for profit. And that’s a hell of a lot to reconcile.

To quote Julie Bindel’s article for the Independent regarding Hefner’s death, “to claim that Hefner was a sexual liberationist or free speech idol is like suggesting that Roman Polanski has contributed to child protection”. Hefner didn’t promote sex magazines, he promoted selling sex. There is nothing authentic, intimate, or positive about skeevy clubs. Hefner reduced sex, and women, to an accessory. Don’t let a man who coined calling women “bunnies” go down as ethical. To attribute ideals of free speech and civil rights to a man whose business ran around actually forcing women to dress like animals is ludicrous.

Womxn, don’t think for a minute that he has done anything to revolutionize your sexuality. Don’t for a minute think you need to thank a man who made women a capitalist venture for your autonomy and sexuality.