Hefner: His impact on sexual mores
The conventional wisdom on Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is that he was a “retrograde chauvinist,” said Carrie Pitzulo in Politico.com—“a creepy old man” who created a “sexist, objectifying rag.” The truth is more complicated. Before Playboy hit the newsstands in 1953, society recognized only two types of women: “good girls” who married young as virgins and had sex in order to bear children and “bad girls” who had sex before marriage and enjoyed it. With his Playmate centerfolds, Hefner “rejected this constrained vision of women’s sexuality” and showed that “good girls” enjoyed sex, too—that “women were as sexual as men.” In the “conservative postwar years,” that was a “revolutionary idea.” For all his faults, “Hefner fought for sexual liberation his whole career,” said Erin Gloria Ryan in TheDailyBeast.com. He pushed for women’s access to birth control and vigorously supported legalizing abortion long before Roe v. Wade. He “stood up for gay rights” when most others didn’t dare.
You have to hand it to Hef, spinning his “commodification of female flesh” as “a win for sexual liberation,” said Christine Cauterucci in Slate.com. He was obviously right that women enjoy sex and “should be allowed to show it.” But Playboy promoted a patriarchal world in which Barbie doll–like women were transformed into “hairless, glistening, plumped-up” ideals, shaped not by their own desires but those of men. When Hefner commissioned a hit piece on the feminist movement in 1970, he told his staff, “These chicks are our natural enemy.” Hef claimed to “love women,” said Jill Filipovic in Time.com, but he viewed us as objects without minds or souls and promoted our freedom only insofar as it “benefited men’s sex lives”—in particular his own. Rather than challenging the notion that sex is “primarily about male pleasure and experience,” he “magnified it.”
Hefner leaves a coarser, “degraded” culture as his principal legacy, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. He launched Playboy “with talk of jazz and Picasso,” but ended up as a “lecherous, low-brow Peter Pan”—a “leering grotesque” with a “paid harem” of fame-seeking women several decades his junior. The “social liberalism” Hef championed paved the way for the rot of ubiquitous, misogyny-laced internet porn, and for conservatives unashamedly voting in a “playboy as our president.” That, too, is Hef’s legacy.