The media has painted the Playboy founder as a grandfather figure with naughty past. It needs to stop.
Hefner with playmates Kendra Wilkinson and Holly Madison. Image via Shutterstock
On Wednesday night US time, Hugh Hefner died in his sleep.
When news broke on Thursday morning, social media was full of tributes to the man who built the Playboy empire. It was one of those rare moments on Twitter where both conservatives and progressives could find some middle ground, in mourning him.
Jokes abounded, with men urging women to, "Send nudes for Hef," and celebrities posting pictures of themselves with him. Among the left, people starting sharing articles about how the pyjama-clad ladies' man supported gay rights as far back as the 1950s. They were mourning the social justice warrior, they assured, not the old man who objectified of women.
But I do not mourn Hugh Hefner. Because, by many accounts, Hefner was not someone to look up to.
Over the years, there have been rafts of allegations of sexual assault from Playboy models, such as Dorothy Stratten, and also porn stars directed at Hefner. One of the most well known accounts was given by Linda Lovelace in her autobiography Ordeal, published in 1980. Lovelace said she was pimped out to Hefner by her abusive partner Chuck Traynor, alleging Hefner "sodomised" her and attempted to make her have sex with a dog.
In 1985, two former Playmates—Miki Garcia and Brenda MacKillop—testified to the Meese Commission on Pornography on a number of disturbing things that accorded in the Playboy Mansion, including women who were pressured into taking illegal drugs and engaging in orgies with Hefner and his associates.
According to the Sun Sentinal's report on the testimony, many Playboy models were subjected to abuse. "Garcia, 40… was told by models about rapes, mental and physical abuse, attempted murder, drug addiction, attempted suicide and prostitution," the newspaper reported.
"Although models complained they were harassed by advertisers, Playboy allowed the abuse to continue because it was good for business, Garcia charged, saying that Playboy's attitude is: 'You are now a playmate. Don't be so stuffy. It's all right to do this. It's LA chic. She falls prey to this.'"
In more recent years, former girlfriend Holly Madison, who was featured on the E! television show Girls Next Door, wrote that Hefner drugged women so they would sleep with him. From Madison's memoir, Down The Rabbit Hole:
"'Would you like a Quaalude?' Hef asked, leaning toward me with a bunch of large horse pills in his hands, held together by a crumpled tissue... 'Okay, that's good,' [Hef] said, nonchalantly. 'Usually, I don't approve of drugs, but you know, in the '70s they used to call these pills thigh openers.'"
Quaaludes were also the drugs that Hefner's friend Bill Cosby used to allegedly drug and rape multitudes of women. In a recent case, model Chloe Goins claimed that Cosby raped her in the Playboy Mansion in 2008, and alleged that Hefner "conspired" with his friend in her assault.
Madison, as well as other former girlfriends of Hefner's such as Clara Howe and Izabella St James, also reported how everything they did was controlled when living in the mansion. According to Madison's book, and one penned by St James called Bunny Tales, any girlfriend living on the property had a 9 PM curfew, had to ask permission to go anywhere without Hefner, was unable to bring guests home, and was required to have unprotected group sex with Hefner twice a week. Not exactly the fun sleepover Girls Next Door portrayed on TV.
This isn't a queer feminist's critique of the sexism and misogyny Hefner's magazine sold month in and month out. This is just a small selection of the deeply abhorrent crimes he stands accused of.
If you haven't heard of any of these allegations, it's not surprising. Despite decades of accounts and countless women coming forward, the media has largely focused on doing puff pieces on Hefner—regarding him as a sort of grandfather figure with naughty past.
Even now, obituaries are being published that barely mention the "scandals" of Playboy's past, instead focusing on the "iconic" nature of the magazine, Hefner's entrepreneurialism, and the celebrities he hosted at his mansion. Glowing praises are being written about Hefner as a civil and social rights icon, because of his support for gay rights and abortion.
As with many men accused of abuse, Hefner's worrying past has not impacted him. He died rich, a darling of the media and pop culture, with thousands mourning his legacy—largely ignoring the accusations of druggings, of sexual assault, and emotional abuse.
Much has been made in the last 24 hours of Hefner's support of birth control and legal abortion. And while, yes, the businessman did help fund the Roe v Wade case in the US, let's not kid ourselves. Hefner did not support birth control and legal abortion because he believed in a woman's ability to choose what happened to her body. He supported them because it meant there were less excuses for women who said no to men wanting condomless sex—they couldn't use risk of pregnancy as a reason to reject men.
"Men had prophylactics–rubbers–so they had some control over reproduction, although rubbers were mainly supposed to be used to prevent disease, not for birth control," Hefner told CNN in 2010. "I was never enamored of prophylactics, so The Pill permitted the sexual act to be more natural and more loving."
As author Elizabeth Fraterrigo put its in her book Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America, Hefner's support of the pill and abortion was "merely serving the best interests of Playboy, promoting more sex for women while reducing male responsibilities for unwanted pregnancy."
Unlike some of the women who have been the most vocal opposition to Playboy and Hefner, like Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, I am not opposed to pornography or sex work. I am a proudly sex-positive feminist who believes that women can chose to engage in whatever work they wish, and will fight for the rights of sex workers.
But Hefner represents not the sexual revolution for women, but the continued belief that women exist to please men. Playboy's ideal woman, according to Hefner, was a "young, healthy, happy, simple girl—not a 'difficult' one."
No doubt, by Hefner's definition, difficult women were the ones who wouldn't put up with sexual harassment or sexual assault. Who disliked being controlled, who chose to be sexually unavailable to men, or who flat out rejected them.
I'm proud to be a difficult woman, and I will not mourn Hugh Hefner.
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