Why women and the world are better off without Hugh Hefner
OPINION: With the news that Hugh Hefner has shuffled off this mortal coil, there were plenty of bros high fiving on social media in tribute to the man who created the Playboy publishing empire — with a loan from his mother. If you're not part of his target market, though, the news felt very different.
To men, maybe, Hefner was living the dream — the embodiment of suave 60s glamour in his velvet smoking jacket, who kept a menage of Playboy bunnies as his live-in girlfriends and probably screwed his head off all day every day.
To women, he was gross and lame, a relic of the kind of slobbery sexism that rightfully belongs in the grave.
Because, to Hugh Hefner, women were apparently only good for one thing: being sexy. Or, more accurately, making him money by being a particularly narrow kind of sexy.
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"A girl," he once said, of women, "resembles a bunny". (Hence Playboy's bunny logo). And the image of femininity he deliberately popularised through Playboy's choice of Playmates was as non-threatening and empty-headed as a rabbit. (Sorry rabbits).
"She is never sophisticated, a girl you cannot really have," he rambled. "She is a young, healthy, simple girl – the girl next door. We are not interested in the mysterious, difficult woman, the femme fatale, who wears elegant underwear, with lace, and she is sad, and somehow mentally filthy. The Playboy girl has no lace, no underwear, she is naked, well-washed with soap and water, and she is happy." Ack, ack.
Creating this mythically void creature in the flesh involved systematically dehumanising and exploiting young women. For all his debonair, in-control charm, Hefner's success was really built on the backs of women.
According to a landmark piece of investigative journalism by Gloria Steinem, who went undercover in Hefner's New York club as a Playboy Bunny, costumes were so tight your legs went numb, the club underpaid and kept half your tips, and bunnies-in-training were required to undergo a pointlessly invasive internal pelvic exam.
This was 1963, but even decades later when the world had moved on, according women more respect across the board, Hefner still hadn't and didn't.
According to former employees, there was a 9pm curfew imposed at Hefner's famously carefree Playboy Mansion, and a strict code of conduct around social media use.
Pay was patronisingly counted out in bills and handed over personally by Hefner, who would use the opportunity to cavil about Playmates' lack of participation. The car awarded to the Playmate of the Year had to be returned at the end of the year. And the bragged-about dream of perpetual, intimacy-less sex was reportedly only kept aloft by loads of viagra for Hef and quaaludes, weed and alcohol for the women.
By the mid 00s, the bunny image, as put about in The Girls of the Playboy Mansion reality series, was so dated and so transparently designed to massage male insecurities, that it felt like feminism's answer to a black and white minstrel show.
Now that he's being laid to rest, hopefully some of that bogus "mystique" has died with him.