On September 27, Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, died. Some cultural analysts — and celebrities — are hailing him as a positive influence on our society as the most well-known leader of the sexual revolution.
A video tribute to Hefner was released today by the Huffington Post. The video opens with Hefner, who has said he wanted to have a “positive impact” on “social sexual values,” flanked by smiling blond bombshells; it then eulogizes him as a great liberator of women. One line in the video refers to critics who “bashed Playboy for objectifying women” then immediately proceeds to debunk that notion by reassuring us that “most people are remembering Hef fondly.”
Reading about Hefner today, I see the word “revolutionary” used to describe his life’s work. Former Playboy bunnies reminisce about his influence in launching their careers. Civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson have released statements about his support for their movement. Here are what some other celebrities had to say:
But what about the women who won't be lauding this cultural icon? What about women like me?
I first encountered pornography at a friend’s home as a young teen. It was some pretty heavy stuff, and my childhood innocence was violated as those images were imprinted in my mind forever. Forty-five years later, they are still there. They helped to influence what I thought about sex for a long time. It took years for me to understand that those violent, dark and lustful images were not God’s design for a loving relationship within a marriage where both husband and wife respect and honor each other.
Soon after that, I was exposed to Playboy magazine, where smiling women posed seductively. I remember the fear that washed over me as I struggled with the idea I may never look like them. Body image problems plagued me for many years because I internalized those pictures and realized that most of the men I knew viewed these women as ideals of feminine perfection, a standard I would never achieve. Even today, looking at the Huffington Post video I noticed that every single woman in that video posing with Hefner looked like carbon copies of each other: long, blond hair, long, tanned limbs, and well-endowed chests.
The message is loud and clear: This stereotypical portrayal is the image of female perfection. How is that “revolutionary” and empowering to women?
Many stars and models credit Hefner for jumpstarting their careers. They are all over the media today. But the women who won’t be interviewed are those whose marriages were damaged or destroyed by porn.
Many of these women suffer in silence for years as the intimacy of their marriages is eroded by their husband’s porn addiction. The alluring women featured in pornography promise a fantasy relationship but ask for nothing in return. Real wives have needs that they look to their husbands to fulfill. The farther a man retreats into the fantasy world, the more imperfect the woman in his life seems. How is that empowering to women?
The proliferation of online pornography that was preceded by the “sexual revolution” that Hugh Hefner helped to usher in has been linked to sex trafficking. The website fightthenewdrug.org states:
The porn industry is a sketchy industry to begin with, but it takes a really dangerous turn when porn involving sex trafficking victims is made and distributed. Countless women have been kidnapped, abused, drugged, threatened, and coerced into doing porn: this is, by definition, sex trafficking/slavery. But how does this tie in to the average viewer back home? The truth is, there is no way for them to tell if what they are watching was made illegally or if all parties are there willingly. Porn directly fuels the demand for sex traffickers to make money by selling videos of their sex slaves to porn sites.
The women who have been involuntarily trafficked to do porn will not be interviewed today by the news outlets mourning the death of the man that helped pave the way for their situation. How is this empowering to these women?
Hugh Hefner did more to set back every woman’s right to be viewed as something more than an object for men’s sexual gratification than probably any single person in the history of this country. I am a woman who has been negatively affected in my life by porn. The revolution that Mr. Hefner started has had many more female victims than beneficiaries, and we deserve to be heard.