Like you didn’t know I’d have something to say about the death of the velvet-clad, baby-oil-coated colostomy bag otherwise known as Hugh Hefner.
I’ve seen posts all over social media in the past twelve hours crediting Hefner with everything from women’s sexual freedom to Roe v. Wade to the protection of all Amercians’ right to free speech. I expect there will be much more of the same and probably some additional horseshit over the coming days.
First off, let’s get a few things straight. Women’s sexual liberation has yet to be achieved. The feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s were headed in that direction, but Hefner and his ilk HIJACKED that process and perverted it into an ideology in which women’s “sexual freedom” ended up looking a lot like men’s fantasies of female sexual submissiveness and objecthood.
Radical women fought for a positive change in women’s lives, then a capitalist dude showed up to rip off their ideas, adulterate and water them down, then sell them back to men — and the women who weren’t conscious enough of their own oppression yet to recognize the difference — as part of a packaged “lifestyle” one could buy. Hugh Hefner and Playboy weren’t catalysts to women’s liberation; they were a backlash to it. Nothing new to see here.
To give Hefner credit for Roe v. Wade (or birth control access) is so ludicrous an insult to the thousands of women who spent their lives fighting for women’s right to bodily sovereignty that I won’t even dignify it with anything other than the obvious: the founder of Playboy only supported abortion and birth control access because it freed MEN from the consequences of sex. (It’s kind of hard to be a playboy when some broad expects you to take care of the child you impregnated her with, nuhmean?)
Finally, what kind of “free speech” was Hefner such an exemplary champion of? The right to publish cartoons celebrating rape and child molestation? The right to publish pictures of naked women in absurd poses that signal complete submission to the male gaze — and hence communicate the message that women are vacant, silly creatures who enjoy being consumed as products? Playboy opened the floodgates that have drowned society in anti-woman propaganda (i.e. contemporary mainstream pornography), which I don’t consider to have been much of a boon to my life or the lives of any of the women I know.
When men like Hefner, Larry Flynt, and that most eminent of turds Bob Guccione fought for their right to “free speech,” they effectively eliminated women’s freedom of speech by delegitimizing their voices in the public sphere. Hefner paved the way for those two and for the oozing horde of latter-day pornographers whose “free speech” enriches all of our lives to this day with the ever-so-revolutionary idea that women enjoy and deserve sexual abuse and violence.
Mainstream (and let’s not pretend porn isn’t mainstream) media that presents women as mindless, childlike, or servile pulls the foundation of personhood out from under all women’s public political speech. Free-speech jihadist memers aside, no one in their right mind believes there should be zero limitations on or consequences for public speech that harms other people. If you’re anywhere on the left end of the political continuum, you don’t get to argue that the right’s public racism is hate speech and is thus not protected under the First Amendment and then turn around and say Hefner was a champion of free speech. Pornography is anti-woman hate speech. Period.
Intellectual consistency isn’t always fun or popular.