BANSAL: Hugh Hefner only brought women down his rabbit hole

Opinions Column: Call for Change

The Playboy empire began in 1953, during an immensely conservative, post-war era of American history. The 1950s held women to stereotypical house-wife standards — their only interests were serving their families, cooking, baking and cleaning. Men were held to a similar standard — domesticated, loyal and monogamous. Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, aimed to change all of this. But his success was only partial.

In December of 1953, Playboy released its first issue, starring a nude Marilyn Monroe on the cover page. Coming from a very traditionalist household, Hefner’s intent was to reimagine the way sexuality was seen. His magazine once stated, “If you don't encourage healthy sexual expression in public, you get unhealthy sexual expression in private.” As the nation leaned toward conformity and conventionalism, seeing sex as a taboo, Hefner, without an overstatement, changed America. Modern day America features sexualized images on practically every medium — billboards, TV commercials, magazines and books. Hefner created a new societal norm. His execution, on the other hand, was flawed.

With just one Google search on Hefner, the words “sexual liberation” and “sexual revolution” are recurrent. Hefner is known as one of the most successful editors, entrepreneurs and businessmen ever. He is often referred to as an icon for freeing women sexually, letting them be shown as more than just housewives. He is revered for his ideas on sexual identity being shameless and showing "your true self." This is a blatant misconception. While he did empower male sexuality in a way, the amount of truth in his reputation for freeing women’s sexuality is scarce. Women’s sexuality exceeds the sole cause of pleasing men visually. Hefner believed that showing nude women in their prime ages was liberating for women’s sexuality and he was wrong. Women were still condemned for expressing their own desires, only liberated in minimal aspects. They were created into visions for the male mind to prey on, nothing more.

One could argue that women were liberated from their veiled, conservative expectation. But Playboy only favored white, flawless, young women. Until 1971, almost 20 years after the debut, a black woman was never featured on the cover. Best remembered by Robin Abcarian for the Los Angeles Times, “‘Playboy,’ (Hefner) once said, ‘treats women — and men, too, for that matter — as sexual beings, not as sexual objects. In this sense, I think Playboy has been an effective force in the cause of female emancipation.’ This is denial of the highest order. Had he been truly committed to 'female emancipation,' he would have embraced the idea that women, not just men, can be sexual their entire lives. Instead, as you can see from his marriage, his dating history and the pages of his magazine, women have a well-defined shelf life. After, say the age of 30, they not only expire but also cease to exist, naked or otherwise."

Not only did Hefner falsely brand Playboy’s “female liberation,” he also committed a various number of crimes. Hefner drugged women as a bribe to sleep with him, casually referring to the drugs as “thigh openers.” He pitted the Bunnies against each other, allowed outside harassment and required that they were accompanied into the outside world by him after their 9 p.m. curfew. The alleged horror stories of former Bunnies, including “Down the Rabbit Hole” and “Bunny Tales” make it clear that the unsanitary, infection-ridden, old mansion that the girls were bribed into living in should not be held to any high standard. Hefner was not a legend — he was a liar. Although he changed the way America sees women and sexuality, he should never have been respected or admired in the way that he was. In the mourning period of his death, media stars, such as Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, paint Hefner as a late legend and icon. He is neither of these and even in his late memory, he should not be remembered as such.

Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School first-year double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. Her column, “Call for Change,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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