Hefner's death no loss to the feminist movement

A person who repeatedly declares their love for women isn’t necessarily a women’s rights activist. An aggressively sexual image doesn’t equate sexual liberation or empowerment. This couldn’t be clearer than in the case of Hugh Hefner.

Since his September 27 death, many have mourned Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner as a champion of women’s rights. As an outspoken advocate of civil rights and sexual liberation, his role as a symbol of social and sexual revolution has become part of his legacy. However, when asked in 2010 by Vanity Fair why feminists believed he treated women as objects, Hefner’s response was simple: “They are objects!”

Social justice advocacy has become increasingly trendy in recent years as youth demand celebrities embrace various causes. But too often, those celebrities are downright hypocritical as they encourage righteousness without modifying their lifestyles.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who vilified rapper Ludacris for “degrad[ing] women,” was ultimately accused by multiple women of sexual assault. President Donald Trump’s claim that “nobody has more respect for women than I do,” is belied by his professed habit of grabbing women by a certain body part.

Hugh Hefner belongs on this list as well. When feminist Susan Brownmiller criticized Hefner’s treatment of women as “sex objects,” he responded with a memo that declared, “these chicks are our natural enemy.” It’s clear that Hefner did embrace sexual liberation with his magazine about men’s interests. However, he saw women as nothing more than a mere interest.

Yes, Hefner advocated for civil rights, abortion rights and freedom of speech. But we can’t forget he also kept a coterie of women in his mansion as accessories and means of entertainment. Former “Playmate” Holly Madison’s memoir described how Hefner fed Playmates Quaaludes (which he called “thigh-openers”), engaged them in coercive sexual behavior and restricted their contact with the outside world.

The magazine’s philosophy implicitly promoted liberation from the burden of breadwinning for men. Playboy supported abortion rights — because abortion freed men from unwanted commitment. While centerfolds demonstrated sex independent from marriage, Hefner’s Playmates were kept meek and dependent — old-school characteristics hidden under new-school looks.

Ultimately, his legacy is objectification under the guise of empowerment.

Celebrities play increasingly key roles in pushing social change. But labelling flawed hypocritical individuals as “feminists” diminishes the title altogether.

It’s unreasonable to expect celebrities from past eras to consistently meet present standards. But as times change, people should do the same — Hefner is no exception.

Even as he is praised for his activism, Hefner should be condemned for his abusive behavior. His flawed appreciation of sexuality doesn’t make him a feminist. The bar for women’s equality is much higher, more complex and deserves better attention than that.

Meredith is one of The Journal’s Copy Editors. She’s a second-year Politics major.

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