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Oct
2017
Monday 2nd
posted by Morning Star in Features

Hugh Hefner and his Playboy empire made sexism sexy, and packaged it up to target children. He will not be missed, writes JO BARTOSCH


WATCHING the comments unfold following online hagiographies of Hugh Hefner has left me feeling darkly smug.  

When challenged, those reasonable men mourning a “tireless campaigner for civil rights” somewhat predictably reveal themselves to furious woman-haters.  

Of course I would say that; I’m jealous, frigid and most probably a lesbian in need of a good seeing-to.

Hefner clothed his naked misogyny with the borrowed sophistication of the literati.  

While he might not have invented porn, Hefner was certainly the first to give it the public relations treatment; Playboy attracted undeniably great writers.  

By pulling porn from the underground sweaty hands of perverts to upmarket coffee tables, Hefner successfully branded sexism as sexy.  

From Tolstoy to Johnny Depp, the liberal elite has always prized men who are violent towards women; painful proof that brains, education and popular acclaim are not an inoculation against misogyny. 

BBC reports note that Hefner set up the magazine from his “kitchen table,” as if he were some underdog entrepreneur bravely spreading sexual freedom. 

In this and many other regards, Hefner somewhat reminds me of the basement-dwelling tech pioneers of 1990s who also built empires based on misogyny and proclaimed themselves social liberals.  

I am not surprised his industry took off. Ideologies that benefit the status quo almost always do. Brotherhood is powerful.

When asked about the ethics of marketing a pornographic brand to children Hefner once said: “I don’t care if a baby holds up a Playboy rattle.”

I wonder how many of the parents who bought their daughters the iconic bunny branded bedspreads and pencil cases know that the same franchise airs films on its six channels including Barely 18 Anal Virgins, Ripped, Stripped and Shagged, and Submissive Sluts.

The impact of Playboy has seeped far beyond the merchandise of pornography being marketed to children. 

Today’s music videos are indistinguishable from softcore pornography and many standard advertising images would have been too extreme for the early editions of Playboy.  

Earlier this year Teen Vogue published an article advising girls about anal sex, complete with diagrams that missed off the clitoris; inadvertently demonstrating who “sexual liberation” is for. 

The impossibly thin, submissive women who stare with dead eyes out of every perfume ad are not evidence of emancipation. They are a reminder of women’s imprisonment within a cruel and degrading standard. This is the legacy of the self-styled “sexual pioneer.”

That pornography has reached inside our heads is evidenced by the stratospheric increase in mental health problems and eating disorders. 

The average age at which girls start their first diet is eight years old and the number of young men taking steroids has doubled in the past 10 years.  

Labiaplasty is the fastest growing cosmetic procedure in the UK, with the NHS reporting that girls as young as nine are seeking to have the procedure done.  

Manufacturing self-hate is lucrative business; in the UK alone more money is spent on diet pills than the GDP of Sierra Leone.  

Pornography and sex are often lazily conflated. Perhaps this is unsurprising – sex education in Britain is patchy at best and many young people turn to porn for their education.  

This is apparent in young adults’ attitudes to consent and pleasure. The NSPCC reports that almost one in three 16 to 18-year-old girls have experienced “unwanted sexual touching” at school and 40 per cent report being pressured into sex.

I can’t be the only person who fails to see anything erotic in wearing a pair of over-sized ears and a tail, but then watching Barely 18 Anal doesn’t seem like the height of sexual pleasure to me either.  

The internet has allowed various “furverts” and “furry fetishists” to find one another, nonetheless. As a mainstream marker of “sexy” the playmate costume is undeniably odd.  

In every sense, the bunny ears are a brand. It is no coincidence that the iconic ears and tail emerged during the 1960s and ’70s when feminists were beginning to win legal gains for women. 

The humiliating accoutrements of oppression served to reassure men that these women were lesser; a way of marking out the available women in the Playboy clubs from those who might belong to a husband.

When Gloria Steinem went undercover into the Playboy club she exposed a system of tight control wrought with financial and sexual exploitation. 

As with the prostituted women of Victorian London, Bunnies were subjected to intimate examinations for venereal disease as a precursor to employment. 

They were advised which clients they were allowed to have sex with and which they were not. 

Hefner was known to keep his own girlfriends under curfew, with many recalling that they were not allowed out after 9.30pm and that their “allowances” would be docked should they fail to please him.  

These insights belie the well-spun message of Hefner as a pioneer of sexual freedom. 

As with pornography itself, the bunny costume and brand is not about women’s sexuality, it is about power of men.

 




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