Does Hugh Hefner's legacy deserve to be celebrated? | The Tylt
Hugh Hefner left behind a complicated legacy. He's seen as a figure of sexual liberation, who championed civil rights, LGBT rights, and free speech. He was a trailblazer whose empire formed a cornerstone of culture today. Others see him as a man who built his empire on the exploitation and objectification of women. Feminists criticized him because he reduced women to mere sex objects. Conservatives say he poisoned the American family by mainstreaming porn. What do you think? 🤔
Does Hugh Hefner's legacy deserve to be celebrated?
Hefner's critics say his crowning achievement was the objectification of women in today's society. The entire purpose of his magazine and the empire he built around it was to objectify women. His supporters were right that he and Playboy hadan intellectual side. But it was a side that was reserved for men only. Hefner had clear ideas about what he thought the role of women should be in his world.
Feminists often called out Hefner for publishing Playboy. According to the New York Times, Hefner once told his writers to go after feminist critics:
“These chicks are our natural enemy. What I want is a devastating piece that takes the militant feminists apart. They are unalterably opposed to the romantic boy-girl society that Playboy promotes.”
Hefner’s fantasy lifestyle was inhuman in every way. It was sex as something mechanical and lifeless, something one did because it was the thing that made you a Playboy, rather than because of true passion. That’s the dark secret about Hefner: he wasn’t even a hedonist. A hedonist pursues pleasure. Hefner didn’t even care about pleasure. He cared about the taming and conquest of women.
Conservatives are just as critical of Hefner and his legacy. He made porn mainstream and even made it glamorous. Doing so not only objectified women in pop culture, it created a toxic culture that twisted the minds of young men and told women that they were never enough.
Here's how David French at the National Review puts it:
The effects have lasted a lifetime. Boys grew up believing they were entitled to sex on demand, and the sex would always be amazing. They learned to grow bored of the “same old thing” and instead to seek new adventures. They learned that monogamy was confining, that promiscuity was liberating, and that women should always be hot. The normal female form was no longer enough. It had to be enhanced, sculpted, and waxed.
But his supporters say Hefner's legacy goes beyond just Playboy. Hefner championed freedom for all people when few others dared to. He was a proponent of racial equality long before it was an acceptable thing to do. He supported LGBT rights when no other public official would. He dared to publish writing that the biggest magazines were too afraid to publish.
In an op-ed piece published by Politico, Hefner said the fight for gay marriage and LGBT equality was the fight for civil rights everywhere:
"The fight for gay marriage is, in reality, a fight for all of our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time."
“Today, in every instance of sexual rights falling under attack, you’ll find legislation forced into place by people who practice discrimination disguised as religious freedom," he wrote, going on to argue that people seeking to regulate sexuality were out to "criminalize your sex life."
He published black writers and featured black artists in Playboy during the 1950s and '60s. Hefner was radical when it came to supporting individual freedom and rights. He believed in equality and freedom for people regardless of their sexuality or race.
Hefner was also known for promoting civil rights in the harshly racist climate of midcentury America. In 1959, he helped organize the Playboy Jazz Festival, which included performances from black musicians like Dizzie Gillespie, and whose profits went in part to the NAACP. Later festivals would proudly feature black and white musicians sharing a stage.
Hefner's legacy is complicated. He brought American sexuality out of the umbrella of shame and laid it bare for all Americans to see. He stood up for equal rights when few others dared because he knew it was the right thing to do.