Many women will celebrate the passing of Hugh Hefner. There is a variance in storytelling from those who have been or were a part of the man’s life to not totally believe the stories of excess: perhaps that the truth lies somewhere between the man as pimp or protector. Ethical porn is on the rise, sure, but let’s not be idiots. This man is almost the wellspring for a certain age and attitude to sex, type of desire that said it cared about women, was clearly lying yet was allowed to get away with it to sell another variant of American Dream. The truth, undoubtedly, is that Hefner made misogyny a saleable commodity. For many, this will be his greatest achievement of all.
I read Playboy at 14. On one of the first weekends where I was left alone in my parent’s house, I discovered my father’s stash of magazines with an almost disgusted amazement. The women’s pictures were oddly fascinating but it was the stories and articles that were more affecting: the man who impregnated his girlfriend with an increasingly larger selection of food and vegetables, a woman who wrote about her dominant/subversive relationship. My parents said nothing at all about anything sexual, I was given zero to no support with anything, with the exception of two ancient 1950’s pamphlets my mother shoved at me about menstruation. These magazines were a revelation.
Like it or not, this man defined several generations of socially acceptable (or not) behaviour.
It is only now with the benefit of time and understanding that I realise just how restrictive my early years were due to lack of education, and how they subsequently affected everything that happened in my 20’s and 30’s. You’d love to be able to go back and make better choices, but on reflection, all of this has worked out far better than I know is the case in other people’s lives. The Internet now may give an even more distorted view of sexuality to young people, but at least now it is not hidden in bedside table drawers and not spoken of. In that regard, freedom should be embraced as the next step forward. All we need to do now is teach people not to treat each other like dirt when relationships collapse and maybe, just maybe, there might be some notional progress.
I looked at all the women yesterday celebrating the death of a man who they never knew but who they had decided was responsible for their oppression and had pause for thought. Hefner is simply one of the larger metaphors for endemic societal failures. If it isn’t women being treated badly its children, or refugees or religious minorities. All of these are celebrated by some and condemned by others, and honestly, there is no difference. The key here is human beings considering others of their kind as objects, or acceptable casualties or even property. The one thing missing is respect: every time someone feels the need for reverence at this man’s passing, I throw up a bit in my mouth. You don’t celebrate people like this. You forget them.
History, I hope, will recall this man as the last of his kind, that after his passing it became socially unacceptable to use any human being as an accessory. The truth however is whilst generations of boys and men continue to celebrate his actions as being somehow heroic and nostalgic, nobody evolves. I may owe the man a nod thanks to that teenage discovery, but that magazine was not written for me and did not regard my sex as anything other than visual stimulus.
For that alone, I am glad to see the man finally gone.