One Cheer for Hefner

I’m working on a Puerto Rico post (I have relatives on the island), but I want to briefly touch upon the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner who died on Wednesday at the age of 91. The resulting obits have ranged from a odd appreciation by Ben Domenech to a condemning  post from social conservative David French.

I feel uncomfortable about both the praises of Hugh Hefner and the demonization. Of course, that is what you get when Americans talk about sex. Hefner was part of the sexual revolution which allowed for greater power for women and sexual minorities. I don’t think I would be able to be out of the closet and married to a man if it weren’t because of the sexual revolution. That said, Hefner did treat women like more sex objects than sexual beings with brains. And while the sexual revolution brought more freedom to women it also has its share of problems.  More freedom meant easily available porn, and the objectification of women has led to sexual assault.

The best writer about Hefner is Damon Linker who wrote about the good and the bad.   He wrote yesterday:

On the positive side of the ledger, lots of men in the country’s socio-cultural elite consider themselves to be feminists, and they strive to treat their girlfriends, wives, and partners with equal respect — in part because that is precisely what their girlfriends, wives, and partners expect and demand.

On the negative side, Hefner’s work of sexual liberation has advanced far beyond what anyone could have anticipated 63 years ago. The internet has made every conceivable variety of pornography freely available to anyone with a smartphone or laptop, most of it tailored to the fantasy lives of men. Meanwhile, in the real world, sexual assault and other forms of sexual coercion remain real and serious problems — especially on college campuses, where an abundance of hormones, alcohol, and personal freedom far too often (and predictably) combine to produce reckless and hurtful behavior.

I don’t praise Hefner, but then neither do I condemn him either. He was human, a mixture of good and bad, and that is what should be remembered.

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3 thoughts on “One Cheer for Hefner

  1. This is more or less my feelings on Hugh Hefner. It’s not clear that porn is good for us, versus damaging of our sexuality. It’s abundantly clear that we can’t really stop it.

    And I hear with no small alarm about your relatives in PR. I’ll be thinking of you.

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  2. IIRC the link between porn and sexual assault is either mixed or negative. One theory being that porn provides a safe outlet for otherwise socially destructive urges. At least it seems far from clear that porn results in a higher sexual assault rate.

    I think it shows how successful the sexual revolution was that even a conservative like Dennis can’t articulate an objection to it except on purely consequentialist terms.

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  3. There is an interesting, although perhaps predictable, divide among my SW friends over Hefner. The younger crowd tends to hate his guts. The older crowd seems to find nice things to say about him.

    Which, as usual, I see value in both views. There is no doubt he was a creepy old misogynist who did some really ugly stuff. It’s also true that, from time to time, he actually did make small gestures in favor of LGBTQ rights and women’s liberation — not that we should be so pleased that a weird creep like him was slightly better than the other weird creeps from his generation.

    I dunno. It’s complicated. By what standards do we judge?

    One of my poly partners, a cam girl and porn performer, kinda laid it out. In her view, everything worthwhile that Hefner did, Larry Flynt did twice as hard and at greater risk. And sure, he too was a creepy old misogynist. But so what? The men who bankroll porn are of a type. Take them as they are. Make your money. Don’t ever forget the score.

    Sounds about right. These days women can better manage their own careers, choose who they work with, choose when and where. The Internet blew everything wide open and left less room for the Hefners. After all, these days there is less money in porn anyhow. Instead, the money is in the private cam shows, and the cam sites are pretty darn impersonal. Certainly they’re no less crass and mercenary than Twitter or Facebook.

    Men are as horny as they ever were. The money flows, as long as you can endure creepy lizard-brain men and their endless cajoling for free shows. (Don’t give free shows.)

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