In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein's recent sexual harassment allegations, thousands have taken to social media to criticize how Hollywood has become a breeding ground for sexual misconduct and assault. You may have seen the "#metoo" campaign floating around Facebook, or your friends and family openly sharing their disgust with Weinstein's actions.
However, you may also notice that some of the people condemning Weinstein's actions were the same people who praised the late Playboy founder Hugh Hefner after his death several weeks ago. Why is that? Didn't Hefner attain his vast fortune from the exploitation of the female body? What makes Hefner and Weinstein's public image so vastly different?
According to some, Hefner’s Playboy empire played a leading role in the sexual revolution in America, the social movement created to challenge the boundaries of traditional marriages and relationships. Many positive things came about because of this movement, such as the normalization of contraceptives, alternative forms of sexuality, same sex couples and public nudity. Hefner was also widely known to be a generous man, who gave large amounts of his wealth to causes such as the conservation of endangered species and the restoration of the Hollywood sign. He was also a large proponent for same sex marriage saying that gay marriage was "a fight for all our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time." Certain aspects of Hefner's legacy certainly paved the way for positive social change.
However, nothing can excuse the fact that Hefner's mansion was a hotbed for misogyny and rape culture. Playboy made it clear from the start their views on women, that they were to be submissive and always available for their husbands and lovers. The misogyny didn't stop at the magazine's mission. Hefner had a very strict social code for the girls at the mansion including a 9 p.m. curfew and a ban on inviting friends to visit at the mansion. If Hefner disapproved of the behavior of a Playmate for any reason, there would be severe consequences. Hefner also distributed a drug called quaalude among the Bunnies, which Hefner himself called "thigh openers". Izabella St. James described in her book, "Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion," "Quaaludes were supposed to give you a nice buzz. Hef told me once that they were meant to put girls in the mood for sex." What Hefner failed to mention was that quaalude is a date-rape drug, the drug of choice used by many celebrity sexual offenders including Bill Cosby (who even committed one of his crimes on one of the bunnies within the Playboy Mansion).
Hefner's success at making pornography more widely accepted led to the culture of ready-to-watch internet porn, which has led to many issues such as sexual addiction, child pornography, mass sexualization of women and increased incidences of rape on college campuses, among a slew of many other problems. Yes, Hefner led the sexual revolution, but that revolution had only one victor in mind: the man. With the introduction of Playboy Magazine in 1953, men were free to fantasize about women without scorn or major public criticism. What nobody took into account was that while men had found new sexual liberty, the women involved had a new cross to bear, the buying and selling of their own bodies. Now known as only "Playmates," these girls were seen in the publics' eye as only bodies, with no thoughts, feelings or personalities. They were seen as only being good for one thing: male pleasure.
The widespread acceptance of this degrading culture causes a toxic mindset in young boys and men, making them think that they are allowed to use a woman's body in whatever ways they please, with little to no consequences for their behavior. Men like Hugh are recognized and praised as heroes for their actions, while their dark secrets and scandals are collectively brushed under the rug by society. This is what leads boys to believe they are allowed to call a woman a slut for owning her body. This is what leads to fraternities waving banners from the roofs of their frat houses reading "No Means Yes and Yes Means An*l." College campuses are one of the places where sexual harassment and assault is most prevalent, one in five women and one in sixteen men are assaulted while in college. Out of those instances, 90% go unreported, because we live in a society that tells the victims that the blame lies on them and that their assaulter will face no repercussions.
"I have never personally experienced sexual assault on campus, but I do have a fear that it will happen eventually," says Bari Dershowitz, a freshman at Muhlenberg College, "Many victims feel afraid to share their stories, but it is the fault of the assaulters for causing damage. The victims need to know they have done nothing wrong and how they can get help without being shamed by society."
Women around the country, especially on college campuses, constantly live in fear of assault, and are afraid to speak up when they experience it. The world around us internalizes and embraces rape culture, and so we need to start the conversation to make a change. We need to let victims know that their assaulters will be punished. We can start by making every assaulter (and I mean EVERY assaulter) take responsibility for their actions. We as a society condemned Harvey Weinstein, shouldn't we condemn others as well? What makes celebrities like Hugh Hefner, R. Kelly and Donald Trump any different? In order to make college campuses safer and assault-free, society needs to stop rape culture in its tracks and punish those who continue to perpetuate it. We can start by remembering Hefner for who he really was: a misogynist, a pervert and no hero.
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