Women Not Sex Objects II. Tamara Craiu/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Hugh Hefner really started something when he launched Playboy in 1953. Or, if he didn’t start it, he certainly gave that something a massive boost. But what exactly was it? Responding to Playboy’s announcement this week of “no more nudes” the New York Times said that the magazine had made him “a leader of the revolution that helped take sex in America from the furtive to ubiquitous.”
Let’s put it another way: Hefner became a leader of the revolution that dragged sex from the privacy and loving intimacy of the marriage bed to its public humiliation in the town square and its degradation around the world as a bargain-basement commodity.
He has demonstrated as probably no-one before, that making sex a commercial product can make you not only rich, but admired as an astute businessman and a libertarian hero. (He has been portrayed as a latter-day John Stuart Mill.) And that you could wallow in filth while maintaining a veneer of civilisation and intellectual sophistication (as per the famous “in-depth” articles).
“We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzche, jazz, sex…” Hefner wrote in his first Playboy editorial. What a far cry from the unemployed 20-something fellow consuming live porn from the internet in his divorced mother’s basement, who is one of the great losers from Hefner’s revolution.
All men have lost from his war on human dignity. Even those who shun pornography (and 1 in 4 American men admit to watching it online) are confronted with sexual exhibitionism in public spaces, in entertainment, sport and television.
But it’s women who have lost most of all, reduced as they so often are to sexual objects for the entertainment and gratification of men. Over recent decades complaints from feminists about the objectification of women have grown in crescendo; Hefner and his brand can take a lot of credit for that. Sadly, though, women increasingly buy into this trend by dressing to accentuate their sexuality and, more seriously, by their capitulation to casual, uncommitted sex. All kinds of misery threaten the “sex positive” woman: disease, abortion and failure to find a lasting love.
No, Hugh Hefner did not start all this — such large cultural shifts tend to have long antecedents – but his sexual-industrial complex did add an element of purposefulness to the sexual revolution.
Certainly, Playboy Press recognised itself in a book on this subject by one Allan Sherman that it published in 1975. The Rape of the APE (APE = American Puritan Ethic) subtitled “The Official History of the Sex Revolution”, is “in its own nihilistic way … honest and accurate,” as Allan Carlson says in an article on the sexual history of America that we are republishing today.
After detailing steps in the transformation of “the world’s most respectable citizenry” into sexual revolutionaries (via porn, rock’n’roll, drugs, abortion, atheism…) Sherman concluded:
“Everything got devalued. Not just the dollar, but everything in American life. The American flag was devalued. Marriage was devalued. Virginity. Love. God. Motherhood. Mom’s Apple Pie. General Motors has less value now, and so does the Bill of Rights….The quality of men available to lead was devalued. Our technology was devalued; our institutions and our customs were devalued; the worth of an individual was devalued. All the Pleasures were devalued. [Sex] too. Especially too.”
Playboy’s chief executive today describes this social rot as a “battle fought and won.” He explains, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free.” Nude females are “just passé at this juncture.”
More to the point, they create difficulties for the company’s life online. It removed nudes from its website over a year ago so as to be allowed on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Since then, the Times reports, “the average age of its reader dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped to about 16 million from about four million users per month.”
So, just in case anyone thought that adding bits of clothing to naked female bodies signalled some kind of return to modesty, it doesn’t. Playboy is the same old brand, trying to sell its repulsive and destructive sexual ideology to another generation.
Those of us who want something much, much better for themselves and society need to work harder.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.