Legacy is a big idea, particularly in the Jewish tradition. That whole from generation to generation thing, right?
And so, when history’s premiere peddler of smut (Hugh Hefner) dies, and he is honored for his “legacy,” my brow raises.
A concrete idea of feminism can be elusive—and this feminist does not always understand where the line is. We decide, in this age, how to carry ourselves as women. It is certainly within our rights to dress provocatively. These are not Victorian times; shame need not apply.
On the other hand, however, something being acceptable doesn’t mean it’s empowering. Pamela Anderson, who has appeared 14 times in Playboy, says that Playboy, namely Hugh Hefner, elevated women. He apparently made the world a “freer and sexier place,” as she put it in her farewell Instagram to the man. Is it empowering, though, to be seen only as a sex object? Was it empowering when 14-year-old me found a friend’s older brother’s naked Playboy magazines hidden under his bed?
It felt icky and embarrassing. They were obviously something he had to hide and whatever they caused, it was not for the light of day. I became self-conscious in my already-awkward teenage body around him. It dawned on me that this is something other men might also prescribe to, and that was a jarring, disconcerting thing.
Every time I walk into a convenience store and see a man standing in front of a nudie mag, I lurch inside and strengthen my resolve to walk on by. Is it empowering for my 7-year-old daughter to learn or know that women’s images are spread in the folds of these pages?
My husband and I work too hard at teaching and reiterating the strength of her mind, the strength of her body–we work hard at helping her see the good in this world, the needs in this world, and the boundless possibilities of what she can do to tackle and bestow kindness.
She needs science and math, ballet, soccer, Torah, all of the facets of life that will nurture her mind. She needs encouraging words and powerful examples, too. I want to show her strong women, empowered to greatness that goes beyond cleavage. She does not need Hugh Hefner’s legacy.
I had hopes for the Playboy empire when it announced a switch to nude-free pages, (see, folks buy the magazine for the articles, right?) but that lasted only a year. Cooper Hefner, a son of the Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, was quoted saying: “Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem. Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are.”
I can’t say this is a legacy I admire. Hugh Hefner’s bunny empire, at a net worth of about $50 million, was built around a lifestyle of control and repression of women, as firsthand accounts prove.
Is this the “legacy” I want for my son? Will looking at pornography add value to his days? Will it help him honestly uphold his relationships with women? Or might pornography and the memory of its photographs linger and stay in his eyes and soul, bringing a kind of dusty shame into his bedroom and really, every corner of his life?
I want and expect our boy to be a different sort of man in this world. I do not spend time discussing consent (in its developmentally appropriate form) and respect for women for nothing. I am not OK with the status quo, not in this age where social media promotes rape culture, where the need for high-caliber, high-character men is desperate.
Playboy’s legacy can stuff it.
I want more for my children than a sexual revolution. I want the legacy of character, strength, and kindness. I want them to see themselves beyond desire, beyond flesh.
Let’s celebrate freedom for our sisters, yes, for women’s rights everywhere, for the right to cover one’s head, wear a bikini, go topless in Martinique, skinny-dip in the Atlantic, and live without being shamed for their sexuality.
But to honor and replay the work of a master exploiter using the word “legacy” is dishonoring to our families, our women, and our girls. A mansion, a business that took the world by storm (and women’s bodies into the male gaze), is not necessarily a thing to be praised.