Peter Stringfellow exploited women’s objectified bodies for profit, as though they were cuts of meat hanging in a butcher’s shop, and while it would be unseemly to rejoice in his death I do not mourn him, either. He was a pimp. The feminist writer Julie Bindel recalled that she called him a pimp to his face during a radio debate and that he went “berserk” and “demanded she apologise”. I find the prissiness of this astonishing: that this unsavoury sleaze could demean and degrade women so openly for so many years and then be upset to be called on it.
But that’s the thing: the “calling out”, as it’s called today, is considered rude. For some people, alerting them to their prejudices and/or exploitative practices is somehow seen as bad manners. I have no doubt that I will be in for a whole world of internet abuse for writing this piece. If I don’t get at least one rape threat it will be a miracle. There is a certain kind of man who loathes feminists who refuse to silently and passively accept a culture in which young women are paid to take their clothes off for male entertainment. When Suzanne Moore called Hugh Hefner a pimp, he threatened to sue. And yet somehow we’re the snowflakes.
Like Hefner and Paul Raymond, Stringfellow normalised sleaze. He took a sexually repressed society and began to turn it into a pornified one. I grew up in the “post-feminist” 1990s, the peak of laddism, when the corporate sex industry was such a standard part of capitalist consumption that if you challenged it, you were immediately dismissed as a hairy bra-burner with no sense of humour. Women were expected to laugh along when men boasted about getting wrecked and ending up in Stringfellows or Spearmint Rhino. There the foulness was packaged in hard, glossy surroundings; the sleaze was wrapped in shiny. But visit the kind of joint where all you had to do was pop a quid in a pint glass and you would see the industry for what it was.
It all paved the way for the dominance of pornography, for the conduct described by so many women as part of #MeToo and “grabbing them by the pussy”. The objectification rife in strip clubs bled into lads’ mags, a more contemporary version of the old man on the bus pretending to juggle teenage girls’ breasts. It made itself known in the boys at university who thought a grope was a greeting. The idea of consent workshops was mocked, but the lines had become so blurred they were necessary. Feminism was decades old but we were still being treated like meat. Even in this age of #MeToo, it’s still rarely heard just quite how disgusting young women find being drooled over by pervy older men, which happens to us from puberty onwards.
And as Moore wrote last year, part of Hefner’s Playboy mythology was “the idea that women do this sort of thing willingly”. But we all know that for the majority of women in the sex industry, it’s not so much a choice as a way of surviving. A stripper I spoke to once told me that the entire time that she was dancing for male gratification, she would repeat the mantra “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you” in her head. It was her way of coping. And yet, we continue to be told how innocent it all was, how liberating for women. As with Hefner’s death, the accolades and the RIPs come in from men, the pally anecdotes about his “sense of humour”. We hear the eulogising on the Today programme and by ex-lad male journalists who don’t realise how it makes them sound. So for the avoidance of all doubt, before I log off social media for a week: I see you, we see you. You’re disgusting, too. And that stripper’s mantra? She’s not the only one making use of it.
This appears to be entirely real (the website hasn’t been updated with the winners yet, but Playboy is listed in the nominations):
Look at those corporate sponsors and try to tell me trans women are more marginalised than lesbians and radical feminists!
QotD: “Hefner operated in a country where if you film any act of humiliation or torture – and if the victim is a woman – the film is both entertainment and it is protected speech”
On hearing that the pimp and pornographer Hugh Hefner had died this morning, I wished I believed in hell.
“The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous,” said the sadistic pimp in 2010. “Women are sex objects… It’s the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go ‘round. That’s why women wear lipstick and short skirts.”
Hefner was responsible for turning porn into an industry. As Gail Dines writes in her searing expose of the porn industry, he took it from the back street to Wall Street and, thanks in large part to him, it is now a multibillion dollar a year industry. Hefner operated in a country where if you film any act of humiliation or torture – and if the victim is a woman – the film is both entertainment and it is protected speech.
He caused immeasurable damage by turning porn – and therefore the buying and selling of women’s bodies – into a legitimate business. Hefner hated women and referred to them as “dogs”.
In 1963, Gloria Steinem (then a freelance journalist) decided to go undercover as a Bunny Girl, spending two weeks in the role at the Playboy Mansion. What Steinem found was that the women working there were treated like dirt. Bunnies had to wear heels at least three inches high and corsets at least two inches too small everywhere except the bust, which came only with D-cups. Steinem described it as a form of torture. A sneeze could break the zip, and when peeled off their torsos were bright red and swollen.
Steinem found grotesque misogyny towards the women, and commented that they were “dehumanised” by the punters – who were, after all, following Hefner’s lead.
“These chicks [feminists] are our natural enemy. It is time to do battle with them,” wrote Hefner in a secret memo leaked to feminists by secretaries at Playboy. “It is time we do battle with them… What I want is a devastating piece that takes the militant feminists apart.” As a response, feminists began picketing his businesses.
Admitting that he could only orgasm by masturbating to pornography, Hefner was a sexual predator. The young women who worked at the Playboy Mansion have spoken of their disgust in having sex with him, but said it was, “part of the unspoken rules”. “It was almost as if we had to do it in return for all the things we had,” said one.
Described as “modern, trustworthy, clean, respectable” by Time magazine in March 1963, Hefner has been regularly rebranded as a type of cultural attache rather than the woman-hating sleazebag he was.
To claim that Hefner was a sexual liberationist or free speech idol is like suggesting that Roman Polanski has contributed to child protection.
I would imagine that silk pyjama manufacturers are mourning Hefner, but no feminist anywhere will shed a tear at his death. And the liberal leftists that wax lyrical about how Hefner was a supporter of anti-racist struggles should perhaps ask themselves how such a civil rights champion squared this with the millions he made from selling the most vile racism in much of his pornography.
As I was writing this, a flagship news programme asked if I would take part this evening in an item in Hefner’s legacy. “We’re looking to discuss whether he was a force for good or bad. Did Hefner revolutionise feminine sexuality, or encourage the degradation of women by constructing them merely as objects of desire?”
Now he is dead I would imagine the scores of women he abused will come forward and force his liberal supporters to see him for what he really was – sexist scum of the lowest order.
Long ago, in another time, I got a call from a lawyer. Hugh Hefner was threatening a libel action against me and the paper I worked for at the time, for something I had written. Journalists live in dread of such calls. I had called Hefner a pimp. To me this was not even controversial; it was self-evident. And he was just one of the many “libertines” who had threatened me with court action over the years.
It is strange that these outlaws have recourse in this way, but they do. But at the time, part of me wanted my allegation to be tested in a court of law. What a case it could have made. What a hoot it would have been to argue whether a man who procured, solicited and made profits from women selling sex could be called a pimp. Of course, central to Playboy’s ideology is the idea that women do this kind of thing willingly; that at 23 they want nothing more than to jump octogenarians.
Now that he’s dead, the disgusting old sleaze in the smoking jacket is being spoken of as some kind of liberator of women. Kim Kardashian is honoured to be have been involved. Righty-o.
I don’t really know which women were liberated by Hefner’s fantasies. I guess if you aspired to be a living Barbie it was as fabulous as it is to be in Donald Trump’s entourage. Had we gone to court, I would like to have heard some of the former playmates and bunnies speak up in court – because over the years they have.
The accounts of the “privileged few” who made it into the inner sanctum of the 29-room Playboy mansion as wives/girlfriends/bunny rabbits are quite something. In Hefner’s petting zoo/harem/brothel, these interchangeable blondes were put on a curfew. They were not allowed to have friends to visit. And certainly not boyfriends. They were given an “allowance”. The big metal gates on the mansion that everyone claimed were to keep people out of this “nirvana” were described by one-time Hefner “girlfriend no 1” Holly Madison in her autobiography thus: “I grew to feel it was meant to lock me in.”
But listen to what the women say about this heaven. Every week, Izabella St James recalls, they had to go to his room and “wait while he picked the dog poo off the carpet – and then ask for our allowance. A thousand dollars counted out in crisp hundred dollar bills from a safe in one of his bookcases.”
Hefner – repeatedly described as an icon for sexual liberation – would lie there with, I guess, an iconic erection, Viagra-ed to the eyeballs. The main girlfriend would then be called to give him oral sex. There was no protection and no testing. He didn’t care, wrote Jill Ann Spaulding. Then the other women would take turns to get on top of him for two minutes while the girls in the background enacted lesbian scenarios to keep “Daddy” excited. Is there no end to this glamour?
Well now there is, of course. But this man is still being celebrated by people who should know better. You can dress it up with talk of glamour and bunny ears and fishnets, you can talk about his contribution to gonzo journalism, you can contextualise his drive to free up sex as part of the sexual revolution. But strip it all back and he was a man who bought and sold women to other men. Isn’t that the definition of a pimp? I couldn’t possibly say.
Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, has died aged 91.
Hefner, who founded the sexually explicit men’s lifestyle magazine in 1953, died at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, the publication announced.
Cooper Hefner, Hefner’s son and the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, said in a statement: “My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”
However, others described Hefner as a lecherous pornographer who launched has magazine with a naked centerfold of Marilyn Monroe, taken years earlier and bought for $500. The Playboy mansion also saw a pyjama-clad Hefner attended to by a posse of women clad in bunny ears, all of whom were expected to be sexually available.
A Playboy model who used social media to shame a woman at her gym was charged with invasion of privacy by the Los Angeles city prosecutor on Friday, just three months after her Snapchat post mocked the 70-year-old.
The charge was filed against Dani Mathers, a 29-year-old model, on Friday afternoon for secretly photographing a naked woman at her gym “with the intent to invade the privacy of that other person”, according to the complaint.
In July Mathers shared the photo with thousands of followers on Snapchat, with the caption: “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either.”
Mathers eventually apologized in a video, saying the public posting was accidental: “That was absolutely wrong and not what I meant to do.”
“I know that body shaming is wrong,” she added. “That is not the type of person I am.”
The gym, LA Fitness, revoked her membership and banned her from all its locations. At the time its executive vice-president, Jill Greuling, called Mathers’ actions “appalling” and the gym reported the post to Los Angeles police, who said they began an investigation into “illegal distribution” of the photo.
“While body shaming, in itself, is not a crime,” city attorney Mike Feuer in a statement, “there are circumstances in which invading one’s privacy to accomplish it can be. And we shouldn’t tolerate it”.
“Body shaming is humiliating, with often painful, long-term consequences,” he added. “It mocks and stigmatizes its victims, tearing down self-respect and perpetuating the harmful idea that our unique physical appearances should be compared to air-brushed notions of ‘perfect’.”
Tom Mesereau, Mathers’ attorney, told the Guardian on Friday that his client never intended to violate privacy law. “I am very disappointed that Dani Mathers was charged with any violation,” he said in a statement. “She never tried to invade anyone’s privacy and never tried to break any law.”
Mathers faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor count of invasion, and she is scheduled for arraignment on 28 November.
Earlier this year a California court ruled that a Snapchat secretly taken of a teenager, apparently masturbating in a bathroom stall, was an illegal invasion of privacy. Civil rights attorneys have largely agreed that, under California law, photography or filming without consent in a bathroom is a violation of the “reasonable expectation of privacy”.
Taking that photograph was “a flagrant violation of privacy law”, explained Danielle Keats Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland who specializes in privacy and cyber law. “Naked in the bathroom – it’s uncontested.”
In the mid-1980s there were two developments that prompted sexual liberals to step up their attacks against feminists. The first was an amendment to a municipal human rights ordinance that defined pornography as a practice of sex discrimination and gave women injured in its production and dissemination a cause of action to sue pornographers. The ordinance, authored by Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, represented a significant break with legal tradition.
Unlike antiobscenity laws that frame the harm of pornography in moralistic and aesthetic terms, as the offense that pictures and words that arouse some people’s prurient interests do to other people’s sensibilities, the ordinance identified pornography’s harm in feminist political terms, as its damage to the status and safety of women. Unlike antiobscenity laws, which empower the state’s prosecutors to bring criminal charges against alleged purveyors of obscene materials, the feminist ordinance empowered individual women to file civil suits against traffickers in pornography.
The civil rights antipornography ordinance was twice passed by the Minneapolis City Council, only to be vetoed each time by its civil libertarian mayor. A slightly altered version was approved by the Indianapolis City Council and signed into law by that city’s mayor. Before a single suit could be brought under the ordinance, it was challenged on overbreadth grounds by the Media Coalition in conjunction with American Booksellers Association and the ACLU. Playboy lent the services of its legal counsel and flooded local legislators with letters denouncing the feminist law. The ordinance was eventually held to be unconstitutional by a conservative district court judge, a decision affirmed by a conservative circuit court panel.
The truth of the matter was that the feminist law flew in the face of both liberal and conservative legal traditions and so was attacked by forces on both ends of the male-dominated political spectrum. Moreover, many conservatives are sexual liberals. Fundamentalist Marabel Morgan’s best-selling The Total Woman, which attempted to indoctrinate women into sexual submission, pomography-style, was no aberration of conservatism, and two of the three most popular pornography magazines—Hustler and Penthouse—are published by arch-conservatives and aimed at politically reactionary audiences.
The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism
The news that Playboy will no longer be publishing images of “fully nude women” within the pages of its print magazine is not as “radical” as it might sound. This was a profit-driven decision, plain and simple. The magazine, in the age of internet pornography, has become unnecessary and irrelevant. Why would men buy magazines to look at nipples when they could just open their laptops and get gangbangs?
Last year the website went “safe-for-work” as part of their effort to rebrand and in order to access to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and the traffic they bring in. Like their recent decision about the print version of the magazine, this had nothing to do with a rejection of objectification and everything to do with a changing marketplace. I mean, essentially their choice was to go full on PornHub, or try to get more actual readers in somehow. Ravi Somaiya at The New York Times writes:
“Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. ‘That battle has been fought and won,’ said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. ‘You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.’”
One of the few models working these days seems to be Vice, so it’s unsurprising Playboy execs are vying for their audience. Unlike so many other traditional news media outlets, most of whom are laying off staff and making cuts all over the place, Vice continues to expand. So Playboy will, naturally, be going after an audience similar to Vice’s, albeit “the guy with a job.”
So what does this all mean for women? Well, nothing. Playboy will continue to feature sexualized images of women in the magazine, they just won’t have nipples. (Because as we all know, the problem with pornography is nipples.) As Playboy CEO Scott Flanders says, “Sexy, beautiful women that men aspire to want to have attracted to them, that will never change in the DNA of Playboy…”
Cory Jones, a top editor at Playboy clarified that “There will still be a Playmate of the Month, but the pictures will be ‘PG-13’ and less produced — more like the racier sections of Instagram.”
And in case you haven’t visited Instagram lately, it’s pretty porny, despite the fact that Instagram’s “community guidelines” ask users not to share “graphic nudity” and every so often images that show the ever-odious nipple are taken down. In fact, Instagram is kind of the perfect place for Playboy. The male gaze — internalized or not — rules, from belfies to photoshopped selfies to promotional ads for bars to Sluts Against Harper.
What also won’t change in this move is Playboy’s commitment to coopting the feminist movement for profit. In fact, without the (technical) porn and with the help of so-called “sex-positive feminism,” they’ve got even more leeway to claim they’re “pro-woman.” Jones says the magazine will have a sex columnist who will be a “sex-positive female,” to write “enthusiastically” and uncritically about male-centered sexuality.
Even team Playboy admits the degradation and Americanization of politics continues to help their cause. Somaiya writes, “[Flanders and Jones] feel that the magazine remains relevant, not least because the world has gradually adopted Mr. Hefner’s libertarian views on a variety of social issues.”
Playboy is just giving the world what it wants. Nipple-free, it plans to become just like all the other liberal, bro-centric magazines out there, all of whom also caught on to the idea that there is a neoliberal version of “feminism” that’s totally sellable, will never challenge their corporate backers, and will definitely never spout a critical word about class oppression or male dominance.
Playboy hasn’t failed — Playboy won. They are merely being forced to adapt to the world they created.