The impact of Playboy on society

The death of Hugh Hefner in late September brought with it both an outpouring of grief from a number of individuals sad at the passing of such a famous figure, and an abundance of anger from those infuriated by his sudden position as a women’s rights champion. There is no denying that Hefner, with the creation of Playboy, changed society. The question is, however, whether this change was for the good or bad.

In 1953, when Playboy first launched, society in America was very sterile, puritan and sexually repressed. It was one where ‘sexual deviants’ were ostracised from society. No one felt this more keenly than women, who, according to Dr Thekla Morgenroth, a researcher of gender stereotypes, were allowed to only represent two roles: chaste virgins or caring mothers. Playboy represented a break from this ideology and fiercely challenged the era’s sexual restrictions. In fact, the feminist Camille Paglia announced Hefner as “one of the principal architects of the social revolution”. Playboy encouraged women to break out of these limited roles and told them to aspire to become… sexual objects.

Whilst some herald Hefner and Playboy as a sexual liberationist for women, this is far from true. Yes, Playboy did change women from repressed housewives into objects with sexual desires and a sexuality to show off. And yes, it helped strip the prudish nature of society at that time. But here lies the main objection with Playboy. Whilst women were ‘revolutionised’ into sexual objects, they were still presented as objects. They were there only to serve men’s desires and were not viewed as their own person, with sexualities separate from those of the men they were designed to serve. Hefner and Playboy chose to promote the idea of women as sex objects, not as full human beings. Instead of breaking them out of their previous sexually restrictive roles, Hefner merely gave them just one more restrictive role to choose from. And the company publicised this ideology on a global scale, significantly contributing to turning the buying and selling of women’s bodies into a legitimate business and making the objectification of women sadly more relatable and accessible.

So did Playboy have a positive impact on society? Well, yes, the company did help create a sexual revolution. And yes, Hefner was also an early supporter of the Civil Rights movement and an advocate for the LGBT community, often including both topics in his magazines– a point that his supporters like to bring up to prove that he was not 100% bad. Nonetheless, he was still a misogynist and Playboy has contributed to the objectification of women for decades, presenting them as nothing more than objects there to serve men’s sexual desires. This viewpoint of Hefner can be seen quite clearly in some of the comments he has made about women over the years. He has described Quaaludes, a sedative, as “thigh openers”, hinting at the sick way he used women and the lack of control he allowed them. He also, in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2010 exclaimed, “They are objects!” when confronted with the fact that feminists oppose him for treating women as objects.

Clearly Playboy has had a massive impact on society, but not for the better. Whilst it helped promote a sexual revolution, it did so to the detriment of females everywhere by normalising the sexual objectification of women. The sexual revolution that Hefner and the company created was done so for the benefit of men, with little thought to the implications for women, and thus is not something with which to praise Hefner for.

Edited by Cheyenne Abrams.