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Inside Belinda’s Box

by Belinda Carroll

Hugh Hefner died. Who gives a shit—right? He was 91. An age at where, if I hear someone died, I think, "Yay! You won!"

In recent weeks, he’s either been lauded a genius who revolutionized publishing, women’s sexuality and freedom, or vilified as a 1950s dinosaur who profited off of and abused women’s bodies. You know, depending on who you ask.

To a degree, I understand the ethos of Hugh being "the man." A man, who balanced maleness, gettin’ the ladies and being a trailblazing champion for so much that has been considered taboo and misunderstood. For instance, female sexuality, homosexuality and abortion (for example, he was a friend of the court for Roe v. Wade). Plus, his jackets were super sweet, he had piles of money and threw killer parties.

Hell, I’d admire the guy...if he actually respected the women he worked with, lived with and loved. But in reality, he walked on backs of the women he published to create his "legacy."

In 1953, when Hef published the famed Marilyn Monroe issue Playboy, feminism was gaining momentum as a national movement. Hugh appropriated the new freedoms that women were beginning to embrace, used them to his advantage and continued to treat and create women as objects for men (I searched for the Marilyn issue and, good news, a copy is available on eBay for a mere $74,000...the free shipping really cinched the deal for me!). He said, outright, to Vanity Fair, in response to being asked if he minded people thinking he treated women like objects, "...but, they ARE objects!"

And, I know, you want to hold onto the ethos. You’re reading Exotic right now and I’m writing for them. I’m a huge fan of free press and an even bigger fan of women’s sexuality. I’ve read Playboy since I was exactly 18 and not a day before (this is a lie). I’m a lesbian and, once, I was a queer teen with a weird neighbor—we’ve all been there. Plus, they really did have a few good articles.

But, listen—beyond how you feel about adult magazines, how you feel about porn, how you feel about sexuality...the stories that have been released detailing how the Hef’ treated his "girlfriends" and "bunnies" have been absolutely, 100% horrifying. Read them—they aren’t new. Stories have been around since the 1960s. Don’t discount the women. It’s easy to say, "Oh, they are ‘just models’ or ‘just sex workers’ or ‘they chose that life.’" But, imagine your wife, your girlfriend or your daughter in the same place as one of Hef’s girlfriends—enduring things like 9pm curfews, lack of friends and forced, mandatory, group sex.

Hef’s day-to-day reality did not reflect a man who respected women on any level. And, the position (pardon the pun) of "girlfriend" was considered a prize—a thing to attain—by remarkably beautiful women. This was because of the fantasy surrounding what it meant to live in the mansion, be a girlfriend and what it could mean to your life.

Until the disastrous idea that was The Girls Next Door, a show that aired on VH1 from 2005 to 2010, a lot of the things that went on in the mansion were undisclosed—or swept under the rug—with complaints being taken as simply a bunch of party girls whining about their charmed life.

Full disclosure: I have not seen one episode. You look it up. This job doesn’t pay well enough for me to sit through it.

It’s easy to do. We both revere these types of women as ideal beauty, and yet, dismiss them because they "care too much" about their looks or that they took the "easy way" out (although, I would argue that living that life is not "easy"). They are trading on beauty, therefore they can’t be thinking beings or believing they are "luckier than us."

We, as a society, conversely criticize women who care more about their intelligence than their appearance as being "too serious," a "bitch" or a "stick in the mud." It’s a line all women walk, and woe betide the woman that falls on either side of that fine line of acceptance.

The most frustrating thing, I think, to people who are pro-Hef ™ or pro-Playboy, is the good that they’ve seen come out of the magazine since its inception in 1953.

Hefner did create one of the first platforms to exhibit and celebrate women’s sexuality. Playboy has brought many issues to the forefront [ED: was this pun intended?] and forced us to talk about them. The pictures are real good. A lot of people learned about sex from Playboy and you never forget your first (centerfold).

Playboy has, in fact, helped with things such as raising awareness around both gender and sexuality. For example, Playboy put a trans woman, Caroline Cossey, in the magazine in 1991, years before trans people were fully in the public’s awareness.

Now, the founder is dead and Playboy is being run by Hef’s son, Cooper Hefner. And, while we can acknowledge Hugh’s accomplishments—we can recognize that Playboy has been defining to a lot of us—we can’t discount Hefner’s behavior and years of abusing women for his own gain.

It was just the guy’s personality. As a final "fuck you," he’s being buried next to Marilyn Monroe, thus taking away one more woman’s right to not spend her afterlife buried next to a misogynist asshole. Because, no matter what it takes, even in death, Hugh Hefner will always have an unwilling girlfriend.