How did Hugh Hefner help to fuck up your life?

Ding, dong the sleaze is dead.

I wish all the sexism and misogyny Hugh Hefner amplified and celebrated would die with him. Turns out, Hef gets to stalk into infinity: he paid $75,000 to be buried in the plot next to Marilyn Monroe.

It disgusts me that America (the world?) is celebrating this man.

Here’s an alumna’s comment from my fancy, I-was-so-lucky-to-attend-boarding school that many years later, was proven to be the site of numerous sexual assaults. Faulkner Fox writes:

At “Casino Night,” a required school event at St. George’s School, 14 and 15-year-old girls were asked to dress as playboy bunnies. Let’s just say it’s not one of my fondest childhood memories. All of the school’s sexism cannot be blamed on Hugh Hefner–of course not. But because of Hefner’s extraordinary cultural influence, one of the things we were asked to do–for fun–was dress as Playboy bunnies.”

Yes, we were 14 and 15. Sexism was so insidious at St. George’s and in life that all I remember caring about was how I looked in my bunny suit. I took down the yearbook pictures on Reel Girl of Casino Night and every sexist photo I had up of St. George’s that didn’t include me, because though the shame is on the school and not the girls shown, our culture is messed up and too many people don’t get that. I don’t have me in a bunny suit but I have this gem to share, a yearbook photo from St. George’s captioned: “Todd’s Toys.”

Do too many high school victims and witnesses of sexism grow up to perpetuate misogyny instead of becoming warriors for gender equality? Faulkner Fox thinks so. She wrote an open letter to another St. George’s alumn, Billy Bush, in the Providence Journal last year:


 Don’t worry: I don’t blame entitled guys like you for all the sexism and misogyny at St. George’s. You were young. I’m willing to give you some leeway. Plus I didn’t overlap with you at St. George’s — I am class of ’81; you are class of ’90 — so I don’t know how you actually behaved back then. Let’s say you never said or did one sexist or abusive thing before you got on that bus with Donald Trump in 2005.

What you did on that bus in talking with Donald Trump in 2005 directly relates to what happened to your St. George’s classmates. I’m talking about the creation and perpetuation of rape culture, the entrenched belief that women and girls don’t matter the way men do, that we are here to be grabbed, harassed, raped. Whatever a guy can get away with is fair game, worthy of laughter and high-fiving from other guys on the same messed-up bus.

Hugh Hefner helped to normalize and mainstream objectification of women. His vision touched us all. Got a personal story of how this “cultural icon” helped to infect your life with sexism? Please share it on Reel Girl.

4 thoughts on “How did Hugh Hefner help to fuck up your life?

  1. Great commentary! Hugh Hefner’s magazines were a prominent feature in my young life. My father had an entire closet full of the magazines at the top of our staircase. Completely undermined my sense of self and confidence, but my mother didn’t ban them. She rarely spoke up in defense of the harm they could cause to a young woman’s sense of self. Hefner was no hero; he helped perpetuate woman as object in our culture. Not sad he’s gone.

  2. Drake University used to have a “Pimps and Prostitutes” dance where the young women collected (fake) money for dances from the guys. Whoever had collected the most money by the end of the evening won a bottle of pink champagne (IIRC). I attended my freshman year with a bunch of friends, but was too mortified to try to “earn” any money. I’m not sure when they ended the tradition, it might even have been while I was still there (I graduated in ’92), but I never went after that first experience. It was degrading and awful.

  3. I’m thinking how to best explain this. One of the most insulting aspects of Hefner worship is the notion that he somehow “opened the door” for African Americans because he ran articles and interviews with Alex Haley, Malcolm X etc. What he did was associate black culture and black history with something sleazy. What did it mean that the only publication featuring African American journalism was something tawdry that you found stuffed under your father’s mattress? Or that it quickly became a marker of swinging, Hefner inspired, cool to see interracial couplings? In the same way he objectified women, and made it clear they existed for male pleasure, he similarly turned black female sexuality (and I would argue gay sexuality) into a visual synonym for decadence.

    • YES Cranky Librarian, thank you for sharing! I was just trying to explain this double-bind to someone about all the “great” things HH did for journalism and gay rights etc and you do it perfectly. THANK YOU


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