An open letter …
On Playboy and feminism
It was lemon and nylon and trimmed with lace. A negligee. Acres of breast and thigh. On my feet, stiletto marabou mule slippers. It was a Hugh Hefner party. The host was a little older than me, and he had deemed Playboy ironically cool. He and the other male guests wore smoking jackets and suits with turtlenecks. I was 20 and although I had grown up on a nuggety diet of the feminist magazine
Broadsheet, although I had been nourished on the women’s sexuality manual Our Bodies Ourselves, I went along with it. I thought I would feel sexy, empowered even, isn’t that what they said about Bunnies? But instead I remember feeling like I was on show. That the other female guests and I were up for grabs, to be compared and dissected in a way that the men weren’t and never would be. I can remember feeling that I had let myself down.
Just because it is poor form to speak ill of the dead does not mean we should panegyrise them either. And how Hefner has been lauded since his passing. A “civil rights champion”. A “revolutionary”. A “pioneer”. Conceivably there is some truth to all the hurrah, but I object wholeheartedly to Hefner’s rebirth upon death as a “feminist”.
There has been enough said about the dog shitstained carpets that belay the Playboy Mansion’s thin veneer of luxury. And I will not dwell on the vile thought of a string of young woman lining up to service a geriatric erection. Yet when I read Pamela Anderson’s mascara-streaked Instagram post, something pierced through the media din. There was a warped kind of Lolita quality to the way in which she described her relationship with the pornographer. “You gave me my life,” she wrote. And: “Everything anyone loves about me is because you understood me.” I found myself deeply unsettled by this 50-year-old woman surrendering over control of herself so entirely to the spectre of a man 41 years her senior, a woman who was sexually abused as a child, a man who told her she was “a good girl” and had her spread her legs for his magazine.
When my son was about 8, the Playboy logo was all the rage. In the manchester aisle of Briscoes one day he picked out a Playboy duvet cover for his new bed. No, I said. Absolutely not. But, he said, it’s cool. It might look like a stylised rabbit’s head, I said, but what it really represents is decades of inequality. And if anyone tries to tell you it means freedom, what they mean is freedom for men.
Hefner did not rejoice in the beauty of all womankind as claimed, but in a very specific type of woman. Blondes with big tits were his currency. So it should not have surprised me to learn that he will be laid to rest next to Marilyn Monroe, having bought the neighbouring crypt some years ago. I guess it’s fitting; that there’s a sad kind of poetry in a woman used by men her whole life spending eternity in the company of a man who used women his whole life.
Predictably, I suppose, when your subject is political stereotypes, last week’s column engendered as many letters on one side as it did the other. Diana: “No belief in fair shares, or equity about Bill [English]. No caring for the sick, homeless and dispossessed outside slick and well-crafted media sound bites. To win at any cost but not to make New Zealand a better place for the most of us, and if he tells himself a different story and can sleep well at night, so be it, but I’d never call him a principled man.” Gail: “The party for which you did not vote does not prioritise the country’s economy over its poorest and land and waters. It simply believes a vibrant economy equals more tax income which equals more money to spend on those who need help. It is more complicated and takes more nous than simple, emotive scripts like ‘Let’s do this’ with no thought to where the money is coming from, apart from borrowing or taxing those who have worked hard.” And then there was John, who this election had determined to return to Labour, however in the end ticked National. “Even though it was a reasoned and intelligent choice, and I might make it again in similar circumstances, somehow I feel a little the poorer for it!”
There’s a sad kind of poetry in a woman used by men her whole life spending eternity in the company of a man who used women his whole life.