An open let­ter …

On Play­boy and fem­i­nism

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­

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.

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