Sunday 18 March 2018

Mary Kenny: Pimp or liberationist?

Did Playboy magazine empower women, or degrade them?

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

When Hugh Hefner - founder of the famed Playboy empire - died last month, some feminists finally felt legally free to describe how they saw him. Suzanne Moore of The Guardian called him "a pimp" - as she had done during his lifetime, though under threat from his lawyers.

Once he departed this life, aged 91, she returned to the subject of the "disgusting old sleaze in the smoking jacket". The "bunny girls" in his Playboy mansion were "Hefner's petting zoo/harem/brothel". Hefner's business acumen "was to make the selling of female flesh respectable and hip, and to make soft porn acceptable".

Other obituaries chronicled some of the less savoury aspects of Hefner's life. He had been sued, in 1975, by a 'bunny girl' who claimed she had been drugged and forced into sex. Another 'playmate', Dorothy Stratten, was murdered, and her lover, director Peter Bogdanovich, wrote that she was "lured to her death by her involvement with the Playboy organisation" and that Hefner had "put her under sexual pressure 24 hours a day". Yet another Hefner girlfriend, Carrie Leigh, said she had her breasts enlarged, her cheekbones altered and an abortion at Hefner's behest, but he ratted on his promise to marry her. "He turned me into a sex machine."

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