“Whenever a man yells something revolting at you on the street,” my mum once said to me through gritted teeth, “make sure you thank Hugh Hefner”.
Hugh Hefner, the man famous for being the editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine, may not have invented the sexual objectification of women, but he certainly managed to make a lot of money from it.
News broke on Thursday that the 91-year-old, worth an estimated $50 million, died from natural causes surrounded by his family.
The Playboy franchise, founded by Hefner in 1953, commodified the female body in a way that the world had never seen before. The women within its pages were meant to be the all-American ‘girl next door’, a fantasy far more dangerous than it first appeared.
Because, you see, when a magazine manufactures its sex objects to be the ‘every girl’ then it naturally follows that ‘every girl’ becomes a sex object.
And, to be clear, a sexual object is very different from a sexual subject. The women that Hefner profited from were not sexual agents capable of desire or deserving of pleasure. They were receptacles; built from (blonde) head to (pedicured) toe for male consumption. Playboy told us that sex was something done by men to women – an idea that again, they did not invent, but they worked very hard to perpetuate.
When men believe women are objects, they hurt them.
Extensive research shows that the objectification of women leads to sexual and physical violence. Exposure to pornographic material, like that found in Playboy, has been found to increase the risk of people accepting rape myths.
Hefner had a part to play in modern day rape culture.
And yet, Hefner also did his part to combat it.
The Playboy Foundation provided $10,000 (a sizeable amount in the late 70s) to fund the rape kit as we know it today. It works to collect evidence from victims and is responsible for thousands of sexual offenders being put behind bars.
But then there are the accusations against the multimillionaire.
Chloe Goins sued Bill Cosby and Hugh Hefner, who remained close friends right up until his death, for sexual battery, violence and rape that allegedly took place in 2008. Hefner was a fierce defender of Cosby, who at last count has been accused of sexual misconduct by no less than 58 women.
Hefner's former girlfriend Holly Madison wrote in her book Down the Rabbit Hole, that Hefner would take photos of the bodies of his girlfriends and compare them, leading to long-standing body image issues. In order to live in the mansion, Madison wrote, they had to dress a certain way and conform to a regimented lifestyle. Linda Lovelace, a Playboy model, claims Hefner expected her to perform bestiality.
In the early 1960s, writer and feminist activist Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy 'bunny'.
She reported that all 'bunnies' were required to stay within five pounds (less than two and a half kilos) of the weight they were when hired, and there were rules around how they could sit and stand. Following her experience she wrote, "A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual".
In the decades since, there have been countless reports of how poorly women in the Playboy mansion were treated. They were not allowed to work, were paid a weekly allowance, had a 9pm curfew, were called into meetings where he would complain about the lack of sexual chemistry between his multiple girlfriends, and allegedly he had no interest in women over the age of 28.
It's also purported that Hefner handed out Quaaludes because, according to Izabella St James, "they were meant to put girls in the mood for sex".
But the man who allegedly enforced strict rules upon his harem of women, was also what his son called an advocate for "free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom."
Playboy magazine published thought-leading content, from interviews with civil rights activists to pieces written by notable feminists.
Charles Beaumont's now iconic 1955 essay 'The Crooked Man', presented a world in which a man named Jesse was forced to hide his heterosexuality, because it had been declared criminal. His point was to highlight the absurdity of homophobia and remains a seminal piece of literature in LGBTQI history. At a time when homosexuality was punishable by law, Hefner was a fierce champion of gay rights.
Playboy advocated for trans people, and pushed for abortion law reform. Hefner helped fund research by the Kinsey Institute, which has revolutionised how we understand sexuality.
A 1965 issue of Playboy featured a black playmate - which simultaneously reduced her to a sexual plaything and also made her visible in mainstream popular culture.
For the last 70 years, Hugh Hefner was a walking contradiction.
In the wake of his death, as we reflect on his legacy, we are reminded that no one person is 'all good' or 'all bad', as tempting as that classification might be.
Despite what the headlines say, he was neither a hero nor a monster.
He was just an imperfect human being, who left the world a little bit better and a little bit worse.
You can listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.