Why Hugh Hefner's Death – and the Conversation Surrounding It – Affected Me So Deeply
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
On Thursday morning I awoke to the news that Hugh Hefner had passed away. For most this would be somewhat innocuous news, but it sent me into a downward emotional spiral.
That morning as I read glowing epithets of how this man revolutionized the world with his open-minded stance on sexuality, abortion and gay rights, I became more and more agitated and depressed.
As I got into my car for yet another EMDR session to help alleviate my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms resulting from childhood sexual abuse and emotional incest, I devolved into a pile of tears. The one hour drive to my therapist’s office was a solid hour of me alone in my car sobbing.
I felt ridiculous. Why on earth is this what pushes me over the edge? I’m the one who needs to be encouraged to “feel my feelings.” The highly sensitive person with a fear of expressing those sensitivities. Yet, in that moment I was absolutely beside myself.
When I arrived at my therapist’s office I was reduced to an 8-year-old child, curled up in the fetal position on her couch. What I realized is how much Playboy and the vision of the world that Hefner had created was at the root of my abuse and my pain.
Without going into too much detail about my abuse, my abuser groomed me by identifying my affinity for Madonna. In 1984 she was featured as the centerfold in the September issue of Playboy. I was told by my abuser that he had a “gift” for me. He used it as a means of coercing me into the bathroom to do things I’ve struggled for years to forget or at least reconcile.
After that Playboy and pornography represented for me a means of exploitation, objectification and of men asserting control over women. I despised it with all my being.
I’ve never let this go. As an adult I have become a feminist and advocate for the equality of women. Part of this has involved crusading against pornography and it’s exploitation of women as a commodity item.
In those moments after reading about Hefner’s death, I was instantly taken back to my child self. Vulnerable, innocent, exploited. But the truth is that the legacy that Hefner left behind is one of misogyny. Pornography not only historically empowers men to control women, but it has been complicit in normalizing the victimization of children for sexual purposes.
I cannot in good conscience keep my mouth shut while people gloat about this “hero” of the sexual revolution.
My vision of a sexual revolution includes both sexes equally involved. A recognition of sex as an intimate relational experience between two consenting loving adults. It is not a means of demeaning women, perpetuating ageism or establishing social norms of power of men over women.
If there is nothing that my abuse and PTSD have taught me, it is that my healing requires me to stop remaining silent. It is my obligation to future generations to ensure that we move beyond these socially acceptable mores into a world where men and women are viewed as equals and where sexuality is about each individual expressing themselves without a false construct of a society dominated by men.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
Lead photo via Hugh M. Hefner’s Facebook page