Good morning, Broadsheet readers! We examine Hugh Hefner’s legacy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus shares some distressing news, and Lindsey Vonn may get to race against men. Enjoy the last September weekend of the year.
• Hef’s legacy. News of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s death broke late Wednesday night, and along with it, an outpouring of opinions on the legacy he left behind. One question that surfaced repeatedly: Did he help—or hinder—the feminist cause? A look at the argument on both sides:
The feminist’s friend
In a 1986 Newsweek cover story, Hugh Hefner proclaimed himself a feminist—and some women have agreed. “Playboy stood on common ground with the liberal elements of the women’s movement,” writes Loyola University of Chicago Professor Elizabeth Fraterrigo in Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America. For one thing, Fraterrigo notes, the publication challenged the “family wage ideology that insisted on responsible husbands/fathers caring for financially dependent homemakers.” In normalizing women’s sexuality, Hefner’s fans argue, he helped the women’s liberation movement.
Playboy also threw its support behind legalizing abortion, sex education, and birth control. The publication published pro-choice articles and interviews and filed an amicus curia (friend of the court) brief in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case legalizing abortion across the U.S.
Under Hefner’s watch, Playboy published a host of notable female writers, including Margaret Atwood and Germaine Greer. He also appointed his daughter, Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises in 1975, then CEO and chairman in 1988. She served in that dual role until 2009, making her the longest-serving female chairman and CEO of a public company in U.S. history.
The feminist’s foe
Despite Hefner and Playboy‘s advocacy on behalf of women’s reproductive rights, not all observers see him as an ally. Rather than empowering women, some argue that he “gave them just one more restrictive role to choose from,” as University of Exeter Professor Thekla Morgenrot told the BBC. That role, writes feminist writer Jessica Valenti, was as “collectible sexual trophies.”
One of Hefner’s most famous critics was the feminist icon and journalist Gloria Steinem, who posed as a “bunny” (as waitresses at Playboy clubs were called) for a Show magazine story in 1963. She portrayed the job as demeaning, writing that the outfit bunnies were forced to wear was “so tight the zipper caught my skin” and that “just about” all of the bunnies stuffed their bras to enhance their cleavage.
Former “Playmates” (women who lived with Hefner at his Los Angeles home, the Playboy mansion) have conflicting reports on how they were treated by Hefner. Some, like Pamela Anderson, are publicly mourning his death (“You taught me everything important about freedom and respect”), while others depict life at the mansion as oppressive.
As for Playboy‘s activism, Fraterrigo notes that critics saw it at the time as “merely serving the best interests of Playboy, promoting more sex for women while reducing male responsibilities for unwanted pregnancy.”
But perhaps the best insight into Hefner’s conflicted relationship with the women’s movement comes from a 2010 interview with Vanity Fair. When told by the interviewer that feminists believe he treats women as objects, he answered with, “They are objects!” and then, in the same breath—seemingly as a defense—rattled off the ways in which Playboy has fought on their behalf. Fortune
ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
• Get well soon, JLD! Julia Louis-Dreyfus revealed yesterday that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer—and immediately turned the news into an opportunity to advocate for universal health care. “The good news is that I have…fantastic insurance through my union,” she wrote. “The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.” Fortune
• J&J to face the jury. On a (sadly) related note, thousands of women—about 4,800 as of July—are suing Johnson & Johnson, claiming that talcum particles in its baby powder products caused their ovarian cancer (talcum powders contain talc, which sometimes contains asbestos). The tally of damages is already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. New York Times
• TaskRabbit’s next assignment. IKEA is acquiring TaskRabbit, the online marketplace that connects people with freelancers willing to run errands and do odd jobs, for an undisclosed amount. The Swedish furniture giant will treat the startup—which is reportedly profitable—as an independent subsidiary and keep on its CEO, Stacy Brown-Philpot. In addition to being female-run, TaskRabbit is female-founded; Leah Busque founded predecessor RunMyErrand in 2008. Fortune
• Abe’s unexpected challenger. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing a major threat to his power after the opposition agreed to back a new party led by Tokyo’s first female governor—and according to Quartz, Japan’s MPW—Yuriko Koike. For Koike to be a candidate for PM, she would need to resign as governor and run for Parliament in the Oct. 22 election (under Japan’s system, the PM is chosen from members of Parliament). She said Thursday that she is planning to stay in her current role, but didn’t rule out her candidacy. Quartz
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
• Musk’s new modeling gig. Maye Musk—Elon Musk’s mom—just became the newest face of CoverGirl at age 69. Musk’s appointment is the brand’s latest move to embrace diversity. Last year, it named 17-year-old makeup artist James Charles as the first CoverBoy and Nura Afia as its the first hijab-wearing CoverGirl. Fortune
• Libraries get political. A school librarian in Boston rejected a box of Dr. Seuss books sent from First Lady Melania Trump, arguing that the late author’s illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.” The librarian did, however, suggest a list of 10 books that she hoped would illuminate the impact she said the Trump administration’s policies were having on certain children. Fortune
• Speeding past the ceiling? For nearly a decade, pro skier Lindsey Vonn has wanted to race against men—but her requests have been denied by the sport’s officials. Next week, she may get her best, and likely last, chance to enter a men’s World Cup Alpine race, something that skiing historians believe has never happened. Vonn has requested to enter the men’s downhill event in late 2018 at Canadian resort Lake Louise, where she has won 18 races against women. New York Times
• Labor of love? In addition to all the unpaid labor women do around the house, there’s also plenty of emotional work they put in—things like researching the best childcare options, remembering birthdays, updating calendars—that often goes unrecognized. If you happen to be cohabiting with a man, this Harper’s Bazaar piece is an excellent one to send to him. Harper's Bazaar
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What it’s like to be a Muslim woman at work Refinery29
What does a ‘woke woman’ wear? New York Times
Hocus Pocus is getting remade—without Bette Midler or Sarah Jessica Parker Vanity Fair