There have only been a few times when Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine used it’s societal prominence to score a strategic win for human rights. The first was the magazine’s debut itself. For it recast women as sexual beings deserving of a right to sexuality. Ironic. Because the magazine is regarded by some as a sexist objectifying rag.
Everything can be seen in multiple fashions depending on your story.
As an icon of early American sexuality, Playboy used it’s culture-shaping influence, literally, to influence a number of women’s causes, including abortion rights in the 60s and 70s. So says a University history professor in a recent Fortune Magazine article on the subject.
“In its heyday in the 60s and 70s, Playboy was supportive of mainstream liberal feminist causes,” says Carrie Pitzulo, an adjunct history professor at Colorado State University and author of the 2011 book Bachelors and Bunnies: The Sexual Politics of Playboy. The magazine “was considered an empire; a cultural leader at that time.”
The magazine’s stance on women’s reproductive rights, Pizulo says, “helped move the culture in a freer direction for everyone.” And its advocacy reflected Hefner’s personal espousal of sexual freedom in every form.
Right around this time, eight years before Roe v. Wade, Playboy took another daring move: featuring a black woman for the first time, in March 1965, as playmate of the month. 1965! Ballsy approach Hef, for we know at that time the civil rights for African Americans was in full swing. As it was announced that Jenny Jackson would be the March playmate, as you’d expect back then, cis-het white males were up in arms:
Today it’s the same thing as Playboy prepares to make history again, again at a crucial social moment, by featuring transgender model Ines Rau in its pages. As the second quote above shows, history is repeating itself. There are a handful of people lambasting the magazine, pulling their subscription or threatening to do to. But you can bet there are just as many Playboy subscribers (and likely far more) salivating for the upcoming issue so they can feast their eyes on the beautiful Rau. Just as there probably were cis-het-white men secretly salivating to feast their eyes on a naked Jenny Jackson.
History does repeat itself it seems. But there is always ALWAYS progress.