In the 1950s and '60s, there were still states that outlawed birth control, so I started funding court cases to challenge that. At the same time, I helped sponsor the lower-court cases that eventually led to Roe v. Wade. We were the amicus curiae in Roe v. Wade. I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism. That's a part of history very few people know.
- Hugh Marston Hefner
Or maybe it's just a part of history few people will admit.
Birth control, abortion, no fault divorce, the sexual revolution: these are the four horsemen of the American apocalypse. And we all know who is to blame for these blights on traditional morality: feminists. We know that because we see feminists blasted 24/7 on conservative blogs. So let me ask those of you who are so sure that all of society's ills can safely be laid at the door of women's liberation: when was the last time you saw a conservative blogger taking Hugh Hefner to task? Surely if we regret admitting these four horsemen into our midst, we ought to recognize that feminists were hardly the first - or the only - ones holding open that barn door? They were hardly the only ones to advocate free love at the expense of marriage and fidelity:
Hefner’s friend Burt Zollo wrote in one of the early issues:
Take a good look at the sorry, regimented husbands trudging down every woman dominated street in this woman-dominated land. Check what they’re doing when you’re out on the town with a different dish every night...Don’t bother asking their advice. Almost to a man, they’ll tell you marriage is the greatest. Naturally. Do you expect them to admit they made the biggest mistake of their lives?
This was strong stuff for the mid-fifties. The suburban migration was in full swing and Look had just coined the new noun “togetherness” to bless the isolated, exurban family. Yet here was Playboy exhorting its readers to resist marriage and “enjoy the pleasures the female has to offer without becoming emotionally involved”—or, of course, financially involved.
What fuels the selective outrage against feminism? Is it principle, or personal pique? Keep in mind that Playboy began bashing marriage in the 1950s - years before Betty Friedan wrote the book that launched second wave feminism. No fault divorce and Roe v. Wade were still decades away and birth control was still illegal in many states. Yet somehow, evil feminists found a way to go back in time and brainwash poor Hugh. Who knew they had such power?
According to the writer, William Iversen, husbands were self-sacrificing romantics, toiling ceaselessly to provide their families with “bread, bacon, clothes, furniture, cars, appliances, entertainment, vacations and country-club memberships.” Nor was it enough to meet their daily needs; the heroic male must provide for them even after his own death by building up his savings and life insurance. “Day after day, and week after week the American hubby is thus invited to attend his own funeral.” Iversen acknowledged that there were some mutterings of discontent from the distaff side, but he saw no chance of a feminist revival: The role of the housewife “has become much too cushy to be abandoned, even in the teeth of the most crushing boredom.” Men, however, had had it with the breadwinner role, and the final paragraph was a stirring incitement to revolt:The last straw has already been served, and a mere tendency to hemophilia cannot be counted upon to ensure that men will continue to bleed for the plight of the American woman. Neither double eyelashes nor the blindness of night or day can obscure the glaring fact that American marriage can no longer be accepted as an estate in which the sexes shall live half-slave and half-free.
The "slaves" in this utopian manifesto were married men and traditional family life was the enemy of happiness and fulfillment.
This is not to say that second wave feminism, which became prominent well over a decade after Playboy began touting its siren song of self uber alles, did not have its own part to play in the dissolute and rootless culture we live with today. But to blame feminism first and foremost is to put the cart before the horse. Looking back at the world Hugh Hefner and his cronies worked so assiduously to destroy (and conservatives praise so long as no one expects them to adhere to the "prudish" moral code that made it possible), one can't help but wonder at the blind folly of human nature:
It was a world largely constituted by what he calls “desire”—desire chastened by deliberation, restrained by prudence, constrained by self-respect and rendered noble by a concern for the welfare of others. Since the 1960s, thanks to “the democratic project”, we have lived to an ever increasing extent in a world constituted by what he calls “impulse”, passion liberated from restraints and constraints, unchastened and utterly irresponsible.
The founders we love to quote understood the difference between freedom and license. They also understood that without personal responsibility, freedom is short lived.
What if feminism were only one part of a sweeping shift in morality that was fed by many sources: the civil rights movement, activists like Hugh Hefner who funded landmark court cases and worked tirelessly against traditional morals and traditional marriage, progressives who sought to maximize individual freedom while transferring individual responsibility to the State? And yes - feminists?
What if life didn't lend itself to simple answers where the other guy (or gal) is always - and conveniently - at fault? There's no question about it: we live in Hef's world now. If only I could figure out how those durned feminists got him to do their bidding.