Hugh Hefner roiled feminist sensibilities in a recent New York Daily News article this month in which he declared, “women are sex objects.”
The Women’s Media Center, a feminist organization, was outraged. “Hugh Hefner’s comment to the NY Daily News directly contradicts the politics of equality and freedom he claims to champion,” the Center wrote in a statement to the press. “It reveals that he doesn’t know the difference between ‘subject’ and ‘object,’ and doesn’t understand the dangers of objectifying human beings.”
Megan McGurk sarcastically lamented all the time she wasted in school at The Anti-Room, a feminist blog. “Hugh Hefner spared women the dignity of full person hood by declaring them sex objects for male gratification and the reproductive function,” McGurk wrote. “So all the years I spent in graduate school were for nothing.”
The feminist website, Feministing scoffed, “tell us what you really think Hugh.”
Despite the frustrations these women have, some attribute such oversexualized objectification of women to the feminist movement itself.
Founder of Collective Shout — a group which targets companies that use overly sexual images of girls –Melinda Tankard Reist struck a chord last week when she told a New Zealand audience that the over-sexualized nature of western society has set women back 50 years.
“Raunch culture has taken us back. It’s an absolute tragedy,” she said. “[Women’s] liberation has now come to be seen as the ability to wrap your legs around a pole, or flash your breasts in public, or send a sexual image of yourself to your boyfriend … Girls think that empowerment lies in their ability to be hot and sexy.”
Amy Siskind, co-founder of The New Agenda, an advocacy group for women, told The Daily Caller that while she wasn’t ready to attribute Hefner’s attitude to feminism, she did believe over-sexualized imagery to be a byproduct of third wave feminism gone awry.“The first wave of feminism got women the right to vote,” Siskind said. “The second wave, with women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, gave women permission to make choices and enjoy sex. But the third wave — kind of the 1990s and on…was the idea that there is empowerment in being defined by our sexuality.”
While Siskind credits the third wave with the shift, even second wave feminist Betty Friedan, co-founder of the National Organization for Women and author of “The Feminine Mystique,” walked that fine line between liberation and objectification. In 1992, Friedan gave an interview to Playboy contributing editor, David Sheff, in which she told him that she did not have a problem with celebrating the female form in forums like Playboy, so long as it did not result in objectification.
“Playboy’s centerfold is fine,” Friedan told Sheff. “It’s holding onto your own anachronism and it is not pornographic, though many of my sisters would disagree. It’s harmless. I was amused to see that a recent graduate of Smith, my colleague, posed for a pictorial and defended herself by saying that she could celebrate her sexuality if she wanted to…At the same time, I don’t approve of anything that reduces women to sex objects, and I really disapprove of anything that degrades women or depicts them as the object of violence.According to Siskind, Friedan’s primary objection is what is now the norm. “Unfortunately the chicken has come home to roost as we’ve seen a surge in teen dating violence and things like sexting because the whole notion is ‘yeah, we own our sexuality now and wear it on our sleeves.’ Which might be fine for some women,” Siskind said, “but for many others its not. So our girls now think that is how they define themselves, not how smart or accomplished they are.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List told TheDC that feminists hurt themselves by seeking empowerment through sex. “Women decided the best way to get themselves out of oppression in the modern era was to emulate men,” Dannenfelser said. “They were trying to get power, but when women decided that disconnecting sex from relationships — which is what they saw men doing — was liberation that is where the floodgates opened. And that is how our undoing as a gender has come about.”
Reist told National Radio’s “The Panel with Chris Trotter and Linley Boniface” that sexual imagery now hangs like an albatross around the neck of true liberation. “The real authentic message of women’s freedom has been buried within the proliferation and globalization of sexual imagery,” she said. “Girls are growing up in a shadow cast by pornography, they are getting a message that it is the bearing of the female body which makes them a real woman.”
“The women’s movement taught so many women and young girls that sex is what brings liberation and empowerment,” Dannenfelser said. “Now they don’t understand why they are so unhappy.”