Hugh Hefner and the Feminist Sex Wars

In this post, Beverly Yuen Thompson looks at the significance of Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy Magazine, in light of his recent passing. He introduced and marketed a magazine of nude women, literary articles, and interviews with cultural icons to the American mainstream man. The feminist movement responded to Playboy, and pornography in general, in what came to be called “the sex wars,” arguing many different sides on women, sexuality, and representation.  

On September 27, 2017, Hugh Hefner, creator of Playboy Magazine, died in his Playboy Mansion, near Beverly Hills, California, at age 91.

Playboy Empire

Hugh Hefner
In the post-WWII 1950s, Hugh Hefner detoured from the traditional life in which he was raised. His parents were strict Methodists. He joined the army, married the woman he lost his virginity to, had two children, and worked as a journalist. But, he wondered, is this all there is? He asked his conservative bookkeeper father for a loan to start a men’s magazine and explained his vision—not just nude women, it would have literary essays and interviews with cultural icons, but his father turned him down as a bad investment. However, his mother took him aside, and said she would loan him $1,000 from the money she had made as a worker during the war (when women were recruited to replace male workers, i.e. Rosie the Riveter). With $8,000 total collected from various places, Hefner was able to publish the first edition of his magazine in 1953, at age twenty-seven, and it sold 52,000 copies. In 1959, he and his first wife divorced and he began his life as the playboy that he promoted in his magazine.

Hefner did not invent the nudie magazine, but was a successful marketer, selling a conspicuous consumption lifestyle of the conceived of playboy image based on the male ego—Hefner’s ego—hosting parting with exciting people in fancy apartments, dressed in the right clothes, and surrounded by many beautiful objects, including women who appeared straight from the 1930s films on which Hefner grew up. Women’s bodies became an object that he could package and sell for his profit, while not adequately compensating their labor or humanity.

At the magazine’s peak, it sold 7 million copies. The backlash of the 1980s and the rise of widespread pornography lead to a decline for the Playboy Magazine, which always tried to distinguish itself by including writing by contemporary authors, interviews with notable historical figures, and artfully done nude photographs of women.

Gloria Steinem, Undercover Bunny

In 1963, journalist Gloria Steinem went undercover for Show Magazine for which she applied to become a bunny in the New York Playboy Club and wrote about the process in a two-piece expose series. She used her grandmother’s name Marie Ochs and went through the process of being sized up by women managers who would decide if she had the right body, appearance, and docile personality to make it as a drink-and-food server in the club for the lunch and dinner crowds of men, and occasionally, their girlfriends and wives. The ad promised women $300 a week and an entry into a glamorous lifestyle. However, the reality was more one of unfair labor practices, sexual harassment, and low pay. Steinem went on to become a leader in the 1970s feminist movement and challenged the sexism inherent in how women were treated in all levels of their work and personal lives—including such objectification of women’s bodies in media. This journalist stunt would be a landmark occasion in her career as a journalist and a feminist activist….

Read More


| |

Standing Rock, Hashtag Activism, & The Road Ahead

In this essay, Andrea Hunt discusses how social media is being used by activists at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and their supporters around the world to resist the construction of North Dakota Access Pipeline.

A map of the North Dakota Access Pipeline.
Map of Pipeline.

In the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not allow the construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to be completed. This decision was celebrated by protestors who, since April of last year, have been physically blocking construction of the pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Activists have opposed construction of the pipeline for many reasons. First, the pipeline poses a threat to the drinking water of those living near it. Second, many activists contend that construction of the pipeline violates multiple existing treaties the U.S. government signed with Native American tribes in the area. Third, many activists are concerned that the pipeline will lead to expanded use of fossil fuels and ultimately speed climate change. Despite these, and many more, objections, President Trump signed an executive order last week directing government officials to allow the pipeline’s construction.

What happens next remains unclear. However, we can learn something about social movements, political communication, and resource mobilization by examining how activists used social media to achieve their goals.

Standing with Standing Rock Through Hashtag Activism

Protester holding sign that says, "We Can't Drink Oil! #NODAPL"

While water protectors are at Standing Rock, others are taking part in Hashtag Activism (i.e. speaking out and raising awareness via social media). This modern form of activism uses social media to facilitate political communication and as a way to gather resources from supporters around the world. Loader (2008) suggests that online or virtual protests provide new political opportunities and unconventional forms of political interventions….

Read More


|

What Am I Supposed To Do About Social Problems?

In this piece, Nathan Palmer acknowledges that sociology disproportionately focuses on society’s problems and offers some suggestions for how students can create social change on these issues through community based social-marketing.

It’s getting near the end of the semester for many of us and this is the time that many sociology 101 students ask, “Sociology is great at pointing out the problems in society, but what the heck am I supposed to do about any of them?” While I agree that sociologists spend more of their time trying to understand the structural and cultural roots of social problems, sociologists also study how to create social change.

The Three Myths of Creating Behavioral Change

Dr. Jeni Cross, from Colorado State University, for instance, studies and teaches classes on applied social change. As she makes clear in the TED talk below, many of us fundamentally misunderstand how to change people’s behavior. In her talk, Dr. Cross identifies three myths about social change that are commonly believed.

  1. Education will change behavior.
  2. You need to change attitudes to change behavior.
  3. People know what motivates their behavior.

Read More


|

Ally Activism: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

Did you know that when Black Lives Matter activist Bree Newsome climbed up the South Carolina capitol to remove the confederate flag, a white man named James Ian Tyson helped her do it? In this post, Kris Macomber explains the important role that ally activists can play in social movements, discusses some unintended consequence of ally activism, and offers tips for how allies can support social change movements without stepping on the toes of the movements’ rightful leaders.

When you picture the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, do you picture the faces of Black women and men? When you imagine who is at the forefront of feminist activism, do you imagine a multi-cultural group of women?

If you answered “yes,” then you have guessed right. Social change movements are comprised mostly of minority group activists, or what sociologist David Myers (2008) calls beneficiary activists. The term “beneficiary” implies that they are the people directly impacted by the movement’s goals and efforts.

Social change movements aren’t comprised entirely of beneficiary activists, though. In fact, dominant group members often join social movements and advocate on behalf of minority group activists—just like James Ian Tyson. Last year, comedian and actor Aziz Ansari sat on David Letterman’s couch and called himself a feminist and then criticized the gender wage gap. Just this fall, after Jennifer Lawrence’s scathing indictment of sexism in Hollywood, Bradley Cooper demanded salary transparency. These kind of activists are what sociologists call social movement allies.

The Manifest & Latent Functions of Ally Activism

As sociologists, we often raise questions that examine both the manifest (obvious and intended) and latent (non-obvious and un-intended) consequences of social behavior and social organization. Regarding ally activism, we would ask: What are the intended consequences of ally activism? And, what are the un-intended consequences?

Let’s start by considering the manifest function of ally activism. First, social movements can benefit from the endorsement and involvement of dominant group allies because they are the ones who have social, economic, and political power. Allies serve as visible and powerful reminders that “minority issues” deserve widespread attention. White activists in the Black Lives Matter Movement and men in the feminist movement can elevate the importance of minority group issues. Ally activism, then, is strategic and beneficial for social movement organizing.

Read More


Structural Strain Theory and the Baltimore Riots

Why do people riot? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how Robert Merton’s structural strain theory can shed some light on the Baltimore riots. 

Over the last few weeks, thousands of people took to the streets in Baltimore, Maryland and cities around the country to protest the killing of Freddie Gray and the violent mistreatment of African Americans across this country by law enforcement. Last Monday, a small sub-set of the protestors in Baltimore rioted, looting and burning multiple business. Both the mainstream news media and many people on social media immediately started asking, why are these people rioting? Why would anyone riot in city they live in? While the answers to those questions would take for more time than I have hear, part of their answers lie in the strain theory of deviance.

Structural Strain Theory

The sociologist Robert Merton argued that deviance (i.e. people breaking social norms/rules) is produced by how that society distributed the means to achieve cultural goals. According to his structural strain theory (or anomie strain theory), deviance is a result of a mismatch between cultural goals and the institutionalized means of reaching those goals.

Cultural goals refer to legitimate aims. In the United States, we might refer to the cultural goal as the American Dream. In general, the American Dream includes economic success, home-ownership, and a family. A person achieves the American Dream through hard work and education (i.e., a college degree). Education is an institutionalized means of achieving the cultural goal. Military service might also be considered an institutionalized means….

Read More


|

Framing The Indiana Religious Freedom Law

In this post Nathan Palmer uses the recent controversy over the Indiana law to show us how issues are framed by social movements.

For a social movement to change people’s minds, recruit supporters, and secure the resources needed to accomplish their goals, they have to tell a great story. That is, they have to present their ideas in a way that will resonate with people and effectively communicate what they feel must be changed and why. This process within social movements is what sociologists call framing.

If you’ve ever cropped a photo and it looked a lot better, then you understand the basics of framing. Just as you can frame a photo to cut out the people in the background so that you and your friends’ smiling faces are front and center, you can also frame an issue so that some aspects of it are highlighted and other aspects are downplayed or cut out altogether. Framing is easier to understand when you see it in action, so let’s take a look at how supporters and opponents of a recently passed law in Indiana framed the legislation[1].

Read More


I, Too, Am Auckland: Combating Racialized Microaggressions

Just over a year ago, a group of African American students at Harvard University initiated the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign, exposing the racialized microaggressions black students at Harvard face. According to Columbia University Professor Derald Sue and colleagues, microaggressions are a contemporary form of racism, which can be defined as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial minority group” (p. 273). In this post, David Mayeda overviews the “I, Too, Am Auckland” movement, where Māori and ethnically diverse Pacific students describe the lexicon of microaggressions they face, how they and their peers cope with racially disparaging actions, and how we as a society can overcome racial inequalities.

For the last seven months, six University of Auckland students and I worked diligently on a projected titled, “I, Too, Am Auckland.” Building off the widely successful “I, Too, Am Harvard” project and the university campaigns that followed at Oxford, Cambridge, and Sydney, our project speaks to the seemingly subtle, covert but still very damaging racism directed towards Māori and Pacific university students in Aotearoa New Zealand.

To provide some context, in New Zealand, Māori are the indigenous population who have undergone waves of colonialism and face marginalization in society that is similar to indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada and Australia. Pacific peoples have ancestries tied to Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tokelau, Vanuatu, Hawai’i, French Polynesia/Tahiti, and many other Pacific islands/nations. Most Pacific nations also underwent European colonization, and notably in New Zealand, Pacific people were recruited to work in factories during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, valued predominantly for their unskilled labor….

Read More


“All we have is us!” Changing Lives with Football & Social Capital

In this essay Nathan Palmer discusses how the The River Rouge high school football team has developed social capital to achieve both on the field and in the classroom.

Just south of Detroit, in a neighborhood struggling with poverty and crime is a shining example of what we can accomplish when we work together. Head coach Corey Parker has The River Rouge Panther high school football team focused on a vision and committed to each another.

How are the Panthers defying the odds? Why are these young men achieving academically when roughly a third of their peers won’t even graduate? How did coach Parker change the culture of the football team? Social capital.

How Social Capital Transforms Lives

Why do some schools do better than others? That was the simple question that sociologist James Coleman wanted to answer. The intuitive answer to this question was, money. It would make sense that schools with fewer resources would have lower educational outcomes (e.g. low grades, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates). However, in 1966 Coleman published a study which suggested that the amount of money a school had to spend on it’s students had only a modest impact on student outcomes (e.g. graduation rates, GPA, etc.)[1]. So if not money, what else could explain school success? Coleman believed that differences in school performance were due to differences in social capital.

Read More


Thinking of Volunteering Abroad? Read this first.

Unless you have paid work lined up, soon-to-be graduates frequently ponder what they will do with all the newfound spare time on their hands, while simultaneously questioning how their university degree can be put into practice in the “real world.” Lacking that tangible, reliable post-graduation roadmap, many recent university graduates (at least those who can afford it) are choosing to volunteer internationally, as a way to build their resumes, help others in need and add meaning to their lives. In this post, David Mayeda draws on the concept of neocolonialsim to critique this growing practice of international volunteerism.

In just over two weeks, 11 current and former University of Auckland students and I will embark on a two-week trip to Cambodia and Thailand to learn about the horrific practices of human trafficking and modern day slavery. Our guides on this trip will be personnel from an organization called, Destiny Rescue, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that specializes in stopping the trafficking of women and children who are coerced into sex work. During the past year, the students and I have been preparing for this trip, which has included all kinds of fundraising, as well as having honest conversations about our short trip’s objectives.

For the most part, our trip will entail learning how broad structural factors (e.g., poverty, discriminatory citizenship laws, corruption in law enforcement and politics, gender and age discrimination, demand from high income countries) contribute to modern day slavery, guided through this learning process with people who deal with these factors “on the ground” as part of their daily work. However, there will be a few occasions where our tour group volunteers with young people who have escaped trafficking rings….

Read More


| | |

On Thanking our Feminist Foremothers

Do you know how your life is better because of feminism? If you don’t, Sarah Nell will show you that many of our taken for granted opportunities today are a result of feminist struggles for equality. She will also try to compel you to thank them for what they’ve done for you.

I am a feminist. Lately, I have been thinking about feminists who are much older than I am, and feeling appreciative for the roads they have paved for me.  Gloria Steinem, arguably one of the most prominent and important (white) feminists we have known, turned 80 this year. So would have Audre Lorde, revered Black lesbian feminist poet, if she hadn’t died of cancer in 1992.  There is something about that generation of feminists that is important for us to know. For instance, it is hard sometimes to imagine what it was like when women like Steinem and Lorde were my age; I have grown up taking much for granted. It’s worth noting that I am white and middle-class. I recognize my race and class privilege, and know that these shape my experiences and perspectives.

I was raised in a family with relatively traditional gender values. My dad was the breadwinner and my mom the homemaker. My mom did go to work full-time when I, the youngest child, went to school and I have grown to appreciate the important impact having a working mother had on my own career ambitions. As I got older and developed a feminist- consciousness, I talked to my mom about these things. When I asked why she didn’t pursue a career when she was younger, she would say, “It was just that way back then. You got married and had a family.” She seems to know that her unpaid domestic labor was a valuable contribution to our family economy, but also that she had the potential to be more than this arrangement allowed.  Given the context in which she grew up, it wasn’t a huge leap for her to fall into this pattern. And, for the most part, mom was right. Women had to be willing to withstand the very steep, uphill battle towards a different path, and to believe that it was worth doing….

Read More