A Times profile paints Christie Hefner, who recently retired as CEO of Playboy Enterprises, as a feminist and liberal leader. But given how she and dad Hugh made their money, is this possible?

According to Michael Winerip of the Times, Hefner fille is a mover and shaker among Illinois Democrats, having donated $201,000 to Democratic causes over the years. She apparently got Barack Obama to speak at the 2005 Magazine Publishers of America conference, and Gloria Steinem invited her to be on the board of Voters for Choice. Victor Navasky, the former Nation editor who recently tried to recruit Hefner as the publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, says,

She's certainly a liberal feminist and a liberal Democrat. People would say, ‘so what's she doing putting out a magazine and running clubs catering to horny men?' But she found a way to make it work consistent with her values, to serve Playboy and her father and give them an opportunity to do socially useful things.

Advertisement

But it's hard not to see Christie Hefner's position at the head of her dad's sex empire as a little creepy. While he dated women half her age (she's 52), she rebuilt his business. It was in shambles when she asked to take over in 1982, and, she reports, "Hef said, ‘I felt like I had this incredible birthday party and you had to come in and clean up the day after.'" Cleaning up after your dad's birthday party — especially a dad whom you call "Hef" — doesn't seem like the most empowering career.

Then there's the issue of hard-core porn. Winerip writes, "while Hef bragged about not crossing the line into hard porn, she did, buying Spice TV and Club Jenna and defending the move as business." Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors questions whether Spice TV is really "consistent with Christie Hefner's values," and if so, how feminist those values can really be. The answer to this depends on what you think about porn, but it is worth noting that Playboy Enterprises represents a very corporate end of the porn spectrum. Annie Sprinkle they are not.

But Hefner's "values" may be a whole lot simpler than the can-porn-be-feminist debate implies. The words "networking" and "networker" appear over and over in Winerip's article, and it's clear that Hefner has been very successful in making powerful friends. Her job tidying up after her pajama-clad, twin-banging dad may not be particularly enviable, but she's leveraged it to create a high-profile political and entrepreneurial platform. She's appeared on CNN, Fox, and CNBC, she'll be working with Navasky to create a for-profit arm of the Columbia Journalism Review, and she's collaborating with Canyon Ranch on a line of health products. Whether or not she's a feminist, she's certainly doing well for herself.

Advertisement

Winerip's emphasis on this success makes his profile kind of depressing. Bartow goes a little far when she calls it "sycophantic," but it's certainly not critical, and Winerip takes claims of Hefner's feminism at pretty much face value. It's popular lately to claim that any woman who is very successful is somehow a feminist icon (The Onion skewered a similar sentiment in the classic "Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does"). But doing well as a woman doesn't necessarily mean you're doing good for women. Hefner may support liberal causes in her personal life, but where her business is concerned, it seems like her most important "values" are monetary ones.

No Silk Jammies For Her [NYT]
The NYT Adulates Christie Hefner, Delicately Refrains From Substantively Mentioning The Hardcore Porn That Generates Most Of Playboy's Revenues [Feminist Law Professors]