Camille Paglia on Hugh Hefner: Retrograde But Sophisticated

“It’s complicated.”

It may  feel wishy-washy and dissatisfying, but  often that’s the best way to categorize things that are neither purely good or purely evil.

Such is the legacy of Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner.

“It’s complicated.” Often that’s the best way to categorize things that are neither purely good or purely evil.

With everything that’s been written since his death, it doesn’t seem there’s much left to say. Many have told sad, depraved stories from inside the Playboy Mansion, none of which can be defended. Others point to Hefner’s erudition, timeliness and pioneering of an international lifestyle brand.

Ready for Lasting Love?
Ready for Lasting Love?

Yet the most interesting thing I’ve read about Hefner comes courtesy of Camille Paglia, author and provocateur, who is known for her counter-intuitive takes on feminism.

Paglia doesn’t blindly defend Hefner. She refers to him as “dated” and “retrograde,” but applauds his cheery, courtly  view of sex as opposed to the current dominance of hardcore porn and hook-up culture.

She also opines on the decline of sexual polarity – a subject this blog often touches upon.

“The unhappy truth is that the more the sexes have blended, the less each sex is interested in the other. So we’re now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace.

With the sexes so bored with each other, all that’s left are these feminist witch-hunts. That’s where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too thin-skinned, resentful and high-maintenance.

Paglia doesn’t let men off the hook. She astutely points out that the art of chivalry and seduction is pretty much on a respirator.

The art of chivalry and seduction is pretty much on a respirator.

“Truly sophisticated seducers knew that women have to be courted and that women love an ambiance, setting a stage. Today, alas, too many young women feel they have to provide quick sex or they’ll lose social status. If a guy can’t get sex from them, he’ll get it from someone else. There’s a general bleak atmosphere of grudging compliance.

Today’s hook-up culture, which is the ultimate product of my generation’s sexual revolution, seems markedly disillusioning in how it has reduced sex to male needs, to the general male desire for wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am efficiency, with no commitment afterwards. We’re in a period of great sexual confusion and rancor right now. The sexes are very wary of each other. There’s no pressure on men to marry because they can get sex very easily in other ways.

The sizzle of sex seems gone. What Hefner’s death forces us to recognize is that there is very little glamour and certainly no mystery or intrigue left to sex for most young people. Which means young women do not know how to become women. And sex has become just another physical urge that can be satisfied like putting coins into a Coke machine.”


She also has some harsh words for feminism, which seem tone-deaf given the apocalyptic Weinstein sexual harassment scandal.

This may be one reason for the ferocious pressure by so many current feminists to reinforce the Stalinist mechanisms, the pernicious PC rules that have invaded colleges everywhere. Feminists want supervision and surveillance of dating life on campus to punish men if something goes wrong and the girl doesn’t like what happened. I am very concerned that what young women are saying through this strident feminist rhetoric is that they feel incapable of conducting independent sex lives. They require adult intrusion and supervision and penalizing of men who go astray. But if feminism means anything, it should be encouraging young women to take control of every aspect of their sex lives, including their own impulses, conflicts, and disappointments. That’s what’s tragic about all this. Young women don’t seem to realize that in demanding adult inquiry into and adjudication of their sex lives, they are forfeiting their own freedom and agency.

Young women are being taught that men have all the power and have used it throughout history to oppress women. Women don’t seem to realize how much power they have to crush men! Strong women have always known how to control men. Oscar Wilde said women are complex and men are simple. Is it society or is it nature that is unjust? This was the big question that I proposed in  Sexual Personae, where I argued that our biggest oppressor is actually nature, not society. I continue to feel that my pro-sex wing of feminism, which does not see sexual imagery or men in general as the enemy, has the best and healthiest message for young women.

I see Paglia’s point; the problem is the attacking language associated with it.

So let’s agree on this:

  • Men and women are more the same than ever before and it’s hurt the dating dynamic.
  • Men should be more courtly and chivalrous to women.
  • There is no male defense of sexual assault or harrassment.
  • Women  could benefit by embracing the feminine, eschewing victimhood, and not lumping all men in with the worst of men.

As Paglia says, “Sex is not a tragedy, it’s a comedy!” Amen to that.

Your thoughts,  as always, are greatly appreciated in the comments below.