Thursday, November 5, 2009

Christie Hefner: A CEO Without Gumption?

For the first time in my entire life, I looked at online pornography today.

But before you navigate away from this post, I will tell you that it was not for personal enjoyment. After watching Christie Hefner, the former CEO of Playboy Enterprises (yes, Hef’s daughter) give a speech in the Hergenhahn auditorium, I decided I had to give her a fair chance if she was ever going to survive the review I would give her in this post.

My friends had urged that I see her speak, and out of pure curiosity for what she’d have to say about having been the CEO of such a controversial industry, I agreed, and, freeing myself of most biases, listened with rapt journalistic attention to every word that Hefner said.

Hefner is indeed an excellent businesswoman, and should pride herself in rescuing an enterprise from what she deemed to be “extended past its limits.” She has also done much good for the preservation of free speech in the United States. In fact, she created an award in her father’s honor (the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award), which is given out to people who have helped to preserve first amendment rights.

Despite her excellent track record, however, I found her as a speaker to be uninspiring. Hefner spoke vaguely of “achieving your dream” and “embracing opportunity,” like many inspirational speakers at high schools that are pulled from either a corny reality television show or coping with a chronic disease that has left them missing a few limbs. Twice, Hefner threw in some curse words for shock value. Though some may have found this endearing, I found it to be unprofessional and unbecoming of a woman operating a company that is constantly under scrutiny from the outside world.

Nonetheless, I was most disappointed in her failure to address the content of the industry in which she operated. When asked about the portrayal of women in Playboy, Hefner gave the same old outdated argument that she viewed it simply “as an art form,” and that it was not demeaning to women. Regardless, I would have wished that Hefner had provided more evidence as to why she felt that way.

Now, back to my original statement—I had to do some research to see how Playboy portrayed minority groups and plus-sized women. I wasn’t surprised by what I found; after getting over my initial trepidation in entering the site (believe me, I had a lot), I saw that most of the women were white, had unnaturally large breasts for their figures, and the vast majority of them were under 120 pounds and stood from 5’5-5’8 feet tall. Out of the Playmates of the month, I saw 3 Asian women and one black woman. None were what modeling industry standards would consider “plus-sized.”

Upon asking Hefner how these groups were represented in the magazine at the talk, she noted, “Playboy does better than it used to,” but that “America is less diverse in what it considers beautiful.” Hefner also said that the magazine used professional athletes, whose bodies aren’t normally considered “sexy,” by industry standards—A point I’d beg to differ with when being shown Marisa Miller, a former pro surfer turned Victoria’s Secret model. To the untrained eye, it’s hardly discernable whether or not a professional athlete’s body is any different than that of a playmate’s.

Being a woman that is honored for having so much power in business, I was frustrated that, despite expending so much energy to protect first amendment rights, Hefner would stoop to blame a lack of diversity in the magazine’s women on the narrow-mindedness of American society, and not even address that she had worked on (or intended to work on) improving what was lacking in her own enterprise.

Though the legitimacy of bringing Hefner into Newhouse as a speaker is up for debate, I will say that it sparked some interesting conversations with my friends after. And even if my research wasn’t particularly fruitful, I have learned many new words for things I only thought there were one or two terms for! Also, peanut butter probably isn’t a really good thing to use in the bedroom… and I’ll leave it at that.

Marissa Angell is a sophomore environmental science major. She can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. I really like this take-down! I felt...uncomfortable with how Newhouse was viewing her arrival. Something like "she's so successful and that's why we like her" without any trepidation about the images of women that have contributed to her success. I wish I could've been there to see her speak, but I'm glad people are taking note of these things!