Thursday, November 5, 2009

Christie Hefner: Successful Role Model?

Playboy has a lot of bad connotations – most people won’t deny that. I saw these connotations first hand recently. I have been giving tours of Newhouse to prospective students for the fall receptions. Last Friday, I was talking my group on the third floor of Newhouse II. One mother was staring intently at a sign that was smack in the middle of the room. On the poster was a huge picture of the famous, or maybe infamous, Playboy bunny and under it said: Christie Hefner “Transforming a Business, Transforming a Life.” The mother then proceeded to ask me, with a concerned tone, “Do you always have speakers like this come here?”

What did this mother mean “like this?” She obviously thought that Christie Hefner was going to be preaching the wonders of Playboy, and of being a Playboy bunny. When I walked into the Hergenham Auditorium on Wednesday night, I didn’t know what to expect.

Former Newhouse Dean David Rubin introduced Hefner. It was apparent that Rubin had great respect for Hefner. He spoke about how she helped to create the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, which is given every year to a person who has made a significant contribution to protecting and upholding the first amendment. He mentioned that Hefner was the Chief Executive Officer, or CEO, of Playboy Magazine from 1988 to 2008, but left the topic to let her speak about it. Rubin also mentioned that Hefner is now a member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is a Trustee of Rush Medical Center, is a part of the National Woman’s political caucus, and has raised $30,000 for AIDS treatment and research. Just from Rubin’s brief introduction it was easy to see how accomplished Hefner was.

I can’t say that I didn’t have preconceived notions of Christie Hefner before she made her first appearance. I half expected some woman with a huge chest, low-cut shirt, and bunny necklace. I had assumed that, since she is the infamous Hugh Hefner’s daughter, she was just handed the position of CEO of Playboy.

Christie Hefner took the stage wearing a conservative cream-colored blazer and skirt duo. She had shoulder-length straight hair that was a graying blonde color. She began to tell us her life-story, starting from when she was a child. It turns out that her parents got divorced when she was five – she didn’t even actually see her father that often, nor did she grow up around Playboy or on the famous “bunny ranch.” She graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in English and American Literature. Hefner said she loved journalism, law, and politics. After college she worked for a year as a journalist – but she had no plans to ever run her father’s business.

After a year, Hefner was planning to apply to Yale for a graduate school program. However, her father suggested that she come work at the company for a year first. In 1988, Hugh had a stroke, and it was decided that he could no longer be the CEO of Playboy, so Christie stepped up and took over the position. During her twenty years as CEO, she has transformed Playboy. She made it the first national website to go online in 1994. She also made Playboy international – it is even launched now in India and Singapore. She helped to cross media by taking Playboy from just a magazine to an Internet presence, a radio station, and even a TV station. The hit reality show “The Girls Next Door” is currently in its sixth season.

Hefner is the longest serving female CEO of a public company and stayed CEO four times longer than the average CEO of a public company. Facts like this earned Hefner the number 80 spot on Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women in the World” list.

Though I’m not one who is going to root for Playboy, I don’t think that Christie Hefner should be automatically disqualified as a smart and strong woman for facilitating Playboy. Hefner even said “I think the photographs in the magazine are beautiful.” She said “People don’t go to Playboy for erotic. They go to Playboy for it’s unique blend.” According to Hefner, Playboy is, “Cool, sexy, sophisticated, fun – it represents freedom.”

Regardless of your thoughts on the actual Playboy magazine – it is hard to deny that Christie Hefner is an amazing woman. She’s educated, successful, involved in philanthropy, and a staunch supporter of women’s rights. She left the audience with helpful advice such as “I don’t think you should ever stop meeting people. I don’t think you should ever stop learning.”

She ended with her thoughts that “there is something a bit off that women have to choose between showing their sexuality and being taken seriously. I don’t buy it.” Christie Hefner has created quite a life for herself and is helping to empower other women to do the same.

Alison Kurtzman is a sophomore broadcast journalism and psychology major. She can be reached at

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