In the May issue of Playboy, Hugh Hefner has penned a full-page editorial criticizing the conservative “war against sex.” It’s the second time this month we’ve been reminded that support for reproductive rights and support for treating women as fully equal and autonomous human beings doesn’t always go hand in hand. But why should they? I’ll take a misogynist or a sleazeball who defends my reproductive rights over a misogynist or sleazeball who doesn’t any day.
Politico has an excerpt from Hefner’s editorial:
“Last October, in an interview with an evangelical blogger, Rick Santorum promised to defund birth control on the grounds that contraception is ‘a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.’ … Ron Paul was no better, believing that the birth control pill did not cause immorality but that immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pill. Mitt Romney vowed to see a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Hefner cites Playboy’s history of efforts to promote sexual liberty, then:
All these years later I hear echoes of this same ignorance espoused by a new crop of self-appointed arbiters who are determined to oversee our morality. I heard it when Santorum backer Foster Friess said, ‘Back in my days, [women] used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives,’ implying that if women held an aspirin between their legs, they wouldn’t open them. I heard it when I learned about proposed anit-abortion legislation in Kansas that would protect doctors who conceal vital medical information from pregnant women. And I heard it when Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ after she testified on Capitol Hill about allowing employers to avoid providing contraception for religious reasons. … Fifty years of sexual freedom vanished in a sound bite.”
I think that last line is a bit hyperbolic, but it makes for a good sound bite itself.
Reproductive rights and women’s struggle for equality—i.e., feminism—have never been necessarily the same. In the 1960s, people knew this—there was the sexual liberation movement, and the women’s lib movement. Sometimes, their aims and paths crossed. But not all men who wanted to have sex without fathering children also necessarily wanted to smash the patriarchy. And not every advocate for equal pay for women also wanted to legitimize swinging.
One of the (many) surprising things looking at old Playboys is coming across editorials about birth control or abortion. The pages of 1960s Playboy tacitly acknowledged that the sex and lifestyle peddled in its pages were not totally divorced from reproductive rights or reality. Reproductive rights were a male and female issue, even if some men’s support was contingent on the fact that it benefitted them. Misogynists could still support easy access to the pill and legal abortion.
And why not? I think it’s important for women today to keep drilling the point that both men and women benefit from reproductive health care being legal, affordable and accessible—that reproductive rights aren’t just a woman’s rights issue. And as a male and female issue, not every spokesperson is going to be a model feminist. Some are gonna be bro dudes like Tucker Max and some are going to be old-school sleezeballs like Hefner and some aren’t even gonna like or respect women at all. If Hefner can convince them that the war on women’s reproductive health care access is actually a “war against sex,” maybe they’ll tune in.
Men are still magically disconnected from how we don’t get pregnant remarkably often. Many men hear about birth control battles and don’t believe it pertains to them. But a war on sex? A war on sex really hits home. The whole idea of Hefner speaking out about the Pill is so very vintage that it’s almost unbelievable it’s gracing the pages of Playboy 2012. But the great birth control battles of 2012 are so very vintage themselves that it makes a kind of sense.