Following Bill Cosby & Hugh Hefner Down the Rabbit Hole.

hugh hefner bill cosby

In July it came out that in 2005 Bill Cosby admitted in a sworn deposition to buying Quaaludes with the intent to use them to rape women, not to “have sex with them” as headlines read.

Around the same time, former Playboy Playmate and Hugh Hefner’s “No. 1 Girlfriend” Holly Madison released an incriminating memoir, entitled Down the Rabbit Hole, about her time in the Playboy Mansion and how it often involved Quaalude-addled group sex with Hefner.

You might remember that late last year when we finally started to pay attention to the long-standing assault allegations against Cosby after a deluge more came to light, Hefner wrote in a statement that “Bill Cosby has been a good friend for many years and the mere thought of these allegations is truly saddening. I would never tolerate this kind of behaviour, regardless of who was involved”.

Putting aside the fact that Cosby and Hefner are friends (14% of Cosby’s accusers were employees or guests of Playboy at the time of their assaults), both men’s predilection for drugging women to better inure them to sex is a damning testament to their power in Hollywood.

It would seem that since last year reports of sexual and physical violence against women have begun to be taken more seriously. As of this writing, 2015 alone as seen 63 women be murdered by their intimate partners or killed in gendered attacks, according to Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women project. The prevalence of these crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that women are experiencing more violence but perhaps that we’ve started to actually give a shit about it.

The striking similarities of the stories of the upwards of 40 Cosby accusers with nothing to gain should be enough to prioritise their safety and justice over the comedian’s legacy and power, but alas, it took the comedian’s own admission for reruns to be cut from networks and a statue in his likeness at Disneyland to be taken down. And even then, apologists such as The View co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Raven-Symoné urge us to resist making a “snap judgement” despite the “proof”. (Goldberg has since come around, saying on The View that “all off the information that’s out there kind of points to guilt.”)  

“What did these women do to get themselves in that situation?”, we ask, particularly in the case of apparently complicit women like Madison and others who frequented the Playboy Mansion.

Madison explains in Down the Rabbit Hole that “I was about to be homeless. I had no place to go and was panicking over what to do next when this opportunity with Hef just sort of fell into my lap. If I became a girlfriend, I would have somewhere to live. If I became part of Playboy’s inner circle, perhaps that could even help my career.”

“The Playboy Mansion… had been both my safe haven—and my prison,” she continues.

What further kept Madison trapped was her decreased confidence and self-worth upon becoming a girlfriend. Hefner’s six other girlfriends at the time Madison moved in were also plagued by insecurities which Madison says led them to bully her. And, in turn, “my shrinking violet personality was a sign of submission that [Hef] used to manipulate the other women.” When Madison tried to have an intelligent conversation with the man she supposedly loved and whom expressed love for her, “he would scoff at whatever I said. It didn’t matter if my remark was educated or even correct, because if I said it, it must be wrong.” In attempting to exert her independence and autonomy by getting a makeover, Hefner belittled Madison, calling her “old, hard and cheap”. After a seemingly throwaway comment from Madison about fellow girlfriend and Girls Next Door star Kendra Baskett (nee Wilkinson), Hefner screamed at Madison to “stop being such a fucking CUNT!”

“He frightened me,” she writes.

Just because young women seek out rich men to experience the fame and fortune they otherwise wouldn’t have access to doesn’t mean they consented to inebriated sex. On the same night she refused Quaaludes from Hefner in a scenario that made headlines upon publication of the book, “I can’t even begin to tell you how much vodka and champagne I consumed… While I patted myself on the back for turning down the pills, by the time we left the club, I couldn’t have been any more incoherent” for her first group sex encounter with Hefner.

The ostensibly compromised integrity of Madison and others who’ve written similar accounts of their time with Hef, like Hefner’s former girlfriend Izabella St. James, and their previous contributions to maintaining the glass curtain Hef and the Mansion are shrouded in makes them less likely to be believed.

Also making headlines for embellished claims was Rolling Stone’s damning article entitled “A Rape on Campus” at the University of Virginia in which reporter Sabrina Erdely failed to properly corroborate the alleged victim Jackie’s story by seeking out other sources before the story went to press. While the feminist and left-leaning media have made it clear that Erdely and Rolling Stone were at fault, a report was issued further blaming the very people it was supposed to protect: sexual assault victims.

“The editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault,” the report says, feeding all-too-perfectly into blame-the-victim rhetoric.

Chloe Angyal wrote at Feministing that “‘Jackie’ will become shorthand for people seeking to discredit future allegations of rape” just as Fatal Attraction’s “Bunny Boiler” has for unhinged women who trap and frame innocent men.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence such as that surrounding the 2014 Isla Vista shooter, Elliot Rodger, society doesn’t believe women when we tell them that harassment and a general feeling of being unsafe is something that happens on a daily basis for many of us. The hashtag #yesallwomen was spawned in an effort to debunk that. Despite the fact that the killer sent an accompanying 140-page manifesto to former friends and family members outlining his murderous intentions, people were still willing to believe that Rodger and men like him (#notallmen) are “good blokes”, while “blonde sluts” are to blame for “starv[ing him] of sex” .

Going back to Hefner, in 2005’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, author Ariel Levy speaks at length with Hefner’s daughter Christie, then CEO of Playboy Enterprises. Like Cosby and his respectability politics, Levy also quotes from past interviews with Hef in which he claims to be a champion for women and, dare I say it, a feminist.

In the book, Christie is described as the founder of many women-friendly organisations, such as Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic candidates to office, and the Committee of 200, which runs a mentor program between successful business women and young women and girls. Levy writes,

“The Playboy Foundation also gave grant money to NOW’s Legal Defence and Education Fund and supported the ERA; Hefner personally hosted a fundraiser for it at the Playboy Mansion. ‘I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism!’ Hefner has said. A mutual friend even tried to set him up on a date with Gloria Steinem before she became famous.”

(Arguably the piece that made Steinem famous was an undercover exposé on the hostile and sexist conditions at New York City’s Playboy Club, including immediate dismissal for accepting a date with a customer.)

Just because someone calls themselves a feminist, does it make it so? Sarah Palin and Tony Abbott have done so, but their public policies and conversational faux pas would indicate that they are anything but.

The same could be said of Cosby’s respectability politics. On the surface it might look like Cosby is championing his race, but really it’s about minorities policing their own behaviour in an effort to prove how “good” and worthy they are of fair treatment by the powers that be. Cosby has done such an expert job of portraying himself as black America’s father figure that defenders like Raven-Symoné (in whose case Cosby literally played her grandfather on TV) are still in his corner.

In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy quotes from a 1967 interview with Hefner that the self-professed feminist does “not look for equality between man and woman… I like innocent, affectionate, faithful girls.” Perhaps that’s why he challenged Madison’s post-Playboy life as not being “happy, healthy and productive”: because she, like the 41 women who kept Cosby’s secret for up to 49 years in the earliest reported case, didn’t play along with the socially prescribed rule to put up (or out) and shut up when it comes to powerful men.

Related: The Year of the Stalker.

Elsewhere: [Gawker] Who Wants to Remember Bill Cosby’s Multiple Sexual Assault Accusations?

[Vulture] A Timeline of the Abuse Charges Against Bill Cosby.

[HuffPo] Hugh Hefner Responds to Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Allegations.

[Jezebel] The Connection Between Bill Cosby’s Alleged Crimes & The Playboy Mansion.

[Facebook] Counting Dead Women.

[The Cut] “I’m No Longer Afraid”: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby & the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.

[ET] Bill Cosby’s Accusers: A Timeline of Alleged Sexual Assault Claims.

[TV Line] Bill Cosby Sitcoms Yanked from Centric, Bounce TV’s Schedules.

[WNEP] Bill Cosby Statue Removed from Walt Disney World.

[Us Weekly] Holly Madison: Hugh Hefner Offered Me Drugs, Tried to Buy Me in His Will.

[Rolling Stone] Rolling Stone & UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report.

[Feministing] Rape, Rolling Stone & the Radical Notion That Women Are Trustworthy.

[ABC The Drum] Disability & Murder: Victim Blaming at Its Very Worst.

[The Guardian] Elliot Rodger’s California Shooting Spree: Further Proof That Misogyny Kills.

[The Hairpin] Life Lessons from the 1968 Playboy Club Bunny Manual.

[WaPo] The Fake Feminism of Sarah Palin.

[The Guardian] Tony Abbott Says His Three Daughters Helped Him “Turn Into a Feminist”.

[ET] Hugh Hefner Responds to Holly Madison’s Tell-All Book: She Has “Chosen to Rewrite History”.

Image via HuffPo.

In Defence of Cosmopolitan.

Cosmopolitan Demi Lovato

Men’s magazines are commonly displayed behind opaque screens in servos, supermarkets and news agents but in selected department and drug stores in the U.S., such as Walmart and Rite Aid, women’s magazine Cosmopolitan will be getting the same treatment.

Victoria Hearst, great granddaughter of the man who bought the title in 1905 and contributed to making it the magazine we know today, William Randolph Hearst, is spearheading a campaign, along with the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, to have Cosmo shielded from children’s impressionable eyes, giving new meaning to its patented “sealed section”.

The reasoning behind the campaign, entitled Cosmo Harms Minors”, is explained on the Centre’s website thusly:

Cosmopolitan Magazine glamorises things like hookup, public, anal, group, or violent sex in nearly all of their issues. We are asking that Cosmo be sold to adults only and have the cover wrapped like all other porn magazines in retail shops.”

While often overlooked as “just another women’s magazine”, Cosmopolitan in Australia, in particular, has been a bastion for body positivity with the early ’00s Body Love initiative and stories about domestic violence, reproductive rights and career goals.

In recent years U.S. Cosmopolitan has undergone a similarly feminist reawakening of sorts. Editor Joanna Coles identified the magazine as “deeply feminist” in 2013 while in May last year The Wire reported that Cosmo had “hired longtime Feministing blogger Jill Filipovic to cover politics on the website” as well as former Jezebel writer Anna Breslaw. Since then, Filipovic has written longform screeds about why changing your name upon marriage and defunding Planned Parenthood are bad ideas; comedian, filmmaker and musician Lane Moore writes as’s sex and relationships editor such queer-friendly pieces as what to do when you’re a lesbian in love with a straight girl and “15 Things I Wish I Knew About Being Gay When I Was Younger”; and writers such as Rachel Hills round out the wide variety of sex- and gender-positive women working for the magazine.

Hills says of her work at Cosmo examining things such as dating while trans, painful sex and asexuality, that “Since Joanna Coles took over as US editor-in-chief in 2012, both Cosmopolitan and have taken on a more explicitly feminist bent, hiring a lot of feminist writers that cut their teeth on the Internet, including myself. And one of the great things about writing online is that you get to cover things that would never end up in the mag—not because they’re too explicit, but because they just wouldn’t sell.”

NCSE thinks that Cosmo promotes “Sex without responsibility is acceptable and desirable” however its emphasis on protection from STIs and pregnancy is high as well as their emphasis on sex not having to be between a man and a woman in a long-term relationship or marriage.

So it’s interesting that they’ve chosen to go after Cosmopolitan now, when it’s publishing some of its most progressive content.

From NCSE’s website:

“While it only has a few nude photos occasionally, this publication has steadily declined from a somewhat inspirational women’s magazine to a verbally pornographic ‘how-to’ sex guide. What’s worse is that this magazine is purposefully targeting younger and younger audiences with Disney stars and teen idols often donning the covers and featured in the headline stories.”

Disney star and teen idol in question Demi Lovato, U.S. Cosmopolitan’s current covergirl, responded to the brouhaha on Twitter, asserting that as a former sufferer of an eating disorder, covering Cosmo made her feel “EMPOWERED” and “the MOST BEAUTIFUL I’ve ever felt.”

In case the campaign’s problem with a more feminist magazine wasn’t obvious enough, the very first thing that blares out at you from the its homepage is that the new Cosmo is harmful to minors.  

However Hills doesn’t necessarily agree. “I don’t think it would be accurate to say that Cosmo used to be anti-feminist and now is feminist. I spent a bit of time in the Cosmo archives last year, and some of those issues from the 1970s are phenomenal—Susan Sontag was writing for them! I suspect Victoria Hearst would have been just as appalled by the Cosmopolitan of 1985 as she is by the Cosmopolitan of 2015.”  

But what about all the other magazines? Sure, Cosmo does have some loud headlines that may draw concerned glances at the checkout (one of the first issues I bought as a teen featured Kirsten Dunst alongside “Oral Sex Lessons” that drew judgemental looks from my parents), but what about other, far more harmful magazines? I’m not necessarily talking about men’s mags in the vein of Zoo Weekly (which could be a whole different article in itself) or Playboy (which is actually publishing more progressive content itself so now it really can be read for its articles), but weekly “rags” such as NW and New Idea which are also aimed at women because we love to gossip and humiliate each other, didn’t you know? A recent survey of the periodicals on offer at my local Coles included stories about One Direction’s supposed gay coverup, “Bikini Lumps and Bumps” and “Crazy Bachelor beach catfights” (because women can’t have level-headed disagreements without them devolving into “crazy catfights”), not to mention the squillionth Jennifer Aniston-pregnancy speculation. So diversity from the heteronormative sex positions “that’ll blow his mind” warrants concealment from the general public, however body shaming, outing and misgendering people is A-OK!?

Let’s hope that common sense prevails in Victoria Hearst and the NCSE’s quest to classify Cosmo as porn. In the interim, we can take solace in the fact that the blinders they intended to conceal Cosmo’s headlines has actually resulted in drawing increased attention to its cover subjects’ decolletage.  

Related: Shaming Lara Bingle.

Elsewhere: [End Sexual Exploitation] Cosmo Harms Minors.

[Politico] Joanna Coles: Cosmopolitan is a “Deeply Feminist” Magazine.

[The Wire] Hot Spring Trend: Hiring a Feminist Blogger at Your Women’s Magazine.

[Cosmopolitan] In the Age of the Internet, Changing Your Name When You Marry is a Terrible Idea.

[Cosmopolitan] Defunding Planned Parenthood is the Opposite of “Pro-Life”.

[Cosmopolitan] 15 Emotional Stages of Being a Lesbian in Love with a Straight Girl.

[Cosmopolitan] 15 Things I Wish I Knew About Being Gay When I Was Younger.

[Cosmopolitan] What It’s Really Like to Date as a Trans Person.

[Cosmopolitan] How to Deal with Painful Sex.

[Cosmopolitan] Asexuality.

[End Sexual Exploitation] Why Cosmo‘s Content Matters. 

[SBS] Coles Bins “Sexist” Zoo Weekly.

[Daily Life] Why is Pop Culture Obsessed with Celeb “Catfights”?

[Cosmopolitan] 28 Mind-Blowing Lesbian Sex Positions.

[The Cut] Cosmo Censorship Accidentally Highlights Boobs.

Image via Go Fug Yourself.

On the (Rest of the) Net.


Playboy has a surprisingly positive take on Laverne Cox’s nude photoshoot for Allure (SFW).

Meanwhile, a conservatively idiotic “feminist” lambasts the shoot because it promotes an unrealistic, sexualised and “fake” version of womanhood. (I’m not linking to the website because I don’t want to give them traffic.)

For a nuanced look at reconciling black and trans femininity from the woman herself, check out Laverne’s conversation with bell hooks, below.

Mel Campbell on Anzac Day hysteria and the fallout from Scott McIntyre’s tweets and subsequent firing from SBS. [Spook Magazine]

The rise of emotional male musicians. [Pitchfork]

The face of World Wrestling Entertainment, a company that participates in anti-bullying campaigns, John Cena, who is held up as a role model to children, implicated that a woman prostituted herself because her “pimp” physically abused her. And this is the “PG-era”. [Cageside Seats]

Australia’s outrage over Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s executions illustrates this country’s hypocrisy. [The Drum]

I recapped Outback Championship Wrestling’s Anzac Day show with Tyrus.

I’m also speaking to the OCW Heavyweight Champion, Drew Galloway, on the second edition of their podcast.

Image via Allure.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Charmed kitchen spells

I wrote about the power of work/life balance in Charmed. [Bitch Flicks]

Yet another piece in defence of Sex & the City. [Daily Life]

What happens when feminism becomes trendy. [Jezebel]

The unsexy reality of centrefolds: behind the scenes of Playboy (NSFW). [Beautiful Decay]

Elite feminism. [The Nation]

On-screen abortion is portrayed as more dangerous than it actually is. [Bitch]

“Interview with a Pregnant Porn Star.” (SFW) [The Hairpin]

Image via Bitch Flicks.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

carrie bradshaw writing

Was Sex & the City all in Carrie’s head? [Salon]

Follow the parody Twitter account, Sex & the City 3, by the same author. (While you’re at it, follow me, and stay tuned for some more SATC musings.)

Playboy: thanks for the memories (SFW). [Daily Life]

Bleak, but inspiring: “Freelancing & the Mythical Work/Life Balance.” [This Ain’t Livin’]

Why do they hate us? Christos Tsiolkas on Australia’s asylum seeker problem. [The Monthly]

Femen from the perspective of its activists (NSWF). [Vice]

I reviewed Domestic Warfare at Gasworks Arts Park as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival for TheatrePress.

Image via I’m Charming You.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

rape robin thicke blurred lines

Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” lyrics, as said by rapists. [Sociological Images]

Mother to Daughter: Second- VS. Fourth-Wave Feminism.

While I’ve only begun calling myself a feminist in the past few years, I think I’ve always had feminist tendencies: I’ve always believed in reproductive rights, I’ve tried never to judge a woman based on her choices and it’s been instilled in me that, as a woman, I can do and be anything I want to.

A lot of this is thanks to my mum, who is a ’70s bra-burning hippie feminist through and through.

Though recently, as I increasingly immerse myself in current readings of feminism, I see just how far we’ve come, baby, and how the second-wave feminism of my mother’s era is worlds apart from today’s discourse on gender equality.

There have been many debates between second-, third- and fourth-wavers about who did, and is doing, more for the movement.

At a 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival presentation on why we still need feminism, Sophie Cunningham asserted that feminists under 25 can’t really grasp the concept because they’re still young and beautiful and have men falling at their feet. She also observed “a sort of ‘bottleneck’ in modern feminism”, where white, Western feminists aren’t able to incorporate intersectionality into the fold, which was a criticism of SlutWalk, one of latter-day feminism’s most high-profile conquests. Pardon me, but wasn’t it foremother Betty Friedan who was accused of being racist and homophobic with The Feminine Mystique?

Perhaps the most contentious issue is the constant bickering amongst young feminists as to what, exactly, feminism is. You’ve got women undertaking such obviously feminist tasks as Marissa Mayer overseeing Yahoo! and Beyonce nearing total world domination, yet they’re reluctant to call a spade a spade. And the non-feminist media would have you believe there’s infighting going on about who is allowed to be a feminist (definitely not Taylor Swift!).

But, I think, the feminist movement of today would like to believe it’s accessible to all kinds of women (and men): straight, gay, bi, male, female, trans, black, white, mixed-race, rich, poor, able-bodied and non-able-bodied, sex workers, etc. Can second-wave feminism of yesteryear say that?

This divide is illustrated by Germaine Greer’s infamous comments about Julia Gillard’s clothing choices and how they accentuated her apparently undesirable body shape last year on Q&A and feminists everywhere taking to their respective platforms to mostly disagree with her. One such vocal detractor was Mia Freedman, who said Greer “broke my heart a little bit” when she took herself “down in a hail of self-inflicted friendly fire while the world watche[d] in embarrassment.” When the two women appeared together on a recent episode of Q&A, Freedman was asked to clarify her response: did it mean she wasn’t a fan of the “ground-breaking, arse-kicking lightening rod for social change who ignited a feminist movement from which every woman in the western world has benefited” anymore? Was this an example of the abovementioned feminist in-fighting?

Freedman responded that while she has nothing but respect for the woman in whose water she grew up and who influenced her mother’s feminist awakening, “feminism needs to have a lot of different voices… It should be really, really broad and inclusive.” Essentially, feminism should accommodate both the foremothers and their daughters.

Freedman went on in that same episode of Q&A to—what some would describe as—shame sex workers, or “prostitutes” as she archaically called them, which ignited a backlash of her own. So much for that broad inclusion she waxed lyrical about…

While liberating housewives of Germaine and Freedman’s mother’s era from “the problem with no name” and ushering in the birth control pill are milestones women of today must be thankful for, they’re very much narrow-minded accomplishments: The Feminine Mystique appealed to white middle-class women and many women can’t afford the birth control pill, a predicament that still exists today. And second-wave feminism was very much responsible for the sexual liberation of a generation of people, but I’m not so sure that transfers to the hook up, raunch and porn culture/s of today (as Freedman’s comments about sex workers above would indicate).

For example, when I was living at home and Girls of the Playboy Mansion came on the TV, my mum would make me turn it off (keep in mind I was 22 by the time I moved out and this was not long before that). When I brought this up recently as an example of her generation’s reluctance to embrace sex positivity, she launched into a tirade that ended with her calling into question the women who pose for Playboy’s sexual promiscuity.

We must acknowledge that media like Playboy is an inherently patriarchal construct, but I think making the assumption that any woman who uses her sexuality as a commodity is a slave to said patriarchy is buying into the notion that feminism works against: women have no autonomy. Much like the debate over women in Islam (and don’t even get me started on the fight I had with my mum about asylum seekers that, similar to the Playboy exchange, ended with her defensively inquiring about the legality of people seeking asylum via boat), certain kinds of feminism need to broaden their scope to take into account the lives of all women, whether we agree with their choices or not.

This close-mindedness comes from a lack of access to new information and technologies and willingness to learn from and hand the reigns over to the feminists of today, I think. While many feminists of all ages count the works of Greer, Friedan and Naomi Wolf amongst their collection of feminist tomes, how many second-wavers can say the same about the musings of Jessica Valenti, Clementine Ford, Rachel Hills and the myriad feminist bloggers? That face of feminism has certainly changed to make it much more accessible. What once was narrowly accessible at rallies, underground meetings and in academic journals is now available wherever you look: Gillard speaking up against sexism in parliament, movements like SlutWalk and Destroy the Joint and all across the interwebs.

So on this Mother’s Day eve, it’s important to acknowledge the gender equality path paved for me by my feminist foremothers, including my actual mother, but also to recognise that we have, indeed, come a long way, baby. Maybe that’s something that second-wavers need to consider, too.

Related: Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” In the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [The Atlantic] 4 Big Problems with The Feminine Mystique. 

[The Guardian] The Tragic Irony of Feminists Trashing Each Other.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer: You’ve Lost Me.

[MamaMia] No, I Won’t Apologise for My Sex Worker Comments.

[Daily Life] Stoned for Having Short Hair.