Why We Were So Easily Fooled by Hugh Hefner + Feminist Giving News

Hello there, my philanthro-friends. Welcome to another week of feminist giving updates, as well as other revelations in the world of gender equality news.

playboy feminist giving
Holly Madison, former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner and creator and star of Girls Next Door, discusses her diagnosis of Aspergers in Secrets of Playboy, and how she was drawn to living at the Playboy mansion early on because it gave her a sense of community. (Image credit: Secrets of Playboy)

This week, I did it. I binge-watched the first six episodes of Secrets of Playboy on A&E.

I did it for a lot of reasons. First, because I care about women, especially women who have survived trauma and are trying to make peace with that trauma and with the world that allowed it to happen.

I also see Playboy for what it is: a deceptively innocent-seeming brand of misogyny that contributed to the trauma and abuse of many people for half a century, as Hugh Hefner and his apologists convinced the world that subjugating women was a form of liberation, and that he was a progressive leader and a supporter of equality.

As I listened to the narratives of the women in the documentary, especially the stories from Sondra Theodore and Holly Madison, I was so aware of how much the Playboy brand was a cult that held many women captive.

Many of the women interviewed for the documentary series were raped by members of the Playboy club and by VIP members, and most still do not name their perpetrators. But the stories identify clearly how the abuse happened to Playboy bunnies and other employees, and how it was covered up by a “clean-up crew” — designated staff of the organization tasked with covering up multiple crimes for the brand.

Supposedly at Playboy, No One Was Allowed to Touch the Bunnies

The irony of it all is that, according to Playboy’s club rules, customers were not allowed to touch the female employees acting as Bunnies. But what went on in the club and what went on for VIP members were two different things.

For me, the series explains a lot about how men like Hef operate, and how women get sucked in. As a practitioner of therapy for sexual assault survivors, the series exposes narratives that validate what I hear from many other survivors — how they were manipulated by multiple factors, and how hard it was to separate truth from the perpetrator’s spin on everything. Watching the series also helps me stay focused on how I want to help change the culture so that people of all genders can feel free to express themselves and celebrate their identity.

As a culture, I think we really need to ask ourselves why we were so easily fooled by Hugh Hefner and Playboy. The reasons in my head go something like this:

  1. Subjugation of women sells.
  2. Hugh Hefner made that subjugation seem glamorous.
  3. Enough women bought into the narrative.

These three factors are just some of the realities that Hugh Hefner understood and used to expand his market share in the economy as he ruthlessly (and criminally, some might argue) exploited women. They tell an important story about what we value. Until these three factors change, we are going to have more and bigger Hugh Hefners in the world, and perhaps we already do.

If you ask me, after all of the revelations that are coming out in the A&E documentary, I think the Playboy brand should be shut down. But in actuality, that is nowhere near happening. The Playboy brand recently went public on the New York Stock Exchange as PLBY, getting the ultimate stamp of approval from our culture for its business success.

And Now, on to The Top Ten Countdown of Feminist Giving News!

1: MacKenzie Scott Gives Surprise $20 million for Literacy: Reading Partners received a $20 million, unrestricted gift from MacKenzie Scott to support the national nonprofit’s evidence-based early literacy intervention program. This gift comes as the organization is embarking on an initiative to raise more than $100 million over three years to give literacy services to tens of thousands of students every year. And yes, literacy is a feminist issue. Being able to read is a huge contributor to being a healthy individual and family member. And that’s not all. The Jed Foundation (JED), the leading national nonprofit for teen suicide prevention, announced that it is a recipient of a $15 million grant from MacKenzie Scott. And yes, suicide prevention is a feminist issue. Preventing suicide is all about inclusion and community support, key principles of feminism.

2. ProMedica Impact Fund Named Official Charity of U.S. Women’s Open: ProMedica, a not-for-profit health and well-being organization, is taking a bold step to elevate women by supporting professional women’s golf. The ProMedica Impact Fund was recently named the official charity of the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament. ProMedica is seeking Elevating Women Pledge Partners to further its mission. Visit ProMedica.org/impact-fund to learn more. 

3. Gatorade Donates $10 Million for Women’s Social Impact Organizations: Gatorade is ready to break down the barriers that keep young women and minorities out of sports. Through its Fuel Tomorrow initiative, several sports equity organizations received funding including Athlete Ally and the Women’s Sports Foundation.  

4. New Alliance for Gender Equality in Europe Launches:  The Alliance for Gender Equality in Europe has launched to support progress for gender equality and women’s rights across Europe. With support from Foundation CHANEL, the King Baudouin Foundation and the L’Oréal Fund for Women, the fund has been established for an initial three years and is hosted by the Network of European Foundations (NEF). In its first round of giving from its 2021 Fund for Covid Solidarity, the group has allocated 13 grants of up to €50,000 to frontline organisations in 10 different countries across the EU.

5.  Ada Developers Academy Expands to Atlanta With French Gates and Scott Funding: One of the winners of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge sponsored by MacKenzie Scott and Melinda French Gates, Ada Developers, is now setting up programs in Atlanta, Georgia, to serve the diverse population with free coding education. Read more here.

6. Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), With Support From Fondation CHANEL and Pivotal Ventures, Announces National Power+ Summit April 27-28, 2022: This event is chock-full of amazing speakers. I’ve already bought my ticket. More information and tickets here.

7. New York Women’s Foundation Surpasses $100M in Giving: From Ana L. Oliveira, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation: “You cannot create an equal or just society without truly advancing economic justice, safety and healing, or civic engagement for each and every member of a community, which is why The Foundation has so heavily prioritized these initiatives in our work.” More about this milestone here and this year’s funding recipients here.

8. Red Ink Library Was Attacked by Nazis and Needs Your Help: Sadly, right here in my home state, a group of right-wing Nazi activists harassed people attending a peaceful event at the Red Ink Library in Providence. As feminist givers, we all need to do what we can to support peaceful civic engagement. More about this issue here. If you want to support the freedom to assemble peacefully, please consider a solidarity donation or membership with Red Ink Library.

9. Call to Fund Indigenous Women from Ms. Foundation: The Ms. Foundation has pledged to raise $10 million to prioritize reproductive justice for Indigenous women over the next three to five years. A new report from the foundation finds that of the $356 million from foundations available for women and girls of color in 2017, about $9 million—or less than 3 percent—benefited Indigenous women and girls. More from the report.

10. Everyone’s Talking About Imposter Syndrome: This is such an interesting topic. I myself experience a lot of feelings of being excluded both from the philanthropy sector and from the publishing industry. Some of this exclusion seems legit, since I am credentialed and professionally trained in the health care sector. But some of it seems to just be a factor of me not being considered an important enough person to be given access to certain people. Leslie Lynn Smith, a nationally recognized business development leader and the National Director for GET Cities (Gender Equality in Tech), thinks the talk on imposter syndrome is all wrong since it “seems to monopolize women’s panels and some of the most popular interventions intended to ’empower women.'” Says Leslie: “The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals, but to create working environments that are more inclusive of diverse leadership and working styles. We need to create workplaces where racial, ethnic, and gender identities are not deemed as other and instead are honored and celebrated as crucial pieces on the path to innovation, growth, and progress.”

Sounds good to me, but then again, what do I know? I’m just a humble blogger, therapist, and publisher trying to smash the patriarchy, one feminist giving news blast at a time.


MacKenzie Scott and the $14.2 Billion Dollar Question for Women & Girls

Uncertainty Is the Mother of Invention

Is Melinda Influencing MacKenzie Toward Feminist Giving?

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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