Council Honors Hefner
ruined the show
Claudine O Leary
Chicago politics are notorious for back room deals, and
one of the political favors a City Council member can
offer to a constituent is an honorary street sign. These
signs dot the city streets--for example, there is Indira
Gandhi Way and Frank Sinatra Way. No one had ever
disputed the designation of such a sign before. So
perhaps local politicians truly believed an honorary
street sign for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner would swiftly
and smoothly pass through the Chicago City Council.
Hugh Hefner Way would be on the northeast corner of
Walton and Michigan Avenues, the location of the original
Playboy Club. There remained only one detail: the measure
hadn't been voted on. Yet so confident were Hefners
supporters of its passage, the sign was already made, and
the ceremony planned, before anyone else found out about
the upcoming vote.
On Sunday, April 9, just before the resolution was to
come up for a committee vote, a few of us did manage to
find out about it. With only 24 hours to prepare, two
groups--Advocates for Prostituted Women and Girls and
Chicago NOW--along with a handful of individual
feminists, immediately began to alert the public. We
contacted city council members and media representatives.
We expressed our distress and outrage at the idea that
the man who had popularized the idea of women as
"bunnies"--groomed to fit one body image, to
serve men with a smile and bunny ears, and to be always
accessible for men's sexual demands--would be honored by
the city in this way.
Members of the councils Transportation and Public
Way Committee were in for a surprise when they returned
to their offices on Monday, April 10. Emails, phone
calls, and faxes were pouring in, not only from city
residents but from all over the country (thanks to the
Internet), urging them to oppose the street naming. As it
turned out, most committee members themselves had been
unaware of the measure, buried among fifty other items on
the day's agenda. All committee members received faxes
detailing research into the harm of Playboy. But even
those who were sympathetic to our concerns remained
pessimistic: no one opposes much in this town unless
Mayor Richard Daley, Jr. wills it.
True to expectation, the measure at first passed with no
discussion. But when three city residents, including an
attorney and a women's rights advocate, spoke up from the
background wanting an opportunity to say at least
something, a short discussion ensued and the vote was
retaken. This time, the measure was defeated.
Alderman Burton Natarus, who brought the measure to the
committee, was furious. No sign had ever been turned down
before. Of course, his frantic behavior was
understandable considering he had already promised Hugh
Hefner and Playboy Enterprises the honor. Not only that:
a lavish party with celebrities was already planned for
that night to celebrate the honor, and Hugh Hefner
himself had come to town to receive the honor the very
The upset made all the news channels. Alderwoman Carrie
Austin, who led the opposition in the Committee,
insisted, "There's no reason we should be honoring a
man who has made his money off the backs of women."
Alderman Natarus, on the other hand, complained about how
he "let all the black people in town name streets
after their black Muslim leaders," so he should get
this street sign without any problems.
On the news that same night, Natarus revealed he had
found another alderman to introduce the measure into the
Finance Committee meeting the next morning. Natarus
merely changed the location of the sign from the
northeast corner to the northwest corner of the street so
that he could get away with reintroducing the already
Minutes before the already scheduled street-naming
ceremony, Christie Hefner, CEO of Playboy Enterprises and
devoted daughter of Hugh, made a hastily arranged
presentation before the Finance Committee. Christie
Hefner emphasized the financial contributions her father
made to the city and his efforts at protecting "free
Women's rights advocates reminded the council members of
the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), originally convened
by the United Nations and passed by the Council last
fall. The Convention clearly calls upon signatory
governments to eliminate "prejudices, customary, and
all other practices, which are based on the idea of
inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes, or
on stereotyped roles for men and women."
The Committee meeting lasted longer than anticipated.
Hefners supporters waited for news of the vote at
the site where the scheduled street-naming ceremony was
to take place. Protesters from APWG, in the meantime,
were working in full gear, despite the freezing cold,
handing out fliers and talking with press people and
passersbys. After waiting for more than an hour,
Hefners supporters postponed the unveiling.
An hour later, however, the committee passed the measure.
A quick 10 minute unveiling took place, complete with
photo opportunity of Hef and the 21-year old twin sisters
who appear in incestuous scenes in the May issue of
Playboy. Fortunately, the event was overshadowed by the
opposition, who had managed to bring to center stage the
issues of pornography and profiting from sexual
exploitation and abuse. And though the committee passed
the measure, it still had to pass the full City Council,
which continued to receive a deluge of messages opposing
it, before the naming was official.
The next day the whole City Council voted on the measure,
with 20 out of 50 members opposed. These are amazing
numbers, considering most votes in the Chicago City
Council are 49 to 1--with the lone vote coming from a
progressive holdout who consistently opposes Mayor
Daley's plans to sell this town to the highest bidder.
Surprise, surprise, soon after the measure passed, the
Mayor publicly came out in support of the sign, calling
himself a close friend of Christie Hefner's.
Many council members were angry about the political
maneuvering, particularly by Alderman Natarus, who
flouted rules of order to get the measure passed. A few
of the council members remained committed to opposing the
measure on principle, after being educated on the issue.
But for now, the sign is up, set one foot higher than
others after a couple of male pranksters tried to steal
Feminists are making plans to continue community
education about the harm of magazines like Playboy, and
to call for the removal of the honorary sign. But
residents of Chicago and from across the country have
already made a positive difference. The letters to
editors, the conversations with city residents and
tourists on the street, and the number of calls to
council members helped raise consciousness and
demonstrated the widespread opposition to the honorary
street sign for Hefner.
As 8th grader Maricolleen McNally wrote to the Chicago
Tribune, "I think he is an immature man who has made
sex out to be something it is not by publishing a
magazine such as Playboy, in which women pose and are
photographed for public display for the younger
generation of ignorant boys. He hasn't done anything to
deserve such an honor."
Claudine O Leary is committed feminist activist
and the founder and Project Coordinator of Advocates for
Prostituted Women and Girls, a Chicago-based empowerment
project for teen girls and young women who are trading
sex for money, gifts, drugs, or survival. We can be
reached at email@example.com.
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