Hugh Hefner passed away at 91 and left behind a legacy of either sexism or activism. Who was the true Hefner?
Hefner wasn’t down for women’s rights, he was down for exploiting them
Written by Reina Esparza
When it comes to an artist’s life (be it musician, director, actor, etc.), many are quick to say to separate the art from the person, which is mostly brought up when they do or say something problematic. But when it comes to Hugh Hefner, he is unique, only because his so called “art” was exploiting women under the guise of being a sexual liberator.
Yes, he was an advocate for civil and gay rights, good for him. However that should not be used to silence and sweep the abuse he’s done under the rug. People try to say that he was a “feminist,” in that he supported abortion and having birth control pills, but keep in mind the type of “women’s issues” he advocated for.
The birth control pill puts all the responsibility of sex and prevention on the woman, whereas condoms, something for the man, is deemed as “uncomfortable”. Relating to this, abortion, at least in Hef’s way of living , was to make an unwanted pregnancy easier on the man. So, how “feminist” could he be if the only women’s rights he fought hard for was to benefit men in the end?
As for the sexual liberator side of this dirty coin, sure, he “normalized” the idea of women feeling better about posing nude, but people fail to realize it was not for feminist tendencies
The entire being of Playboy was solely for the pleasure of men, or as one LA Times piece puts it, it wasn’t to empower but to see men’s pleasure as the only goal. Hefner did not start that magazine to “empower” any woman, he only did it because he knew sex sold.
That included the 20th century’s most iconic “sex symbol” Marilyn Monroe, who put Playboy on the map, but the thing is Hefner used her pictures for his magazine, and she didn’t even see a cent from it. sadly, this isn’t the worst of it.
Hefner was an abusive prick, who, while trying to conquer the industry, tried to “conquer” as many women as possible. The ugly truth about Playboy has been revealed, even by Gloria Steinem and many others.
The most infamous account of his toxic behavior and actions were from his former partner and Playboy bunny, Holly Madison. As she has said in her memoir and to publications, life in the Playboy mansion was hell.
She was subjected to scheduled group sex with Hefner, had a 9pm curfew, was not allowed economic freedom in that she only received money to upkeep her looks and was forced to quit her job. This, along with emotional abuse by Hefner on her looks and his controlling ways (including not letting her see a therapist), led her to a deep depression in that she seriously contemplated suicide.
It is also important to keep in mind, that Hefner allowed underage girls in nude photos to be published along with cartoons (one as recent in a November 2014 issue) that made light of rape.
With all of this in mind, it’s really hard to see where in all that ugly behavior was he a good person, let alone a “feminist” or liberator of any kind. The only liberating thing he did was normalizing to men that the way he portrayed and used his “bunnies” was acceptable, a very toxic mindset.
For him, women were only made for consumption, and there’s nothing feminist about that.
It was the progression of feminism through the decades that allowed sexual freedom to women, and to give that credit to a rich old white man is telling of society.
Don’t celebrate Hugh Hefner when he never celebrated women to begin with.
Hefner was an ally when they were scarce
Written by Hope Morrison
Hugh Hefner is seen as a lot of things. Sexist, opportunist, misogynist, exploiter, activist — one can make the argument he is all of those. He gave men the opportunity to objectify women, and gave women the opportunity to embrace their bodies, in the platform he chose, in the face of societal condemnation.
Women have been and continue to fight for equal rights, and freedom of expression. There is no question that women have made great strides to become independent. Women can do the same things men can do. They can be in the military, be CEOs, doctors, lawyers, president (almost). One area where society has not moved the marker much is sexual freedom of expression. A woman can have it all in life but the public outlook on women who pose in explicit magazines is generally unfavorable. A woman showing off her nude body is frowned upon by women and men who say it’s unwomanly and degrading. Hefner, arguably, gave women the stage to combat this outlook in Playboy magazine.
Hefner was more than just the founder of Playboy; he was also an activist. Many people don’t know he supported gay rights at a time when being pro gay rights was taboo. According to a Washington Post article, actress Caroline Cossey came out as a transgender in the 80s and lost modeling endorsement jobs. But with Hefner’s backing and by modeling for Playboy, she became the first openly transgender model. Hefner did not seem fazed by stepping out of the box when it came to social issues. He quit according to a Los Angeles Times article his job at a personnel department of a carton printing company in Chicago because the company policy prohibited hiring Black or Jewish people. He gave Black writers, including James Baldwin and Alex Haley, a platform, by allowing them to have their articles published.
No question — Hefner built a massive company and brand, but he was also a philanthropist. He donated to causes that affected women. Hefner supported women’s reproductive rights and believed women should have access to birth control. Playboy was not just a magazine filled with nude pictures of women but writers got to showcase their work. He published articles that supported the right of a woman to have an abortion, according to Slate. There were informative articles on the struggle for legal abortion with monthly updates on changing state laws. Hefner gave thousands to the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, at a time when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked for the organization. Ginsburg told Politico she thanked Hefner for Playboy’s contributions that added up to $100,000.
Critics of Hefner make the argument, and even more so since his death, that he should not be remembered for anything positive. The fact of the matter is, he did let women be creative. He used wealth to support important causes for women. He supported equal right for all in many ways. Over time, Hefner’s legacy will be seen in a more favorable light because he supported women’s rights in a time when women had few rights, and he boldly took stands that were not popular.