The death of Hugh Hefner, at 91, has set free a roaring stream of accolades, with the robe-wearing, mansion-living entrepreneur lauded as “revolutionary, “a true original,” a “trailblazer,” “a humanitarian,” and “legend” who “helped spur the sexual revolution of the 1960s.”
The man himself had always positioned himself as a revolutionary freedom fighter, despite making enemies with many feminists early on, including Gloria Steinem, who famously went undercover as a Playboy Bunny in 1963 and then reported on the discomfort and vile treatment from customers while on the job.
Ire from Steinem’s camp reportedly vexed Hefner, who had said, “We are in the process of acquiring a new moral maturity and honesty, in which man’s body, mind and soul are in harmony rather than in conflict.”
And many agreed with his self-assessment, even including famous feminist writer Camille Paglia, who just this year called him “one of the major pioneers of the sexual revolution,” adding, “to tag him as an antediluvian sexist would be quite wrong, because he was in the very forefront of redefining masculinity in the period following World War Two.” (Lena Dunham tweeted that, although she and Hefner disagreed about “stuff,” he was still “lovely” when she met him.)
But that hasn’t stopped a slew of feminists from speaking out about their resentment toward the man behind the mansion. That’s included Sarah Gidick of the Hollywood Reporter, who posted a mini-memoir to her Porn for Women Instagram about how damaging she’s found Hefner’s main creation, of “a standard of beauty that will take another century to shatter.”
RIP Hugh Hefner. I’ll never forget how Playboy made me feel. What I admire about Hefner is his tireless devotion to publishing. Playboy once educated men on a remarkable range of topics … I’ll never like the man though. He created a standard of beauty that will take another century to shatter. Women were objects. Smooth, big-breasted, white, virginal statues that laughed at any joke and were up for anything. The first time I saw Playboy magazine, it deflated my love of self. I was a teenager and was confused about the lack of pubic hair, the sexist cartoons. Was this what men wanted? How did I get it so wrong? I often wonder if I’m so hard on myself because of that moment. Yes, it’s a cool logo. But I won’t canonize the man, because I’ll never forget how Playboy made me feel.
A post shared by THE PFW (@pornforwomen) on Sep 27, 2017 at 8:52pm PDT
Julie Bindel, writing in the Independent, noted that, upon hearing of Hefner’s death, “I wished I believed in hell.” She called him a “sadistic pimp,” declared, that he “caused immeasurable damage by turning porn — and therefore the buying and selling of women’s bodies — into a legitimate business,” and quoted him, from 2010, as having said, “The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects… It’s the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go ‘round. That’s why women wear lipstick and short skirts.”
Tweets of non-praise came from writer Victoria Brownworth, who tweeted a powerful, history-laden thread, including the idea that his “lifetime of pimping white women was glorified & romanticized as something to emulate.”
— Victoria Brownworth (@VABVOX) September 28, 2017
Some nice sarcasm came from Kate Harding, co-editor of the forthcoming Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America.
Hillary Clinton: Greatest monster of our time
Hugh Hefner: Important civil rights leader
I learn so much from Twitter pic.twitter.com/53Hjv14ECw
— Kate Harding (@KateHarding) September 28, 2017
The Fighting for Females twitter pages also used this cartoon as anti-Hefner evidence…
— Melinda (@MelLiszewski) September 28, 2017
…while Jessica Valenti basically laughed at Hefner defenders.
lol to all the sexual revolution scholars in my mentions who think it was Hefner that gave the space to women to be publicly sexual
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) September 28, 2017
A Steve Bannon parody account took the following swipe:
Feminism is now all about promoting the legacy of some creep that actually grabbed Woman by their pus*y. #HughHefner
— Steve Bannen (@SteveBannen) September 28, 2017
And many on social took the opportunity to post this 2015 story about former Hefner girlfriend and mansion resident Holly Madison, who had just released her memoir, Down the Rabbit Hole.
“I call myself a born-again feminist,” she said. “I can’t call myself a feminist, or people are going to attack me for that, like, How can you be a feminist, you lived with Hugh Hefner! But I feel like there comes a time in every woman’s life when you have to become a feminist. You can play dumb as long as you want. It’s not going to last, and it’s not going to be fulfilling.”
As Cosmopolitan’s Amy Odell noted, while linking to their own take on Madison’s tale:
Hugh Hefner may have done some good things. But he’s still responsible for atrocious treatment of many women: https://t.co/qIi9uGlMpB
— Amy Odell (@amyodell) September 28, 2017
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