Hugh Hefner lived a 'glorified' life of 'pimping' women, critics say

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
Hugh Hefner at his mansion, 1966. (Photo: Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos)

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.”

Hugh Hefner at his Playboy Mansion, in 1999. (Photo: Getty Images)

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.”


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.”

Some nice sarcasm came from Kate Harding, co-editor of the forthcoming Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America.

The Fighting for Females twitter pages also used this cartoon as anti-Hefner evidence…

…while Jessica Valenti basically laughed at Hefner defenders.

A Steve Bannon parody account took the following swipe:

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:

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