When Hugh Hefner, founder and former editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine passed away at the age of 91, celebrities and regular people mourned the loss of an ‘icon’, ‘legend’ and ‘sexual liberator’. On the other hand, some others called out his treatment of women, especially at the Playboy mansion, which was a westernized harem.

Hugh Hefner is rightly remembered for rebelling against right wing moralism before most people, but please don’t forget he treated women like garbage to do it,” tweeted Jessica Valenti, feminist author and columnist. She immediately got called out on ignoring the fact the women who chose to appear on Playboy magazine’s covers and live in his mansion, were acting with complete autonomy. Their consent was taken into accord at every step. And to a great extent, this is true.

Many popular actresses, models and celebrities, from Marilyn Monroe to Kim Kardashian were proud to be featured on the magazine best known for publishing nudes of conventionally attractive women. They had full control and full rights to expose their bodies as they wanted. The undiluted objectification of these women was with their knowledge and permission, so what makes Hefner such a repulsive personality when it comes to women?

The ‘prophet of pop hedonism’, as Time magazine once called Hefner, grew up in a repressive home, where affection and sexuality were looked down upon. He credited his lifestyle to this upbringing, and prided himself on never growing up emotionally. In the moralistic American society of the 1950s, the Playboy magazine celebrated male attraction to female bodies. Hefner soon got the reputation of being the leader of the sexual revolution. Women were eager to be featured in his magazine. They wanted to be ‘bunnies’ at the Playboy restaurant, they wanted to live in the Playboy mansion. Outwardly, it seems like a situation where both parties are consenting.

The Playboy Bunny image reflected Hugh Hefner’s view of the feminine ideal: as non-threatening and empty-headed as a rabbit. Image via Getty Images

Gloria Steinem, the legendary feminist who worked undercover as a ‘bunny’ wrote extensively about the terrible working conditions that these women faced. Holly Madison wrote about her terrible experience as one of the girlfriends at the Playboy mansion in her book. Even as Hefner kept getting older and older, his wives kept getting younger and younger. He became a venerable pop culture icon, in spite of having retained the same lifestyle throughout his life.

As he had promised, The Hef never grew up. His life and actions, according to him, remained the utopian version of his childhood fantasy. In his world, women only exist to please men, and men only exist to be pleased. His magazine may have published interviews of Fidel Castro, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr. and so on in serious articles. But the glue that binds the readers of this magazine together is appreciation of female sexuality. While there is nothing wrong with that, the Playboy world doesn’t include women who are too old, too unattractive, too aggressive, too serious.

The ladies are, of course, perceived to be lucky to be able to enjoy this glorified lifestyle. They have every material possession: what more could these ‘gold diggers’ want? Men are constantly ready to have sex, no matter how mechanical or unwanted it may seem. And Hugh Hefner lived (and died) as the idol all men should aspire to be like: constantly surrounded by a bevy of nubile young women, who know their place in the Playboy utopia: being attractive, being servile to men’s pleasure, and always smiling, no matter how miserable they are.

Also read: Femvertising: How Corporates Co-opt Feminism To Sell Us Things


Featured Image Credit: Holly Madison (left) with Hugh Hefner and Anna Nicole Smith during a Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles via AP.

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