Hugh Hefner: Feminist or Chauvinist?

Holly Feeny questions why we glorify misogynistic rich white men as feminist allies.

Since his recent death, Hugh Hefner has been labeled a feminist. Throughout his career, he often talked about wanting to rid society of prudish attitudes towards sex, and how this benefitted women.

Through his work, he claimed to be striving for sexual liberation, and through Playboy, advocated for increased birth control accessibility and the legalisation of abortions in the US. Therefore, many have described him as a feminist ally, suggesting that he did extremely beneficial work for women’s rights.

However, whilst sex positivity and feminism are both great, Hugh Hefner did nothing to benefit either of them. His work building a pornographic empire was, in fact, intrinsically damaging, as the industry is renowned for its exploitation of women for male gain. Through Playboy, many have said that he ‘gave women the right to their own sexuality’. In actuality, all he did with women’s sexuality was take it from them, dress it up in a corset and bunny ears and hand it over to straight men.

‘The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects’. Do these sound like the words of a sex-positive feminist icon to you?

Hefner’s plethora of crimes against women is impressive, really. He used nude photos of Marilyn Monroe and Madonna without their consent, for his own financial gain. He became obsessed with Monroe, describing her as his ‘sweetheart’ and even paying $75,000 to reserve the crypt next to hers. Even in death, he felt entitled to the body of a woman he had never even met.

Worse still, he knowingly published nude photographs of a 10-year-old Brooke Shields, yet was never charged with distribution of child pornography.

This is only a small handful of the acts that Hefner committed against women. Yet, as so many rich white men do, he hid his crimes under the blanket of feminism, which, as an influential figure, was bound to get him attention. And what does attention get him? Money.

Despite the common notion that feminism is a woman’s game, everybody can, and should, be one. The issue isn’t that rich, white men cannot be feminists. It’s that they should not be labeled as feminist allies with little or no research. In this case, if you did a quick google search, you would find that Hugh Hefner was not only anti-feminist, he was exactly the kind of chauvinistic white man that the patriarchy thrives upon.

Do your research! If you want to praise an icon, praise those who really did good under the name of feminism; Maya Angelou, Hugh Franklin, Germaine Greer, Joseph Johnson, Gloria Steinem, Frida Kahlo, Simone De Beauvoir, and many, many more.