Hugh Hefner, Feminist?


Celebrated as a sexual revolutionary, whose magazine broke down American notions surrounding the immorality of sex and the shamefulness of the nude female form, Hugh Hefner could easily be described as a feminist. Yet there was a dark side to his revolution – he ‘liberated’ women only to exploit their sexuality to satisfy male desire.

(Photo Credit: Fred Prouser, Reuters)


As editor of Playboy, Hefner used his platform to campaign for civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and reproductive rights during the ‘50s and ‘60s, when public opinion was still very opposed to these issues. From 1963, the Playboy Forum included readers’ letters discussing abortion rights, and in 1965 the first article supporting legalisation of abortion without restrictions was published. Feminist, right?


Wrong. To me, the idea of Hefner as a feminist is problematic. Just because he supported an aspect of women’s rights, it didn’t mean he wasn’t at the forefront of a patriarchal institution which perpetuated the idea of women as sexual objects.

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In Hefner’s infamous Playboy Mansion, his bunnies were just that: his. They were his status symbols, and if they lived in his mansion (rent free) it was expected that they would engage in group sex with him, according to his former girlfriend and critic Holly Madison. She told Buzzfeed News in 2015, “during the end, I definitely recognised that he was verbally abusive”, and that Hefner treated her as if she was stupid. These are not the actions of a feminist.


Perhaps the most conclusive demonstration of why Hefner was not a feminist comes from the man himself. In an internal memo in 1970, he wrote that, “these chicks [feminists] are our natural enemy … it is time to do battle with them.” Hefner’s sexual revolution was created to benefit himself and men just like him, not to liberate women.