Hugh Hefner is considered a hero by many people but his particular lifestyle has also led to strong criticism regarding women’s role in society. The legendary Playboy founder passed away on Wednesday from natural causes at The Playboy Mansion. The 91-year-old man is survived by his wife Crystal Harris and four children.

He had countless girlfriends, was married to three women, and admitted he had slept with thousands of girls. Hefner always told the media that he considered Playboy a platform to encourage sexuality in a healthy, beautiful way.

A young Hugh Hefner. Image credit: Associated Press
A young Hugh Hefner. Image credit: Associated Press

The founder of the Playboy empire said in a 1974 issue of the magazine that unhealthy sexual expression occurred in private because people refused to support healthy sexual expression in public, according to a CNN report.

“If you attempt to suppress sex in books, magazines, movies and even everyday conversation, you aren’t helping to make sex more private, just more hidden. You’re keeping sex in the dark. What we’ve tried to do is turn on the lights,” he wrote at a time when sex was a taboo in most countries.

Sexual freedom was an issue Hefner always defended. As someone who had the chance to sleep with all the women he wanted throughout his life, one might think that this freedom he encouraged so much was only for men to enjoy. However, he actually used Playboy as an instrument to fight for women rights.

Hefner thought both men and women are sexual objects

The magazine, which made up for $100,000 of Hefner’s monthly earnings, came out in favor of abortion eight years before Roe v. Wade gave women the right to choose, as reported by Broadly. As controversial as he was, the former owner of the Playboy brand also supported rape crisis centers, the American Civil Liberties and the Kinsey Institute through a nonprofit organization he established to protect women.

In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2010, he admitted that he considered women sexual objects but suggested that men were sex objects too as he explained that humanity could only exist thanks to the attraction between both sexes. He added that it was the reason why girls wore lipstick and short skirts.

He repeated that women were objects during a conversation with John Heilpern at the Playboy Mansion, according to People magazine. He also mentioned that feminists still criticized him for treating women like objects but he continued to think it was the right thing to do.

Hefner used to say his intentions with the Playboy brand were focused on encouraging women to embrace their own sexuality instead of hiding their natural desires by acting as if they were ashamed of them. In an interview with NPR in 2003, he said that the female beauty was an essential part of the brand because it had to be appreciated as a natural part of life.

A different perspective about a man who lived surrounded by women

While many celebrities have expressed admiration for everything Hugh Hefner did to empower and protect women, former Playmates, and feminist researchers claim he actually interrupted their fight for freedom. They have accused him of using the bodies of young women to build his fortune.

Holly Madison and Hugh Hefner. Image credit: Vanitatis
Holly Madison once said she considered suicide after dating Hugh Hefner. Image credit: Vanitatis

Holly Madison, who is considered one of Hefner’s most famous girlfriends, ended the relationship with the octogenarian and in 2015 published a book in which she describes the restricted rules girls had to follow at the Playboy Mansion. Madison, whose fame increased on the E! show “The Girls Next Door”, revealed that Hefner’s girlfriends were forced to take part in sex rituals.

Most Playboy clubs were shut down by the 1990s after feminist icon Gloria Steinem revealed in 1963 the harsh working conditions. According to her investigation, women often had to accept unwanted sexual contact from guests, were underpaid and overworked.

Dr. Thekla Morgenroth, a researcher of gender stereotypes at the University of Exeter, claims that Hefner rejected “prudish norms of the 1950s” but at the same time showed women as sexual objects exclusively dedicated to providing pleasure to men, according to a report by BBC News.

In other words, she thinks Hefner helped destroy negative stereotypes and replaced them with new ones. Moreover, the researcher believes the Playboy brand showcases women as “accessories and status symbols” instead of as men’s equal partners.

The empire of the blonde bunnies will continue to showcase Hefner’s legacy. His son Cooper, the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, released a statement to honor his father’s impact on the way the society perceived sexuality. The 26-year-old heir said his dad defined a lifestyle that remains the essence of the Playboy brand.

“My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom”, Cooper wrote.

Source: BBC News