SCANDAL: Iconic Playboy founder Hugh Hefner dies at 91, leaving behind a long legacy of misogyny and abuse.
By Isabel Morehead, Staff Writer
Iconic founder of men’s entertainment magazine Playboy, Hugh Hefner, dies this week at 91. He is hailed by straight men everywhere as an icon and a legendary pioneer of the sexual revolution. Hefner built an empire and lived, by cultural standards, a very successful life. He did what most men wish they could: he made his money off of the objectification of women. This idea, that women only exist to fulfill men’s wants and needs is exactly what Hugh Hefner stood for, what he marketed, what he validated, and what makes him so popular. While many will call him an icon or a legend, all he was was another man who benefited off of misogyny.
On multiple occasions, Hefner used nude pictures of women in his magazine without their knowledge or consent. In 1953, when the first issue of Playboy was launching, Hefner wanted Marilyn Monroe on the cover, as she was very famous at the time. Before Playboy was released and she became famous, Monroe took nude photos in 1949 for $50 because she needed the money, not intending for them to ever be seen. Hefner later found these photos, bought them for $500 and published them in his magazine without her knowledge. Later, Hefner did the exact same thing to Madonna. Madonna also took nude photos for money in 1979 before she was famous; at the peak of Madonna’s career, Hugh found the photos and paid to put them in his magazine without telling her. Aside from these two incidents, Hefner did this again to a close friend of his, the Wheel of Fortune hostess, Vanna White. The day before the issue was released, Hefner told her that her photos would be in the magazine and she would be on the cover; White begged him not to publish them, yet he did it anyways.
Apart from affecting the lives of adult women, Hefner also contributed to the sexualization of young girls, by featuring nude photos of underage child stars Brooke Shields and Eva Ionesco in Playboy. Shields was only ten at the time of her photo shoot, and Ionesco was only eleven. Later, Ionesco sued her mother for allowing her to be in Playboy nude at such a young age. Letting minors pose nude only goes to show that Hefner had absolutely no regard for the well-being of women and only saw them as objects for his arousal and profit. However, this is only a small portion of his indiscretions against women.
Besides damaging the careers of powerful, important women by using them for his monetary gain, Hefner has inflicted lasting emotional and psychological damage on his girlfriends, the Playboy bunnies, and other women. Hugh Hefner let Playboy bunnies live in his mansion with him, which some would see as generous, but it was really just a way for him to control the women and have sex with them whenever he wanted. Holly Madison, a former Playboy bunny and girlfriend of Hefner’s, wrote a memoir in 2015 about her experiences with Hefner and living in the mansion. “Like Beauty locked up in the Beast’s castle, I developed my own brand of Stockholm syndrome, identifying with my captor,” Madison said. She details that she was emotionally abused by Hefner, made to feel like she wasn’t good enough, and even became depressed and suicidal because of his abuse. “[He made me feel] beyond ugly.. maybe I was just the homely girl who was ‘lucky’ enough for Hef to allow into the mansion,” Madison said. She even tried to persuade Hefner for help wanting to see a therapist, but he wouldn’t let her and paid no attention to her mental state. Madison and other bunnies also said that the living conditions in the mansion were horrible: all the women would have to agree to have group sex with Hugh at any time, he would control their meals, and he would force them to wear corsets to keep their figure. These scandalous revelations prove that Hugh Hefner didn’t care about any of these women; he didn’t allow them to live with him for the sake of helping them, but to satisfy his sexual needs.
The problem with successful men like Hefner is that it informs men that it’s not only okay to disrespect and objectify women, but that you can make money doing it. The truly scary thing about Hugh Hefner is not just the horrible things that he’s done, but the fact that people still defend him. No matter how many horrible things are uncovered about him, or how many women come forward saying how they were screwed over, mistreated or disrespected by Hefner, he will always be portrayed as an icon, a hero for secretly misogynistic men who no longer have to be secretive about it. The only thing that Hefner represented is the idea that, no matter how far we come, men’s sexual desires will always come first over the treatment of women. This toxic ideology and the revolution of shamelessly sexist men that it sparked is all that Hefner left this world.