Death of A (Sex) Salesman

Stop giving Hugh Hefner credit where credit is not due

Illustrator: Kate Doyle

A brief disclaimer: my intention here is certainly not to pile more undeserved attention onto the late Hugh Hefner. However, if I see one more article attempting to paint the affectionately nicknamed “Hef” as some kindly but mischievous grandpa who “just didn’t want to grow up,” I am going to absolutely vomit. It’s no secret that the media is prone to whitewashing the less… savory details of deceased celebrities’ lives, but they’re really taking it to a new level with Hugh Hefner. Among alleged “progressive” qualities cited in attempts to venerate Hugh Hefner in death are his support of gay marriage, his fights for abortion and contraceptive rights, his occasional publishing of female authors in “Playboy,” his frequent donations to the DFL, and, above all, the (in my opinion, ludicrous) assertion that Hefner not only contributed to but actually sparked a movement towards women’s sexual liberation. A “Fortune Magazine” sub-headline states, verbatim, that “Hefner helped usher in the 1960s sexual revolution with his groundbreaking men’s magazine.” Um, excuse me?

Are we talking about the Hugh Hefner who sold female sexuality as a product? The man who pitted women against each other based on their superficial appearances? Who was accused of rape, assault, and abuse? Who, if iconic playmate Holly Madison is to be believed, drugged women on quaaludes to get them to “open their legs?” The very same Hugh Hefner who allegedly attempted to force Dorothy Stratten to perform acts of bestiality? Something’s wrong with this picture.

We can’t let the urge to speak well of the dead blind us to the wickedness of the living. Hugh Hefner was a shrewd and successful businessman who made and spent his fortune objectifying and exploiting women. He wasn’t some harmless, dirty old man. He was a sexist millionaire who sold nudes and abused women. The last thing I want to make clear: Hugh Hefner didn’t start the sexual revolution, he exploited it for profit. “Hef” did not magically sexually liberate western women with his pornographic magazine—we did that ourselves, and our work isn’t done yet. Equality can’t be achieved by a billionaire in a velvet robe; it’s a collaborative effort, and one that I don’t believe the man in the robe had any desire to contribute to.