Hugh Hefner, the pipe-smoking icon who built an organization symbolized by women who wore bow-ties and bunny costumes, died of natural causes at age 91 on Sept. 27, 2017. While most of us recognize the name Hugh Hefner, we may not realize the significance he had throughout his life.

In 1953, Hefner launched his first Playboy magazine with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover, smiling with her arm up. Although she seems overjoyed on the cover, she wasn’t happy with the fact that Hefner had released the picture without her consent. During the 1950’s, the only type of relationship that was considered mainstream was a housewife and a husband who was the bread winner. During this time period, sexual desire for anyone besides one’s spouse was reprimanded. Anything besides heterosexuality and monogamy was looked down upon. With the Playboy magazine, the appetite of American men was revealed. Within one year, circulation reached over 200,000. Within five years, the magazine had a circulation of over 1 million, a forbidden fruit to teenagers and a bible to middle aged men with both time and money.

Graphic by Andrew Xavier

Within years, Hefner had created a Playboy empire. He had opened clubs and mansions, started television shows, and had initiated radical alteration in attitudes toward premarital sex, and the use of obscenities in media. When Hefner had started his line of clubs in 1960, he had made sure that they would be fully integrated, even though Jim Crow segregation was still apparent throughout parts of the United States.

Photo Credit: Luke Ford,

Throughout his career, he had been supportive of marriage equality and abortion. Equality in his mind didn’t mean for all, but rather for his gender. He had spoken about the constraints that marriage put upon men, but never the constraints put upon women. He had sparked several riots, and caused most of the women who had worked for him to speak against him. While some had become models or singers like Deborah Harry and Lauren Hutton, some became feminists and social activists like Gloria Steinem. Steinem had written that Hefner hired poorly educated, overworked, and underpaid women. While Hugh Hefner had begun the revolution for sexuality, he had also unknowingly helped begin the revolution for feminism.

Though mourned and glorified in death, Hefner’s life reflects a checkered history. He had not only began a sexual revolution, but also started the sexualization of younger girls. In 1978, the Playboy magazine featured nude photos of Eva Lonesco, an 11 year old girl. Others have spoken up on his knack for objectifying women and perpetuating the ‘male gaze’ culture on social media. So, the question is, was he the hero who started the sexual revolution and began a new wave of feminism? Or was he the villain who objectified women?

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