14 Tweets About Hugh Hefner Reflect His Complex Legacy On Women's Sexuality & Civil Rights

by Lani Seelinger

You probably know Hugh Hefner, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 91, as the founder of the Playboy empire and a target of the most famous 20th-century feminists. But did you know that he was also a celebrated civil rights leader? Or an animal lover? Have you considered how he was actually a big part of America's sexual revolution, someone who helped break down the barriers constricting much of society? He was a man of one face — the ultimate playboy — among other faces. Above all, he was a complex figure, and now there are thousands of tweets about Hugh Hefner that reflect his complicated legacy.

Hefner was many things to many people, and those who met him personally have shared their memories of his kindness and warm spirit. And while it's undeniable that Playboy magazine fostered a culture that many felt degraded women, reducing them to their bodies and sex objects, Playboy was also on the very front lines of the culture wars for decades, promoting movements that progressives still embrace like civil rights, sexual freedom, and LGBTQ equality. Hefner welcomed African-Americans into his media empire when others did not, and even contributed funding to the development of the United States' first rape kit.

Basically, this isn't a person whose life and achievements can be summed up in one tweet — and that's why there are so many, coming from so many different angles. Here are just a few of them.

Promoting Sexual Freedom And Reproductive Rights

When it comes to promoting sexual freedom, Hefner himself rather embodies the change that he helped prompt in America. Playboy altered the media landscape and introduced an unprecedented era of sexual freedom. As a lifelong LGBTQ rights advocate, Hefner published articles about AIDS in a scientific fashion and recommending safer sex practices when the national conversation around it was much more homophobic.

Playboy also supported trans rights all the way back in the 1980s, going so far as to publish a photo shoot with transgender model and actress Caroline "Tula" Cossey after she had been outed.

His Objectification Of Women

This South African sports writer sees Hefner as a creepy old philanderer, and he's certainly not alone in that view. Many others pointed out that Hefner's legacy was built on objectifying women.

Supporter Of The Civil Rights Movement

Rev. Jackson picked a different element of his legacy to focus on. The Daily Beast reported that Hefner integrated black artists and models into his magazine and his shows when it was still scandalous to white viewers, and he made significant charitable contributions to civil rights causes for much of his life. Jennifer Jackson, the first black "Playmate of the Month," appeared in that position in 1965 — the height of the civil rights movement.

Capitalism's Darling

This is a novel perspective, but it makes so much sense.

A Tribute To His Character

Many celebrities who had met Hefner echoed this sentiment.

A True Statement

Many of the reactions pouring in show that many men wanted to live Hefner's life — one that romanticized a lifetime of objectifying women.

A Common Joke Today

Hefner lived what he called his own dream — and created a blueprint of a dream for thousands of men.

"His Renowned Ability To Build An Empire On The Objectification Of Women Lives On"

It's impossible to get away from the fact that in building his Playboy empire, he largely profited off of women and their bodies. He apparently labeled himself a feminist — and yet in an interview with Vanity Fair, he once said about women: "They are objects!"

From Another Visionary

Many of the causes that Hefner championed wouldn't become even remotely popular until decades after he initially began publicly supporting them. There are certainly those who say that Hefner's contributions to the civil rights movement have been overblown, but it's undeniable that it was a cause that he was dedicated to for many decades.

From A Writer's Perspective

Reading Playboy for the articles is an age-old joke — but it did have a history of publishing some very impressive writing.

The Playboy Bunny's Perspective

Holly Madison probably won't be out tweeting about Hefner's death, so you can read about her experience in the Playboy Mansion in her interview with BuzzFeed News. According to Madison, Hefner treated her "like she was stupid" and criticized her appearance. He reportedly didn't permit her to wear red lipstick, and said of her short haircut, "You look old, hard, and cheap."

The Accusations Against Him

Reports emerged at various times of the manipulative and destructive practices that were commonplace at various Playboy establishments, be it the New York Playboy Club in the 1960s or Hefner's mansion in the 2000s, when Hefner was accused of being an accessory to sexual assault in part of the Bill Cosby case (The Washington Post reported that he denied those allegations).

Different Tools For Change

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword; Hefner might want to add that the photograph is also pretty mighty, but that axiom definitely applies here.

This One Sums It Up

It's news to no one that humans are flawed, and that you don't have to let one thing define you. In Hugh Hefner's case, it's possible to recognize that he was in many ways a civil rights visionary — and at the same time, someone who objectified women. It's possible, and it's necessary.