It seems, my friends, we have come to an interesting end of an era in these past few months. With recent books by Playboy celebrities Izabella St. James and Holly Madison taking people “behind the scenes” at the Playboy Mansion, a very grim light has been shone on what used to be the glorious Playboy empire. Once an instigator of the Sexual Revolution and the Feminist Movement, even what the company was known for—nude centerfolds—have been removed from the magazine as pornography has become so readily available through the Internet.
Although I never read one, I often was curious about the infamous “girlie” magazine growing up. In particular, the Playboy Bunnies themselves with their corset-like swimsuits and sky-high heels seemed so glamorous. From the first day they appeared, though, they were viewed as oppressed female slaves under the control of men just using them as sex objects. In reality, this was not the case. They were smart, regular-looking women from all different ethnicities and backgrounds; willingly and happily working hard through school and raising children.
To add to the mythos, most people have assumed that the Bunnies posed nude too, but that wasn’t always true either. Some did, and became Playmate Bunnies. Most Bunnies did not. Likewise, there have been many women who have posed for Playboy and are Playmates, but never worked in the clubs as Bunnies. Therefore, they are definitely NOT Playboy Bunnies. (Izabella St. James and Holly Madison fall under this category, and it irks me that they call themselves Playboy Bunnies. That’s just my beef, but many REAL Bunnies also feel that when they see women being called Playboy Bunnies who clearly are not.)
In 1998, a former Bunny from the New York City Playboy Club, Kathryn Leigh Scott, published a book highlighting interviews she had with over 250 women who, like herself, had worn the cuffs and collars all over the world. During her time with Playboy, she also worked with feminist journalist Gloria Steinem when she lied to get a job at the club, and published her “expose” in Show magazine. Kathryn and many others did not share Gloria’s experience, and still felt a sense of betrayal and resentment for being lied to and treated with contempt by the journalist when they met her years later as success stories themselves. With that, Kathryn took it upon herself to reveal the truth about what it was like to be a Playboy Bunny, and published her book with Hugh Hefner’s blessing as The Bunny Years: The Surprising Inside Story of the Playboy Clubs: The Women Who Worked As Bunnies, and Where They Are Now.
Back in 2011, a new drama called The Playboy Club premiered on NBC. I was so disappointed when the show was cancelled after three episodes, but having now read Kathryn’s book, I completely understand why. It was competing against shows like Mad Men and Pan Am, but it was also inaccurate. Many former Bunnies confirmed this and spoke up about it at the time. In the first episode, a Bunny accidentally kills the leader of a crime family after he follows her into a back room and attempts to assault her. Hugh was adamant about protecting the ladies, and this would have never happened in real life. If the Keyholders caused trouble, Management supported the ladies 100% and kicked those customers out. Plus, security was so tight that there was no way that an unauthorized person could have gotten into a room like that. That was just one example of the environment the Playboy Clubs offered their servers back then, along with flexible work schedules, incentive programs, transfers to exotic locations, and tuition assistance. Women who would become great doctors, lawyers, real estate tycoons, business owners, scientists, computer specialists, managers, actresses, performers, and mothers were given what they needed to support themselves and their families—as long as they were willing to work hard for it. How many jobs in our modern, liberated era would even provide us with half those things?
When I think about the Bunny Era, I cannot help but feel a deep connection with the women who donned those ears. Though risqué in their time, they were pioneering on a new frontier, and making among the top 2-5% of women their age. They fought for women’s rights in the workplace, and showed us that they were more than just sexy cocktail waitresses. They inspire me to keep fighting for my dreams and work hard in a world that glorifies whining and laziness, and to remember that beauty and brains need not be exclusive of each other.
Always with love,
The Canuck Pin-up
P.S. Kathryn’s book is available through Amazon.ca, and may be available at your local used bookstore or library. For a wonderful article by fellow blogger Michael D’Alimonte, and pictures from the Montreal Playboy Club, please check out this link.