Perhaps is not such exciting news now that we live in an era when 8th graders go to Hooters on a field trip, but a new Playboy Club opened this weekend in Mayfair, London. Hugh Hefner first brought a Playboy Club to London in 1966, but it closed after 15 years. The new Playboy Club in London features “bunnies” ages 19 to 40 who’ll work in either the cocktail lounge or the casino while they wear Playboy’s iconic bunny costumes. And if men’s enthusiasm to visit the Playboy Club in any way rivals women’s enthusiasm to work for it, Hef won’t have to worry: 3,000 women competed for 80 positions to don a Playboy Bunny tail!
Alas, not everyone is so happy about the new Playboy Club.A hundred feminist activists from activist groups Object and UK Feminista intended to protest the opening of the club this weekend, the BBC reported. Their complaints against Playboy Clubs — and possibly what Playboy symbolizes: pornography in general — are almost exact echoes of the past. Activist Anna van Heeswijk from Object sounded very much like ’70s feminist activist Susan Brownmiller (who confronted Hef on the Dick Cavett show about his alleged sexism) when she said dressing like Playboy bunnies “dehumanizes” women. Van Heeswijk told the Beeb:
“The Playboy Club degrades women as fluffy animals who are marketed as sexual playthings for wealthy men. There’s nothing classy and sophisticated about sexualising and objectifying women as bunny rabbits. Hugh Hefner very much put himself forward as trying to create a liberation for men away from the home so the men could be the ultimate playboys and have as many girlfriends as they want and these girlfriends are dehumanised as bunny rabbits.”
Those arguments, though valid points , don’t totally fly with me. For one thing, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business how many girlfriends Hugh Hefner — or anyone else — has. And for another thing, lots of women, including myself, want to be seen as sexual playthings in parts of our lives. But more importantly, I’m not convinced that these feminist activists are making the most eloquent or specific argument here; that a job in which a woman’s looks and being subservient to men is part of the gig should come with protections. Say, protection from sexual harassment. Protection from ageism. Protection from lookism. Fair pay for all. All those things were troublesome in the past; the BBC spoke with Barbara Haigh, 61, who worked for Hef’s old Playboy Club in London 40 years ago, and although she claims to have loved the job, back then it sounded pretty problematic to me:
“We could lose our jobs if we lost our bunny image [emphasis mine]. If a girl had possibly been a bit over-familiar, or wouldn’t groom herself as well as expected, if somebody had put on weight and hadn’t taken the trouble to lose it, these were all sort of conditions of your contract.”
An article in Metro UK also noted that in the ’70s, a “bunny’s” shelf life expired at age 30, at which point they’d become “bunny mothers.” While I understand any job can fire any employee who tarnishes their image, you have to remember that the Playboy bunny image is something very specific: slim but voluptuous, conventionally attractive, made-up, nice, compliant, and servant. The job entails being the very picture of traditional womanhood. I personally don’t care if women want to do that in their private lives for whatever reason. However, I think it’s very wrong for a woman to possibly be fired from her job — to lose her source of income — for not wearing enough makeup, putting on too much weight, or expressing too many opinions. To me, the working conditions at the Playboy Club are what feminists activists should be protesting. It’s probably reasonable to assume many of those same “job requirements” from 1971 will also apply to working in the Playboy Club today, although we don’t yet know exactly what. I hope that as women’s equality has advanced, thanks to feminist activists, things like fair pay and protection from sexual harassment will have found their way into the Playboy Club.
In any case, London’s Playboy Club’s newest bunnies are not yet convinced that their new employment is so bad; one “bunny” called it a “fun” job that lets her “feel like a woman.” I can understand that, but I think much remains to be seen as to how the Playboy Club treats its employees now that the club is opened.
What do you think about Hugh Hefner opening a Playboy Club?