Gloria Steinem Urges Boycott Of “The Playboy Club”

I, for one, am excited about “The Playboy Club,” NBC’s new fall show that sounds like a bonus dose of the sex, drugs and cultural upheaval we’ve come to love from “Mad Men.” (Come back soon, pretty please?) But other ladies are less than thrilled, such as the inimitable Gloria Steinem, the feminist icon/all-around badass who went undercover as a waitress/Bunny at the Playboy Club in 1963 for an exposé in Show magazine. In an interview with Reuters to promote a new documentary about her life, the 77-year-old huffed and puffed, “Clearly ‘The Playboy Club’ is not going to be accurate. It was the tackiest place on earth. It was not glamorous at all.” I take her word for this: her exposé revealed many things to the public about the so-called harmless fun of Playboy Club culture, including how all the waitresses were required to have a pelvic exam and a test for STDs. Let me repeat that: waitresses had to get tested for STDs. “[O]ne of the things they had to change because of my expose was that they required all the Bunnies, who were just waitresses, to have an internal exam and a test for venereal disease,” Steinem said, no doubt with pride. She continued to praise “Mad Men” as “a net plus [for pop culture], because it shows the world of the early 1960s with some realism.” However, she added, “I expect that ‘The Playboy Club’ will be a net minus and I hope people boycott it. It’s just not telling the truth about the era.” My sense is that the Playboy brand and Hugh Hefner will make a fuss if the Playboy Club or its owners or Bunnies in the show are portrayed in any negative light at all. They surely want to focus on the way Playboy is presented in the mostly-positive documentary “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel,” which shows the fight for pornography as a First Amendment victory and brings attention to Hef’s longtime support of civil rights and gay rights. I get it. But I really wish the creators and actresses would stop spouting off this annoying PR-speak in every interview about how “empowering” working at the Playboy Club could be.

Here is executive producer Chad Hodge in The Hollywood Reporter speaking to reporters earlier this month:

“This show is all about empowering these women to be whatever they want to be.”

And here’s actress Amber Heard, the show’s star, also in the Reporter adding:

“There are many women who went on to do things, have careers, become entrepreneurs. There are women who have talked to us about their experience. I have yet to meet an ex-Bunny who is disgruntled about her experience. I have talked to many women who look back fondly and are thankful for that experience.”

And here’s cast member Naturi Naughton, also in the Reporter:

“These women were using so much more than [their bodies]. It’s empowering, because these girls were smart, they’re going to school, they’re buying homes, property – things that show what women couldn’t do at the time, using resources and relying on themselves.”

Is there an element of truth to everything these people are saying? Sure. I am not morally opposed to sex work and I don’t doubt that working as a sexy waitress (or sexy waitress/prostitute, as Steinem’s quote about STDs seemed to be implying) was a mostly-good experience for some women. But cool it with the “empowerment” line, OK? Obviously Playboy Clubs privileged physically attractive, skinny, able-bodied (as opposed to disabled) women and there’s nothing very progressive about that at all. One could also argue that working with a cotton tail attached to your bum is degrading and that the job exploited women in financially desperate situations. Those are the nuances “The Playboy Club” TV show should be exploring. To paraphrase Judge Judy, don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s “empowerment.” I mean, really.

So yes, I completely agree with Gloria Steinem that it’s problematic that “The Playboy Club” is obviously riding on “Mad Men”‘s very realistic coattails as a period piece about an exciting time in history. The show’s trailer in this case, though, suggests a rosier picture of events than what actually happened. The previews depict a glamorous fantasy — instead of, as Steinem said, sometimes quite seedy.

Yet, despite sharing her skepticism, I won’t be going so far as to boycott “The Playboy Club.” In fact, I’m kind of excited to watch it, see what’s portrayed realistically and what’s not, and gossip about it with all my friends and co-workers. My hope is that if the show’s writers and creators know viewers like me want “The Playboy Club” to be more “Mad Men” than “That ’70s Show” — i.e. historically accurate — they will take care to present it with nuance instead of blind, bouncing-boobed endorsement.

Alas, similar to “That ’70s Show” when it first came out, I suspect many viewers will find nothing realistic about it but the clothing. Excuse me, the bunny tails.

[Yahoo News]
[The Hollywood Reporter]
[Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel]

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