Thursday, 5 October 2017

Women dressed as rabbits

Hugh Hefner died (apparently he was still alive until last week).

I didn’t know much about Hugh Hefner. I don’t usually condone ignorance, but in this case I think it was probably better that way.

My preconception of Hefner was that he was an old rich bloke who founded Playboy in all its forms, paid women to dress as rabbits, and had a lot of sex with nubile young blond women, who presumably slept with him because he had a lot of money. There was a Playboy Mansion, which presumably was a big ole house built on the proceeds of said rabbits, in which Heffner could cavort with his girls in peace and harmony.

Since Hefner passed on to the warren in the sky, the newspapers have been full of bunny tales.

Hugh Hefner in 1966
Photo by ABC Television via Wikimedia Commons

Bunnies then

There was an interview with an ex 1970s Bunny Girl on the Today programme. She’d been working at a petrol station before she became a bunny girl. Then all of a sudden she was earning shedloads of dosh, just for smiling (all you had to do was smile she said, a number of times).

You didn’t have to have a certain type of body, she said. But you did have to have nice hair. And skin. And teeth. Oh, well that’s OK then. It didn’t matter if you didn’t have tits (just so long as you weren’t spotty).

Bunnies now

More recent accounts have painted the Playboy Mansion as more like a "prison" than a palace. Women living there got plenty of money to spend on clothes (you probably don’t get that in prison), but in return they have to observe a 9pm curfew, do Hefner’s bidding in the bedroom and watch 1950s films at his compulsory movie nights (I think I’d quite enjoy that bit). So not actually like a prison. 

I like nice clothes as much as the next girl, but I wouldn’t trade my freedom for them. I don’t really get this. I mean, I wouldn’t sleep with someone for money or power, it just doesn’t float my boat, but if that’s what you want to do, then, OK. But if you’re not really gaining from the whole thing, and you have to live in a ‘mansion’ that, according to some accounts is full of holes and covered in dog poo, then why bother? By all accounts, the women weren’t really imprisoned – they could walk away any time.

Photo by Darkain Multimedia, a member of Cosplay Photographers, via Flickr Creative Commons

Hefner gave women fame and fortune in return for demeaning themselves by dressing up as rabbits. It wasn't what you'd call a dignified outfit. They wore fluffy ears and swimsuits, not forgetting the fluffy little tail on their bottoms. You wouldn't see men demeaning themselves by doing something like that, unless it was a comedy fancy dress stunt. But Hefner's bunny girls were serious. 

A lover and a jailer

Hefner is a controversial figure. On the one hand, he's painted as a hero – lover and liberator of women, giving them sexual and economic freedom. On the other hand, a misogynist who imprisoned pretty girls. But it’s the power relationship that swings it for me. As a rich (white) man, Hefner wielded a huge amount of power. His women chose voluntarily to submit to that power in order to reap rewards. But as women they had to submit if they wanted those things. The Playboy Mansion was the age-old story of a powerful man exerting sexual and economic power over his females.

These women were free to choose, but they their culture taught them that submitting to male power was an acceptable way of getting rewards. And so they did. In return, Hefner got them to cavort about dressed as rabbits, and then he gave them money for pretty clothes. 

Since the beginning of time women have traded their appearances. Sometimes it's called prostitution. Sometimes it's called marrying for money. Sometimes it's called sleeping your way to the top. And other things. It would be nice to imagine a world where women didn't have to trade on their figures and faces, but it's a pipe dream. 

The rot at the heart of the Playboy Mansion wasn’t of Hefner’s making, or his many women, although they all exploited it. It’s from the basic assumption that men can have money and power and women can supply prettiness and sex. But not the other way around. Men just don't dress as bunnies. 

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