By Karen Wojcik Berner
Not too long ago, I settled in to watch some television. It had been a long day, and I was looking forward to relaxing. A commercial flashed across the screen.
“The Playboy Club. Coming this fall.”
What? I rewound, certain this could not be true. As if Mad Men was not enough of a flashback to a time when women were second-class citizens in the workplace, now NBC plans on airing this. I thought we had moved past this as a society. Apparently not.
I went to a Playboy resort once, an obvious parenting error by my mother and father who had wanted to see a comedian playing there and were told “It’s not that bad” by a misguided friend regarding the appropriateness of bringing their daughter. I was in junior high at the time.
“Not that bad” resulted in me sitting uncomfortably, unsure where to look, in a lounge decorated with backlit translucent photos of centerfolds in various stages of undress, while the adults engaged in conversation. From the nearby men’s leering looks as the bunnies placed drinks on their tables, to those stupid puffy tails, I remember wondering, “Why are they doing this?” Didn’t they know there were other places to waitress?
It infuriated me. I wanted to march up to all of those women out of there and find them real jobs, jobs in which they could use their brains and do some good for society. The familiar women’s rights cry of “Brains not looks” had been etched into my young psyche. Even my fifth grade math teacher knew it, as I forged a quest to beat every boy in the class at chess after his remark about women not being able to play a man’s game. Eventually, he realized the error of his ways. On Valentine’s Day, he gave me a card inscribed, “To My Women’s Libber.”
Gloria Steinem famously went undercover in the Playboy Club to write an exposé on the women’s terrible working conditions. In “I Was a Playboy Bunny,” Steinem discussed her month-long experience stuck “in a costume so tight, it would give a man cleavage,” being paid well under what the 1963 advertisements had promised.
This new show’s trailer works hard to portray the bunnies as symbols of female empowerment. “I make more money than my father,” one young woman proudly boasts. It would like us to believe the bunnies were having a great time being a part of the glamorous party that happened every night there.
The reality is that those women endured terrible conditions to create the ultimate male fantasy world. They were subjected to internal exams and Wassermann tests for venereal diseases after they were told it was a state requirement for all waitresses, which it definitely was not. The club manager would weigh each bunny before every shift. They were not allowed to gain or lose more than one pound.
The hat check bunnies were paid only $12 dollars for eight hours of work, according to Steinem’s article, a far cry from the $200 to $300 per day figure used to lure women into working there. Another article hinted at the waitresses only receiving fifty percent of their tips.
As a membership perk, the top key holders, the ones who paid the most money, were the only men allowed to date a bunny, should the circumstances arise. The women were not allowed to date whom they wanted, but it was okay as long as the guy paid the Playboy corporation.
Night after night, they had to walk around in high heels and a ridiculous costume, being salaciously stared at, like pieces of meat. I can only imagine the remarks that were thrown their way from the patrons.
The Playboy Clubs were classic examples of the objectification of women for which the company is so famous. Playboy would have us believe women are not human beings with our own goals, needs and opinions. That we exist only to serve and pleasure men.
That is not a mindset I care to relive. How about you?
Karen Wojcik Berner is the author of A Whisper to a Scream, the first novel in the Bibliophiles series about the lives of the members of a suburban classics book club. It is available through amazon.com in paperback and e-versions, as well as for Nook e-readers.
She has been a writer/editor for twenty-five years, ten of which were spent in editing trade publications. A two-time Folio Magazine Ozzie Award for Excellence in Magazine Editorial and Design winner, her work has appeared in countless newspapers and magazines.
To learn more about Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com. Also check her out here: