In the 1970s tradition wars, it was Hugh Hefner v feminism | Samira Ahmed | Opinion


Once upon a time, within the 1950s, straight boys aspired to develop as much as be loyal, married males and fathers. The actual cultural legacy of Hugh Hefner is how he changed that best with that of the everlasting bachelor. The bachelor makes use of his wage to not assist a spouse and household, however on a client life-style of tremendous meals, fancy toys and compliant, well-groomed, non-“frigid” contraceptive-pill-popping playmates.

In the literary pages of Playboy, which bought 7.2m copies at its 1972 peak, you would learn Ian Fleming’s quick tales about James Bond – the British cinematic poster boy for the Playboy model. On display we watched Hefner-surrogate 007 age together with his dress-unzipping toys, till, embarrassed at his wrinkled, toupeed shenanigans, he was ultimately reincarnated time and again in a youthful physique. As for its claims of social progress: the journal may need interviewed Malcolm X – however the place have been all of the black playmates?

The everlasting Playboy bachelor fantasy endures in new types: the 90s lad, the center youth-er nonetheless not prepared for fatherhood in his 30s. Just as Playboy constructed a client empire because of the happenstance of the tablet, so reproductive expertise has continued to monetise its mannequin of male freedom. The big rise in egg freezing, IVF in a single’s late 30s as girls await males their very own age to develop up.

“When the sexual revolution happened, none of those women looked liked playboy bunnies. They looked like hippy chicks.”

But whereas firms fortunately embraced Hefner’s consumerist imaginative and prescient, the actual sexual liberation motion was taking place elsewhere, amongst feminists and inside the counterculture, which experimented with communes, shared little one rearing and househusbands. “When the sexual revolution happened, none of those women looked liked playboy bunnies. They looked like hippy chicks,” says journalist Michael Carlson, who was a Connecticut teenager within the 60s.

By the 70s, these 2 rival fashions of recent manhood have been battling it out on Hollywood casting rosters: Clint Eastwood, James Caan, Burt Reynolds – all wild furry chests and automotive chases with runaway brides. Young girls had extra intriguing and generally androgynous pinups like David Cassidy and David Bowie. By 1979, as Nasa started recruiting girls and folks of color for its Space Shuttle astronaut programme, the TV collection Battlestar Galactica inadvertently put the playboy and the brand new man up in opposition to one another: the feminist Captain Apollo skilled feminine pilots whereas falling for Jane Seymour’s working single mom, versus Starbuck, his womanising, cigar-smoking buddy.

Former bunny girl Carol Cleveland in Monty Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different, 1971.

Former bunny lady Carol Cleveland in Monty Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different, 1971. Photograph: Allstar Collection/Sportsphoto Ltd.

Normalisation of porn tradition wasn’t nearly magazines and movies. It was occurring in how adults have been inspired to consider “classy” leisure. The 60s and 70s Playboy golf equipment have been considered a complicated however accessible locations, the place unadventurous middle-class individuals might get a superb steak and play the roulette desk. Thousands of wives, comparable to my mom, went dutifully together with their husbands for these meals that cemented enterprise offers, with shoppers served by a lot youthful girls, half-undressed as attractive rabbits.

As Carlson notes: “Playboy clubs were not like sleazy nightclubs in film noir movies. They weren’t threatening in that sense.” They have been aspirational. My mom remembers: “It was considered a very posh, modern thing to do. The men wanted to see the bunny girls. I was shocked at how young the girls were in those horrible outfits and stiletto heels. Me and my friends used to sit and feel sorry for them and say: ‘Look what they have to do.’”

Three girls who labored as bunny women piloted fascinating cultural journeys by the a long time: Debbie Harry fortunately used her sexiness, which some on the 1970s New York punk scene despised. Gloria Steinem was reporting undercover as a future chief of the mainstream feminist motion, which campaigned on all the sensible points that helped carry larger equality – elections, abortion rights and equal pay. Carol Cleveland went on to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which, like a lot “revolutionary” TV comedy, featured girls in bikinis and sexually aggressive humour.

There have been some intriguing makes an attempt to duplicate the Playboy mannequin for ladies, although not, it must be famous, by Hefner. He sued Playgirl journal, which lastly died in print in 2008 as its content material ended up centered on a homosexual male market. Cosmopolitan’s well-known nude centrefolds are an actual 70s curio now. How applicable that Burt Reynolds was the primary in 1972, and the way attention-grabbing that he lately stated he regrets it.

By the 00s, the bunny emblem was being licensed for youngsters’s stationery and clothes; apparently briefly cool with younger women too younger to know its bizarre historical past. And schoolgirls led protests in opposition to it till ultimately even WH Smith dropped the merchandise. So Playboy grew outdated, with its founder outlined, as Carlson factors out, by his reliance on 2 drugs at both finish of his mansion life: the contraceptive tablet and Viagra. It bought a picture of western masculinity that most likely nonetheless appears cool in repressed patriarchal societies elsewhere on the earth.

As if that wasn’t sufficient, Hefner additionally ruined the sophistication of the gentleman’s silk dressing robe. The factor about Playboy is it did the patriarchy’s work, however ultimately it even managed to make patriarchy look sleazy.

Samira Ahmed is the presenter of Newswatch on the BBC News channel and Front Row on Radio 4

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