Gloria Steinem’s identify is synonymous with feminism. On high of being a political activist, she helped create New York and Ms. magazines and is the co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Free to Be Foundation, Women’s Media Center and Ladies’s Motion Alliance. Steinem has lengthy been an outspoken voice for ladies, with well-known quotes like, “The reality will set you free, however first it should piss you off,” which was additionally the title of her 2019 book.
However early in her profession, she did the antithesis of what any feminist would do: She stripped down and have become a Playboy Bunny.
Nonetheless, in true Steinem model, it was all within the identify of robust journalism with an important message. She went undercover for Show magazine to show what it was actually wish to work at New York Metropolis’s famed Playboy Membership at 5 East 59th Avenue. (The unique closed in 1986, and a relaunch solely lasted from 2018 to 2019).
What she found was a world of stuffed bosoms, low pay and (extraordinarily) excessive heels, which she documented in a two-part diary-format story that ran in Present’s May 1963 and June 1963 points, as a narrative known as “A Bunny’s Story.”
Steinem adopted a faux identification for the story
Responding to an advert on the lookout for ladies who had been “fairly and personable, between 21 and 24,” she headed to the gaudy venue throughout an open utility session, with the required “swimsuit or leotard” in hand.
Taking up the identify of Marie Catherine Ochs, Steinem created a brand new identification, shedding years off her precise age, and making a resume stuffed with waitressing in London and dealing as a dancer-hostess in Paris. “She shares my residence, my cellphone and my measurements,” Steinem wrote within the story. “Although youthful than I by 4 years, Marie celebrates the identical birthday and went to the identical highschool and school. However she wasn’t a slave to teachers — not Marie.”
The objectification began the second she walked into the constructing when a guard beckoned her with, “Right here bunny, bunny, bunny,” and the job interviewer insisting — greater than as soon as — that she “take off her coat.”
She was scolded for her age and compelled to stuff her costume for further cleavage
Steinem documented each step of the shallow scrutiny she was put by through the utility course of, which began together with her being informed that her faux age of 24 was “awfully outdated” (she was really 28 on the time).
All through the rounds, she was surrounded by ladies “sporting nothing however bikini-style panties” and “lavender satin excessive heels,” compelled to attend hours and have Polaroids taken. Ultimately, she made it right into a vibrant satin blue Bunny costume. “It was so tight that the zipper caught my pores and skin as she mounted the again,” Steinem wrote. “She informed me to inhale as she zipped once more, this time with out mishap and stood again to have a look at me critically. The underside was reduce up so excessive that it left my hip bone uncovered in addition to 5 inches of my untanned derriere.”
And that wasn’t it. “The boning within the waist would have made Scarlett O’Hara blanch, and all the development tended to push all obtainable flesh as much as the bosom.”
Whereas she settled into the newfound curves of her physique, the wardrobe mistress stuffed plastic dry cleansing baggage into the highest of the costume for further cleavage. Ultimately, she discovered that different widespread gadgets used to stuff included: Kleenex, foam rubber, lamb’s wool, gymnasium socks, silk scarves, Kotex halves and, in fact, cut-up Bunny tails.
Apparently, Steinem match the bunny mildew and no precise interviews had been wanted. She match the look and was employed. “Hippety-hop, I’m a Bunny!” she quipped.
Steinem needed to undergo ‘Bunny Coaching’
Whereas some formalities had been nonetheless being labored out (like with the ability to produce a duplicate of a start certificates and social safety quantity card belonging to “Marie” — which she was in a position to efficiently stall), she needed to endure a medical examination that included an “inside bodily.” When she inquired why, she was informed, “It’s free and it’s for everyone’s good.”
“It appeared I had spent a great deal of time these days both taking off garments, ready or each,” she stated of her appointment, which needed to be with the Playboy-sanctioned physician. She additionally needed to get a chest X-ray on the Division of Well being.
With the bodily checked off, she entered Bunny Coaching, which included make-up steering in addition to Bunny Bible examine, Bunny Mom Lecture, Bunny Father Lecture, Bunny College, flooring coaching and a written take a look at (which she purposefully botched to make it look extra genuine and nonetheless scored the best in her class).
She was in a position to entry a number of the largest secrets and techniques of the Playboy world
Totally strapped into her Bunny gear, Steinem was in a position to infiltrate the interior world in a means nobody had ever seen. She rapidly discovered that behind the joyful look (“Bunnies should at all times seem homosexual and cheerful”) was a system of worry with fixed threats of being docked demerits and being uncovered by secret consumers of kinds. A Bunny’s pay was additionally nowhere close to the promised $200 to $300 every week, which might be about $1,700 to $2,600 immediately.
The monetary value of being a Bunny was stunning from the beginning. They had been chargeable for shopping for their very own heels, which needed to be not less than three inches, needed to pay $2.50 a day (about $21 immediately, adjusted for inflation) for his or her costume’s maintenance and $5 a pair for nylons that needed to be disposed of as quickly as they’d a run in them.
The one cause they had been paid $50 every week (about $430) was due to New York Metropolis’s minimal wage legal guidelines on the time — and far of their suggestions had been taken away. “The Membership takes 50 % of the primary $30 value of these which might be charged, 25 % of quantities as much as $60 and 5 % after that,” for drink orders. “We could preserve all money suggestions which might be given to us in case, but when we point out any desire for money suggestions, we might be fired,” she wrote in her article for Present. And sure roles, like working hat examine, didn’t get suggestions in any respect.
Because of these guidelines, cash was usually stolen from private lockers and busboys would make preparations with Bunnies to snag and break up further money.
Steinem was in a position to keep undercover for a month
The low pay heightened the humiliation of being gawked at by males who would supply their resort room keys or money within the midst of their alcohol-fueled outings. However it doesn’t matter what occurred, the Bunnies needed to keep on with the strictly scripted traces and strikes. There was the Bunny Stance, “a mannequin’s pose with one hip jutted out,” and the Bunny Dip, a “back-leaning means of inserting drinks on low tables with out falling out of our costumes.” (“I felt like an fool,” she wrote when she put the Dip into motion.)
Steinem additionally needed to spend numerous hours trapped within the uncomfortable uniform. “My toes had been nonetheless so swollen from the night time earlier than that I may barely get my regulation three-inch heels on, and I had gauze wrapped round my center the place the costume had dug in,” she wrote. Even in her transient employment, she went to a chiropodist who labored on “all of the Copa ladies,” who informed her, “In a job like that, your toes are certain to get just a few sizes larger.”
Whereas Steinem continually feared getting caught for not having correct documentation — or for being noticed by individuals she knew — she survived a few month as a Bunny undetected.
Her two-part story was so nicely obtained that it was seen as part of a revolution — each as a first-person account by a journalist, in addition to a commentary for the way Hugh Hefner’s empire appeared from the underside up. The story was tailored right into a TV film in 1985, with Kirstie Alley within the title function, and Steinem herself has republished the piece beneath the identify, “I Was a Playboy Bunny.”
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