Gloria Steinem vs. Hugh Hefner, Again. On Eve of Historic HBO Documentary, Feminist Leader Urges Boycott of "Playboy Club" Show
Decades ago, a young reporter named Gloria Steinem made a name for herself going undercover as a Playboy Bunny and writing an expose of how difficult the working conditions were for her fellow bunnies.
Recently, Steinem, now a storied feminist leader, has gone back to that story because of NBC's crown jewel in its fall television lineup, "The Playboy Club." It's a TV show which executives claim will be a "really fun soap opera" about life in the club, during the era now an object of fascination due to "Mad Men."
Steinem said she regards the Emmy Award-winning drama "Mad Men", which is also set in the 1960s as "a net plus, because it shows the world of the early 1960s with some realism."
But 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."
This controversy renews the fallout from her original reporting on life inside the club, which she exposed to a wider audience, an experience she compared to being "hung on a meathook."
In the Reuters story, she noted that "When I was working there and writing the expose, one 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," she said.
Lovely stuff! Can't wait for the "fun soap opera" that explores that procedure.
During the new HBO Documentary "Gloria: In Her Own Words" which premieres on Monday, she has even more to say about the Playboy Club experience.
"It was not a glamorous place," she said. "The training course was at your own expense. It was horrible. There was nothing fun about it," she says during the documentary, adding that the burden of the high heels, the heavy trays, and a "costume so tight it would give a man a cleavage" was exhausting and demoralizing.
Still, only years later, after her feminist awakening, did Steinem realize how important this bit of undercover reporting was, how in fact, as she would later say, "we are all bunnies."
“It was a big career error of gigantic proportions,” she says. “I was just beginning to get serious assignments at Show and Esquire ... and once I did the Bunny piece, the assignments that came in were like, ‘Oh, you could sit in a beauty salon or pretend to be a hooker,’” she says.
“But then feminism sort of arrived and made me understand it was a good thing to do. Because those women had terrible working conditions.”
She added "By now, it's hard to work up any anger about Hefner -- he's a pathetic self-parody. Imagine if I'd made him up -- no one would believe it!”"
Thanks to the lovely and powerful documentary premiering this week, Steinem is having a strong cultural moment, weighing in on pop cultural phenomena like the Kardashians (she's not a fan) and Lady Gaga (she likes her!) as well as the future of feminism, which she believes is up to young women who will ignore her advice and listen to their own.
The documentary, which is an engrossing hour, really gives us a window into far, far more than the sordid iniquities of the Playboy Club.
It's a history, through the lens of one woman's experience, of the "women's movement" of the late 60s through today, and leaves its viewers inspired for the movement going forward, a future which Steinem at 70 remains is so focused upon.
Clips from strikes, protests, and conferences remain absolutely riveting today, and the nasty, public and humiliating attacks on Steinem and other feminist retain their ability to shock.
Meanwhile, the personal insight the lens offers into Steinem's troubled childhood and the confluence between her intimate life and her activism are unexpectedly moving and thought-provoking.
We're left at the end with her reminder that "this is a revolution, not a reform" and with a desire to see more documentaries about pioneering leaders, particularly her speaking partner, the scene stealing Florynce Kennedy.
Watch a clip from the film below, and then watch Steinem's hilarious interview with Stephen Colbert in advance of the film below.