|My daughter, Maelo Manning, protesting outside the new Playboy club in 2011
When the Playboy club reopened in London in 2011 I was adamant that my daughter and I would be there together with other feminists to register our protest. What good is it being a feminist mother if I can’t point to what is the antithesis of feminism? Playboy fulfils the criteria and I know what I am talking about because I was once an admirer of the empire.
When I was growing up in Asian in the 1970s and early 1980s there were two very rich Western men who were constantly in the news. One was Aristotle Onassis and the other was Hugh Hefner. Back then while the Tiger economies were still classed as ‘third world countries’ Asian people lived under the misapprehension that the streets in the West were paved with gold, Not literally, of course.
Onassis and Hefner were the epitome of this gold dream and it is easy to understand why given their trappings of mansions and yachts and an endless stream of beautiful women partying with them.
Hefner, for some reason, had an edge and was even more of a household name and an icon of the supposed ‘self-made man’ in a continent where, ironically, Playboy was banned. There was a good under the counter trade though in very old copies of the magazine.
Fast forward and I realised the falseness of it all when I read Gloria Steinem’s account of her time working undercover as a Playboy bunny. The whole empire was built on the backs of women exploited as ‘bunnies’. There was nothing liberating about dressing up in a sort of swimsuit with a bunny tail attached to it. Tosh, pure tosh.
Hefner knew how to play the game by appearing to support the women’s liberation movement. He funded birth control campaigns and said that: “I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism”. Being a feminist involves far more than taking responsibility for your reproductive rights. It also involves the non-exploitation of women. There are numerous stories of the Playboy bunnies being kept virtually as prisoners in the Playboy mansion. Hefner set unreasonable rules for them to live by and, in this way, ensured that he had them captive emotionally too.
My primary motive for taking my daughter to the protest that day was to show her that misogyny sometimes comes dressed up in luxury, at an expensive address and with a lot of Razzmatazz. It doesn’t always at first glance look crass and ugly but scratch the surface and you will see a certain amount of cheap brass instead.