I always presumed the bunny behind the playboy bunny was meant to symbolise sexual stamina, as in ‘at it like rabbits’ or the famously virile Duracell Bunny.
Turns out the real reason is kind of icky and further reveals the vintage brand of sexism which for many people defines the late Hugh Hefner much more than his contribution to journalism or his notable civil rights record.
Writing in 1963, Hugh penned the following passage which lays bare his questionable views on women which has been tweeted by journalist Sophie Wilkinson:
The rabbit, the bunny, in America has a sexual meaning, and I chose it because it’s a fresh animal, shy, vivacious, jumping – sexy.
First it smells you, then it escapes, then it comes back, and you feel like caressing it, playing with it.
A girl resembles a bunny. Joyful, joking.
Hugh Hefner loved women, only certain kinds of women, though pic.twitter.com/XYqIv9DEl9
— Sophie WilkINson (@sophwilkinson) September 28, 2017
As if likening a woman to a ‘fresh animal’ didn’t sound weird enough, Hugh continued to explain his rather patronizing preference for ‘simple’ rather than ‘difficult’ women:
Consider the kind of girl that we made popular: the Playmate of the Month.
She is never sophisticated, a girl you cannot really have, she is a young, healthy, simple girl – the girl next door. We are not interested in the mysterious, difficult woman, the femme fatale, who wears elegant underwear, with lace, and she is sad, and somehow mentally filthy.
The Playboy girl has no lace, no underwear, she is naked, well-washed with soap and water and she is happy.
Of course, it would never have occurred to Hef his ‘healthy, simple girls’ would have complicated thoughts beneath their bunny ears.
How uncomfortable would it have made ‘Heff’ to know they too could be regarding and scrutinising him right back.
Hugh offered the sort of fantasy world which only appears glamorous if you squint hard enough.
Despite those enormous iron gates and infantilising 9pm curfews, seedy details of life at the Playboy Mansion have seeped out.
Former models have spoken out about the damp bedrooms with stained sheets, the dinners which tasted like hospital food – all so far removed from the glittering Gatsby-esque wonderland of the public imagination.
These ‘joyful, joking’ girls were also not always what they appeared on the surface.
Former bunny, Holly Madison, spoke about Hugh’s manipulative nature and her own suicidal thoughts while living at the mansion in her eye-opening autobiography, Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny.
Holly wrote about how she found Hugh to be emotionally controlling, as well as how she came to feel trapped at the mansion because of concerns over her perceived limited career opportunities.
Goodbye #Hef Mr Hefner I have so many thoughts, I have no brain n right now to edit I am me because of you You taught me everything important about freedom and respect. Outside of my family You were the most important person in my life. You gave me my life… People tell me all the time That I was your favorite… I'm in such deep shock. But you were old, your back hurt you so much. Last time I saw you You were using a walker. You didn't want me to see. You couldn't hear. You had a piece of paper in your pocket you showed me – with my name Pamela with a heart around it. Now, I'm falling apart. This feeling is so crazy. It's raining in Paris now. I'm by the window. Everything anyone loves about me is because you understood me. Accepted me and encouraged me to be myself. Love like no one else. Live recklessly With unfiltered abandon. You said the magazine was about a girl like me. That I embody the spirit you fantasized about. I was the one. You said. I can hear you say – Be brave. There are no rules. Live your life I'm proud of you. There are no mistakes. And with men – Enjoy … (Your wonderful laugh) You have the world by the tail You are a good girl And you are so loved – You are not crazy. You are wild and free Stay strong, Stay vulnerable. … "It's movie time" You loved my boys … You were always, always there for us. With your love Your crazy wisdom. I will miss your everything. Thank you for making the world a better place. A freeer and sexier place. You were a gentleman charming, elegant, chivalrous And so much fun. Goodbye Hef … Your Pamela ?
As an early champion of women’s reproductive rights, Hugh openly regarded himself to be a feminist.
By celebrating female sexuality way before it was acceptable, many people still view Hugh to be something of a pioneer.
Furthermore, Playboy has included quality writing from notable women writers such as Margaret Attwood and Germaine Greer.
Much like the bunny sign, there’s a lot more to Hef than we all perceive and it’s difficult and complicated to work out.