For a lot of people, thoughts about the sexual politics of Playboy run along the lines of what Gloria Steinem reportedly once told Hugh Hefner: “A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.” Hefner’s magazine celebrates men as swinging bachelors and women as objects of desire; ergo, it’s sexist.
Not so fast, says Carrie Pitzulo. With Bachelors and Bunnies, she delves into the history of the magazine to reveal its surprisingly strong record of support for women’s rights and the modernization of sexual and gender roles. Taking readers behind the scenes of Playboy’s heyday, Pitzulo shows how Hefner’s own complicated but thoughtful perspective on modern manhood, sexual liberation, and feminism played into debates—both in the editorial offices and on the magazine’s pages—about how Playboy’s trademark “girl next door” appeal could accommodate, acknowledge, and even honor the changing roles and new aspirations of women in postwar America. Revealing interviews with Hugh Hefner and his daughter (and later Playboy CEO) Christie Hefner, as well as with a number of editors and even Playmates, show that even as the magazine continued to present a romanticized notion of gender difference, it again and again demonstrated a commitment to equality and expanded opportunities for women.
Offering a surprising new take on a twentieth-century icon, Bachelors and Bunnies goes beyond the smoking jacket and the centerfold to uncover an unlikely ally for the feminist cause.
Obscene, libidinous, loathsome, lascivious. Those were just some of the ways critics described the nineteenth-century weeklies that covered and publicized New York City’s extensive sexual underworld. Publications like the Flash and the Whip—distinguished by a captivating brew of lowbrow humor and titillating gossip about prostitutes, theater denizens, and sporting events—were not the sort generally bound in leather for future reference, and despite their popularity with an enthusiastic readership, they quickly receded into almost complete obscurity. Recently, though, two sizable collections of these papers have resurfaced, and in The Flash Press three renowned scholars provide a landmark study of their significance as well as a wide selection of their ribald articles and illustrations.
Including short tales of urban life, editorials on prostitution, and moralizing rants against homosexuality, these selections epitomize a distinct form of urban journalism. Here, in addition to providing a thorough overview of this colorful reportage, its editors, and its audience, the authors examine nineteenth-century ideas of sexuality and freedom that mixed Tom Paine’s republicanism with elements of the Marquis de Sade’s sexual ideology. They also trace the evolution of censorship and obscenity law, showing how a string of legal battles ultimately led to the demise of the flash papers: editors were hauled into court, sentenced to jail for criminal obscenity and libel, and eventually pushed out of business. But not before they forever changed the debate over public sexuality and freedom of expression in America’s most important city.