WHAT DO MEN & WOMEN WANT?
by Melodie Johnson Howe
This fall NBC is bringing back The Playboy Club (ergo young sexy Playboy Bunnies) in a new series. Another channel is bringing back the now defunct airline Pan Am (ergo the young, sexy, “come fly with me” stewardesses of the sixties) in a series. What do these two TV shows have in common? Obviously the sixties, a decade long gone. But beyond the time warp there is a yearning or an old dream of how women used to be or imagined to be. Or maybe not.
According Caitlin Flanagan in The Wall Street Journal the opening of The Playboy Club pilot episode has a bunny driving her stiletto heel into a Chicago mafia boss’s temple. Soon she finds a handsome man to help her hide the body and ends up taking a shower at his bachelor pad to rinse the blood off her sexy body. This is where 2011 slams into the sixties. Or Hooters meets Bunnies. Women are still acting tough, except now they do it in a bunny suit and high heels instead of a police uniform or jeans and a tank top.
For those, Dear Readers, who are into facts, or may not know much about the bunny suit, here are few from the Wall Street Journal: The rabbit ears on the Playboy Bunnies were eight inches high. They were much taller, but Hugh Hefner, who didn’t wear his pajamas day and night back then, thought they looked like horns and had them cut down. The bunny tail was a bundle of yarn and adhered to the costume with three hook-and-eye closures. (This was pre-Velcro) The one-piece strapless suit cut high up on the hip was stiffened by five pieces of boning—three in the front and two in the back. The white collar with black bow tie, and the cuffs were added later by Pajama Man to give the outfit “class”.
This brings me back to the opening scene of the pilot. A woman cannot bend from the waist in a bunny outfit. She can’t slouch, she is not pliable. All motion from the torso area is restricted. A Mafia boss could rip her eight-inch ears off before she could turn tail and run. Bunnies could barely serve drinks. The only way they accomplished this task was by bending their knees and pushing out their bunny tails as if they were going to sit down.
For you information, the writer Edith Wharton wrote in bed because that allowed her wear her night gown and avoid the stays of her corset.
The success of Mad Men is one reason for revisiting the era of bunnies, and stewardesses wearing tight, chic, French-designed jackets and skirts. Caitlin Flanagan reminds us of the Southwest airline pilot who was caught on mic “lamenting the undesirability of the airline’s attendants who he described as a bunch of ‘gays and grannies and grandes’.”
The other reason is desperation and a total lack of creative thought. Any thought. Having created women who are ripped and honed and can punch a villain out with her tiny fist—why not put her in a bunny suit? Or make her a sexy airline hostess that we know all men long for? We’ve thought of everything else.
It seems to me that most mystery writers get female characters right. And I think it’s the boundaries of the genre that help. No matter how many guns are fired, knives thrown, and bombs blown up, a mystery must be solved by logic. Logic needs a brain. And that part of the brain is gender free.
As a writer I’m constantly weighing what my female characters should and should not do. I find myself walking that line between reality, sexual politics, and the need for physical action to keep the pace and tension going.
Before Gloria Steinem (who was a Playboy Bunny and made her name writing about her experience ) and Betty Friedan, there were movies with very independent female characters. Yes, they usually got married at the end and sometimes gave up their careers for the privilege. But all the movies of thirties and the forties were in one way or another about strong women who were trying to carve out a life and find love. And unlike today, the female stars carried these movies and led at the box office.
There are generations of women who don’t know about Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. They are used to working, they’re trying to find love, and they’re raising a family. One might wonder what a TV show called The Playboy Club would mean to them. They are half of the viewers. Maybe it’s this: the most sought after Halloween costume for women is The Playboy Bunny outfit.