Are Playboy bunnies a sexist throwback or should they be seen as strong, modern women?
December 11, 2013   //   Lifestyle   //   Comments are off

Posing provocatively on all fours in her Playboy debut earlier this month has cemented Kate Moss’s reputation as a sex symbol.

But what has it done for the girls who regularly don bunny ears and a fluffy tail? In an age where women are looking for equality, will Moss’s nude images do anything to change the idea that bunnies are little more than scantily clad waitresses there for male gratification?

‘There are a lot of beautiful women out there but a bunny is the embodiment of a modern woman: strong, ambitious and independent,’ says Sara Rourke, head bunny at Playboy Club London.

‘I think Kate Moss is the most culturally significant British model of all time. She is also a savvy businesswoman and has combined her beauty with intelligence and personality to achieve a truly unique position as a cultural icon. She perfectly embodies the qualities of a modern bunny.’

There’s no denying bunnies need to be beautiful. At 29, Rourke holds all the characteristics you associate with one: hourglass figure; ample bosom; full, pouty lips; and almond-shaped eyes. But there’s more to her than that: she’s editor of an arts magazine, writes poetry and is studying for a postgraduate degree in clinical psychology. She says she’s not the only bunny with intellect.

‘Our bunnies range from models to poets,’ she says. ‘They have degrees, own their own businesses and can speak different languages.’

So why is there such a stigma attached to the Playboy brand and the girls who work under the name? Original Playboy Hugh Hefner, 87, does little to dispel this sleazy image by living with several girlfriends a third of his age at the Playboy Mansion in LA, and having playmate Crystal Harris, 27, as his wife.

Perhaps the confusion lies in the different roles the brand encompasses. While Playboy models pose nude in the magazine and Playmates live at the Playboy Mansion and pose topless in the magazine, Playboy bunnies simply work wearing the bunny outfit. Rourke claims the girls do so to empower themselves and make decent money.

‘I initially became a bunny because I wasn’t sure how I would fund the next part of my degree and continue to fund the magazine,’ says Rourke. ‘I saw an advert saying “the bunnies are back” and I thought it would be a good way of continuing my education and making money.’

Rourke has been at the club since it reopened in June 2011 in Mayfair. ‘I adore my job and it has enabled me to continue my studies,’ she says. ‘My icons were women like Hedy Lamarr, an actress in the Golden Age, who was not only one of the most beautiful women in the world but was also a pioneer in the field of wireless communication.

‘I love that women can be beautiful and intelligent. That’s my cultural reference point when I cast new bunnies.’

When the club first opened in London in 1966, it is thought bunnies were earning enough money to get a mortgage at a time when most women needed their father or husband to countersign. And now, although they won’t talk about how much they earn, a lot of the bunnies have been able to fund their own businesses outside the club.

Croupier bunny Aree Chorsanthiah, 24, has her own fashion import business. She graduated with a degree in accounting and finance and plans to become the director of a casino. She’s also fluent in Thai. Hana McCarley, 26, is a valet bunny with her own cupcake business.

She is also currently studying a master’s degree in cake decorating and sugarcraft and can speak basic Mandarin and Arabic.

With men and women (40 per cent of the club’s members are female) paying well for membership to the casino (£15,000 for lifetime access to all clubs around the world), Rourke says bunnies must be able to converse with executive members.

‘We have a few girls who can speak Russian and most learn basic Mandarin and Arabic when they start so they can talk to members,’ she says. ‘We have another who can speak five languages and she’s now progressed within the company.’

Girls must also ‘earn their ears’ and can spend up to two months in training for roles at the club. The famous mixologist Salvatore Calabrese’s bar at the club, requires extensive cigar and bar knowledge, while to become a Mayfair standard croupier takes two months of training.

There’s no doubting bunnies are intelligent and articulate, so surely it’s time ditch the outfits?

‘The costumes are iconic,’ adds Rourke. ‘It’s a symbol of a brand. If you speak to any modern feminist, they also think we’re iconic. We’re not here to further men’s self-entitlement over women, we’re here to perform a function and give a level of service.

‘There are a lot of women behind the scenes at Playboy Club London. It tends to be the man that’s the token in the boardroom, so it’s great to have these powerful role models around us. Playboy bunnies are a sorority of women, in a structure where they are given transferable skills to move forward in their lives.’

Kate Moss’s 18-page pictorial will appear in the 60th anniversary issue of Playboy magazine’s January/February 2014 edition, available on December 17.

A feminist’s point of view
Lucy-Anne Holmes, who is calling for an end to topless Page 3 pictures in national newspapers, on the bunnies and their outfits.

‘The Playboy Club is based on the premise that women aren’t human beings who are equal to men, they are, in fact, cute young animals that don’t speak, just look pretty and presumably “f*** like rabbits”.

‘In the world of the Playboy Club, men can be as clothed, old, fat and ugly as they like while the women have to be young, semi-naked and serve men. It’s all a bit depressing, really. The whole set-up says: “It’s a man’s world.”

‘One sad thing that strikes me about Page 3 is the “cor, look at the t*** on that” or “I’d do/ruin/have that” responses to the pictures I’ve always heard. The model becomes a “that”, an object – she is dehumanised.

‘At the Playboy Club, women aren’t human, they’re bunnies. They are dehumanised. We know from history that it’s easier to hurt people when we don’t see them as human. We have been dehumanising women as a society for years.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, one in four will experience domestic violence or one in three girls at school will be inappropriately touched?

‘I realise that everyone who works and goes to the Playboy Club is over 18 and has a choice about it but if I ask myself whether the presence of the Playboy Club is helping us to achieve equality and respect for women, then the answer is no.’

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