After enduring a brief but grueling stint as a Bunny in Manhattan's Playboy Club, feminist writer Gloria Steinem published the first half of her landmark account, "A Bunny's Tale," in SHOW magazine on this day in 1963. Steinem's undercover reporting increased her profile and stripped back the glamorous facade of Hugh Hefner's empire to reveal a world of misogyny and exploitation.
Steinem, a freelance writer, was commissioned by SHOW to apply for a job at the Playboy Club under a fake name and document her experience. Ads for jobs as a server at the club, whose female employees were all known as Bunnies, portrayed the work as something akin to paid participation in a party straight out of Playboy Magazine. As Steinem quickly learned, the truth was far uglier. Bunnies were paid less than advertised and subject to a system of demerits, which could be given for offenses such as refusing to go out with a customer in a rude way (even though Bunnies were strictly forbidden to go out with most customers) or allowing the cotton tale on the back of their uniforms to get dirty.
Steinem's account was replete with examples of the toll the work took on Bunnies: uniforms so tight one could barely move, swollen and blistering feet from hours of working in high heels, and near-constant harassment by the drunk businessmen who made up most of the clientele. After one night when roughly 2,000 people came through the club's doors, Steinem estimated there had been maybe ten who "looked at us not as objects ... but as if we might be human beings."
"A Bunny's Tale" was one of the first feminist attacks on Playboy and the “sexually liberated” but male-centric lifestyle it embodied. Hefner tried to take it in stride, stating that Playboy was on the side of the women's liberation movement and asserting that applications to work at the Playboy Club had increased thanks to Steinem's article. He also ordered the club to stop giving new Bunnies mandatory blood tests and gynecological exams, practices Steinem had questioned in her article.
Though it helped an early-career Steinem establish her credentials as a reporter and a feminist, she regretted the piece for years after it ran, dismayed by a slew of offers to take on sexualized undercover roles and haunted by photos of herself in the Bunny costume, which had been taken during her brief time as an employee. Over time, however, she has said that she is glad she wrote the piece, an exposé that laid bare the struggle of women who were more or less objectified for a living.