I read in the paper this morning that a new Playboy Club will be opening in New York on 42nd Street. It’s been about 30 years since the last one closed. The waitresses are now being fitted for their retro bunny suits and ears. Weird, right? Immediately my creative wheels started turning—is America’s sexual awakening the stuff of a Broadway musical?
It must have been around 1970 when either my father took me to the Playboy Club on 59th Street for dinner one night. I was in college and was oblivious to the women’s movement except for the advent of “the pill” and bra burning. While my mother and her generation all wore girdles, I never encountered any girls my age before or since who wore one. Anyway, it was a pretty eventless evening. The waitresses in their bunny outfits were cute, but in New York most waitresses are cute actresses. The costumes seemed a bit silly, but I’ve seen worse and certainly more revealing. Frankly, I’ve always found Hooters to be much more sexually exploitive.
My own sexual awakening started out when I was seven. I went to work with my father one Saturday, and he took me next door on 27th Street to get a haircut. The walls of the barbershop were covered with centerfold pin-ups of naked women. I’d never seen a naked woman before or even a picture of one. I guess I’d seen the girls on my block naked when we changed at the beach or took baths together as little kids, but that stopped around age five or six, and I had no recall of what I’d seen. It really made no impression on my pre-sexual self. I knew there was something dirty about those photos on the wall, but it sorta seemed normal. After all, the cashier/manicurist was a woman, and she didn’t seem to mind.
When we got home that evening, my mother noticed our new haircuts and promptly reamed out my dad for taking me to “that place.” That confirmed it; naked women are out of bounds, but why? I was curious. This was 1956. Playboy Magazine was making a huge splash. Hugh Hefner was leading a charge to dismantle America’s Puritanism. Besides the photography, he hired great writers and promoted jazz. He was against racism and all kinds of hypocrisy. It all sounded good to me.
In summer camp I first encountered Playboy Magazine. The photos of women formed a lot of my sexual thoughts about women. The lingerie, high heels, red lipstick and nail polish are still turn-ons for me and other men of my generation. When I was a teenager, we hung Playboy centerfolds on the walls of our cabin that summer in camp. I dreaded parents’ visiting day, but when the moment came, my mother didn’t say anything.
Besides looking at the pictures, I loved reading the articles. This was my introduction to great writers and progressive ideas. Years later when Gloria Steinem’s book came out, it made me think about the sexual dilemma. Women want to be equal to men, and they should be, but our sexual roles are very complicated and loaded with history. Why shouldn’t women be able to enjoy sex without punishment? A sexually active man is a stud, but a woman having sex with anyone but her husband is a slut. This never seemed fair to me. And it isn’t.
While Hugh Hefner and his crew were eroding this stigma for women, they promoted their objectification by men. Naturally, teenage boys won’t see the opposite sex in any depth; they can’t even understand themselves. Women’s complaints were and still are that many grown men have not matured and still live with the centerfold fantasy.
Full disclosure: a long time ago I dated a former Penthouse Pet (sounds terribly sexist, right?). I asked her about her experience, and she said that she was treated great. She later went on to have a successful business career and was one of the nicest, sweetest women I’ve ever met.
This objectification thing is troublesome to me. Every so often I read about a poll of American adults who are asked what they are looking for in a mate. Overwhelmingly, men say physical beauty, and women say financial stability. I began reading these polls 30 years ago, and surprisingly, the numbers haven’t changed much. I wonder how men would feel about women judging them by the size of their penises and muscles, but I also wonder how women would feel about being sized up by their earning power and bank accounts.
It seems to me that both situations are unfair and mostly unrealistic. I believe that attraction is a personal issue. While I am attracted to beautiful women, I’m not attracted to many of those women that men find most beautiful or sexiest. The obsession with breast size has escaped me, for one thing. Normal, unenhanced mammary glands work just fine for me.
Since I’ve been single for many years, I’ve had ample opportunity to think about what traits I find attractive in the opposite sex. Of course it would be nice to find a woman that is intelligent and shares my common interests, but those things will not arouse me sexually or distinguish the relationship beyond friendship. Everyone has his or her own requirements. Sometimes there are physical signals like posture or the way someone smiles. Those are superficial tip-offs.
Some of us need strength of character. Some need a partner who will be subservient, or maybe someone with a combination of these two opposites. For me, trust is a major issue. I would like to be vulnerable with a woman who trusts me enough to be vulnerable with me. This is pretty high on my list. I can trace this back to my parents not respecting my feelings. The desire to regain my original authentic self is as strong now as ever. I expect it is in most people, although maybe few are courageous enough to acknowledge this dark part of their psyche and even fewer will act on it.
Compared with the depth and complexity of sexual attraction, I’ve gotta say that the idea of going to the new Playboy Club to ogle women in bunny outfits seems awfully silly. I think America came to that conclusion 30 years ago. There’s an old expression: you can’t go home again. Maybe, just maybe, what we really want is not sex, but love.
There is another old expression: men will give love to get sex, and women will give sex to get love. Me, I want it all. Call me an idealist, but anything less feels empty to me. Think about it—Playboy:The Musical. I can see the opening number with a chorus line of bunny suits and protesting feminists. Really, it could work.