The Bunnyman

When Hugh Hefner died I rolled my eyes. I automatically pre-empted how many people (ok, mainly men) would bore me that day with strange grief for someone they never met, with misplaced respect, tedious jokes, and flimsy validation of a dubious man. How many male friends would make me sigh deeply with their throwaway laddishness in the name of an easy joke, or more worryingly, because in their eyes Hugh Hefner represented true male ideals that ‘ordinary men’ simply couldn’t get away with. This was their day to say it.

This vague dread wasn’t the cause of me deleting Facebook from my phone that day, I’d been thinking of doing it for a while, but it was a really good day to make the cut. Delete. Breathe. Stop wanting to throw things at people.

But it would have taken moving to Mars to remain oblivious to the outpourings of post-humous bilge about the man. I get that he did some admirable things; that he single-handedly built a magazine from his kitchen table, went on to employ some of the finest writers in America, offered a platform to the under-represented, interviews with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, that he used the Playboy to make some bold stands for civil rights. Great. I wholeheartedly believe that he thought all these things were important. But also, deflection is a powerful thing. What does a magician do when he doesn’t want you to see something? The bad things, the mechanics, the truth? He directs your attention elsewhere. I’m not saying the positive aspects of his character were a trick, but let’s not all be bunnies in the magician’s hat; playing our submissive part in a big man’s grand illusion. Hugh Hefner is responsible for a lot of bad stuff; a list of crimes against women and their far-reaching consequences too long to go into here. Just because he was a stand-up guy to the injustices perpetrated on black people does not mean he did not systematically reduce women to graded cuts of meat.

Rolling her eyes at Hefner does not make a woman a prude either. I’ll fly the flag for sexual liberation alongside any bawd or bunny. I know that our sexual mores are as varied as our tastes for food, for leisure, for music, for clothes, for all the other pleasurable things in life. And of course those girls wanted to be there; they wanted to live in the Hef’s bunny hutch. But in that sentence is part of the problem. Our instinct is to call them girls. Not women. Their entry into the Playboy bunny world of “privilege” (and it was a kind of privilege, luxury-wise and self-attainment wise; it could not have been an easy job to get there, nor to stay there) came with the condition that they be willingly infantilised and homogenised. They were little more than teenage daughters; they had to ask for their allowance; they had a bedtime curfew of 9pm. They adhered to a way of looking (the same as each other and countless others before them) and acting (a lot of their own personality must have got left at the door along with any flat shoes).  I’m guessing they weren’t allowed gentlemen callers or meaningful relationships unless they were green-lighted by Hefner himself, who considered their amorous attentions best turned to himself, or on occasion to like-minded (and like-moneyed) friends who attended his parties. These women were treated like girls. And I even get that. I get the female desire to be looked after; I even get, though would not want for myself, that sugar daddy thing. Our base infant drive for our needs and desires to be met don’t end when we grow up and leave home, they move with us into the adult realm and hide themselves in all sorts of chaotic mysterious behaviours. I get why a lot of men openly or secretly think he’s the total fucking don of all life. Most men want to feel like gods. They want to feel attractive, powerful, desired, virile. A lot of them don’t; aren’t. The lure of unquestioning constant praise, attention, and gratification is strong. I get it.

People are complicated creatures. We can never reduce them to a bottom line or a few convenient bulletpoints that lay the case of their entire being to satisfying rest in one article.

Hugh Hefner was a man to be admired and respected as well as questioned, suspected, vilified, maybe even pitied – we don’t know what lurking sadness or insecurities drove his subconcious or shaped his way of life. I think I might even have liked him in certain scenarios; chatting on a sofa about writing maybe, if not observing him on a kingsize with his medically engorged penis and saggy-mouthed geriatric air of expectation.

But how I love the boys and men who said things about Hefner that didn’t make my legs clamp, my brain die and my heart sink. Who barely blinked when they heard that he was dead. They are the real rich men, in my eyes.

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Happy bunnies?

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Selfie: Giving The Bird, Not The Woman

I’ve always struggled with ‘the selfie’. The word itself, for starters, is pretty nauseating. From the earliest days of people with webcams lurching their way onto Myspace looking like grainy sex offenders, I have had a problem with it. Sometimes because of the ‘sex offendery-ness’ of it (perfectly nice innocent people looking like they raped your gran once at a party but are trying to reform), but sometimes because it’s quite often the chosen medium of a lot of dicks you want to punch.

Perhaps I struggle on a basic level with the unflattering aesthetics – the fact you can always see an arm trying not to shake in the corner, or the concentration in the eyes of someone trying to remember their angles so their cheekbones look their best and their chin remains un-doubled.

Perhaps I struggle with it because the selfie is supposed to capture the essence of the self, and so rarely does. So often it does the opposite – merely presents something that someone wants you to see. (I am sometimes as guilty of this in pictures as anyone). I feel a bit sad and awkward for them that they’re taking a picture of themselvesI guess. I struggle with a new generation of women being supposedly empowered enough to seize their own moments and take pictures of themselves, while at the same time negating their empowerment by looking – in the most annoying cases – dumb, vain, or desperate.

Perhaps on a deeper level I struggle with seeing the comfort that other people have in their own skin when I seldom feel it in my own. Perhaps I envy the self-snappers. Perhaps I wish I knew how to take a picture that made me like my own face. Perhaps the autonomy of a selfie is kick-ass; something to be admired. Perhaps the directness of cutting out the middle man is a more honest way of saying “hello world!” Perhaps it’s just the newest modern thing in the constant individualisation of people; the latest means of expressing a visual connection to the world that started in cave drawings, proud-titted hieroglyphs, renaissance portrait commissions, the artworks of pomp, vanity and power, stern-faced family sittings at Edwardian photographic studios, blurry 60s Polaroids, 80s photo-booth posings with your permed best mate; tongues, pouting, kissing, fish-face cheekbones, sass, V-signs, cross-eyes, wanting to be sexy, rebellious, attractive, free, to be wanted, understood (or not understood in the slightest); defiance at love, at life; or dare you dare it – vulnerable. All of the human tumbling out in one shot, one fractured moment that somehow captures the ineffable wordless ‘self’.

Anyway. Whatever.

My most recent problem with selfies occurred last week. With the ‘no make-up selfies’ movement that coursed through Facebook as the newest novelty way to raise ‘awareness’ for cancer, like we’d forgotten it existed. I had to quash my initial reaction of disgust, and accept that charities have to use whatever pop culture means they can to part people from their pennies. Fine. I had to stop imagining head-butting the marketing drip who came up with the ‘revolutionary’ idea of getting women to go without make-up. There is a sweetness to wanting to encourage women to be brave enough to go au naturel, to celebrate clean-faced truth, to reaffirm the importance of inner beauty rather than outward display, but coming from the wrong direction, for a glib reason, it’s also fucking irritating. But that was fine too. Sort of.

What was not fine was the atrocious display of poor humanity it engendered. I will never fail to be amazed at quite how happy some people are to be endlessly outwardly despicable to others.

Within a day of these pictures popping up I had ‘de-friended’ three men after I saw bad jokes in their status updates about wishing women would stop revealing themselves as the “munters” they are. They were the negative ones. Directly involving misogynistic nouns and adjectives. Some men were kinder; just benevolently relieved that they could now, thanks to cancer, identify which women they no longer wanted to sleep with. The whittling of wish-lists heard around the country where once echoed the swishings of cloaks across puddles. Sigh.

“Hey ladies, some of us can be struck off the Fuck list of Power! Hwoo! It’s ok – Dermatitis Del from Accounts doesn’t want to jiz in your face anymore because he’s seen you have crow’s feet from laughing at your three kids in genuine familial happiness, so no need to waste your money on the expensive foundation anymore, yeah? Embrace the truth.”

Unfortunately I heard similar casual abhorrences coming out of the actual mouths of men I know and like too. And they will never quite be afforded the same respect from me again.

(Ironically, these men had no idea that with their words they were participating in a verbal version of a selfie movement, giving us a ‘no bullshit’ snapshot of them’selves’, honest and unmade up, that would mean we’d never want to fuck them either.)

The devil’s advocate in me thought, however, “well, if we as a sex will walk around wearing make-up people are bound to notice when we don’t.” I even tried to excuse the real turds on the grounds that that they are pitifully low on brains. Then I realised there is no excuse for bad manners and meanness, so I unfriended them (and probably missed a load more cretins worthy of the same treatment because I don’t go trawling for shit through Facebook, but rather have my eyes assaulted by whatever pops up first, with no further scrolling ensuing). It’s not much of a protest. I doubt they’ll even notice I’ve disappeared from their friend list; they’re probably more obsessed with constantly messaging comedians they don’t know or soliciting women who live in bikinis.

Then I did that thing that I don’t usually do. I scrolled through to see what other people were doing; who else was getting involved.

And though I was disgusted by these ‘men’ I uncovered like mucal slugs from under a paving slab of social woe, I was more offended by the passive-aggressive ‘sisterhood’ that I noticed like a cold current winding through the warmth, in the act of ‘nominating’ someone you wanted to see without make-up. Most women were warm, giving, and celebrating each other’s candid beauty. Even better, some clearly couldn’t give a flying fuck if people thought they were ‘beautiful’ at all. But I am sad to say I saw a few catty, posed “this is my naked face – now show me yours, bitch” pics too. The setting up of women who were maybe perceived as vain, the public stripping of those deemed too attractive, or the humiliation of those who have scant self-confidence – all in Cancer’s good name. How could women say no to being ‘nominated’ as the next recipient of the ‘No Make-up Selfie’ baton? How can you say no to The Big C without looking like another kind of Big C yourself?

It made me sad. The act of nominating someone took away the spirit of the selfie. Women should have been nominating themselves, not responding to pressure from friends, no matter how well-intentioned it was. It should have been a flurry of volunteered spirit, not of contrived obligations. You would hope that women only nominated people they knew would feel happy to do it, but unfortunately that’s not the way of all people. (I also hope everyone that ‘selfied’ actually donated money too rather than simply being part of a new fad for bored people.)

So when I uncharacteristically put up a picture of myself that I took myself (despite the fact I would usually balk at taking a picture of my own face, in any state – even if Max Factor himself rose from the grave and transformed me into something as close to cosmetic perfection as I’m ever going to get) – I don’t mind admitting I got a kick out of including my middle finger held aloft prominently in the foreground. I thought some people deserved to be given the bird more than they deserved to be given the woman.

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