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Study Hard and One Day You’ll Be Miss October

“Today is my birthday!” Shannon McCarthy proclaimed.

Her eighth, to be exact. Shannon seemed quite pleased. Part of the reason was that Shannon’s birthday Thursday coincided with Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Instead of attending classes at Old Orchard Elementary School in Santa Clarita, Shannon followed her father, Shawn, on his duties as a cameraman for KABC News. This innocuously sexist event, conceived and promoted by the Ms. Foundation, is designed to free girls of psychological shackles imposed by our patriarchal society. It’s kind of a feminist version of be-all-you-can-be Army ads.

And where did Take Our Daughters to Work Day wind up taking little Shannon?

Why, to the Playboy Mansion!

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Yes, this was a birthday Shannon will never forget. Someday she will realize that she has done something millions of Y chromosome humans only dream of. She has had an inside peek at Hugh Hefner’s enchanted kingdom, the playground of the Playmates and sybaritic symbol of evil in the minds of so many feminists.

Shawn McCarthy, it must be said, came by his assignment honestly, as did yours truly. We were to serve as the public’s eyes and ears as Jennifer McCarthy, Miss October, 1993, and no relation to Shawn and Shannon, was crowned the 1994 Playmate of the Year. (Readers may recall how the older Ms. McCarthy recently delighted a group of children at the Panorama City Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library with a heartfelt reading of “Green Eggs and Ham.”)

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Jenny McCarthy may be a nice young woman, but she is not the Ms. Foundation’s typical idea of a role model. There is something about a young woman who freely removes her clothes and poses for magazines aimed at a male audience that is disturbing to many feminists. For many women, this luncheon event would have been a cause for distress.

Larger-than-life blowups of Jenny McCarthy in various states of undress decorated the huge tent where lunch for 500 was served. And the guests included more than 50 Playmates, who wore name tags proclaiming their name and month, dating back to Miss August, 1956.

This was my first visit to the Hefner compound, which is in Holmby Hills and aptly resembles a medieval castle, complete with crenelations. The lush grounds have parrots and monkeys. Beside the long drive is a yellow warning sign--"Children at Play"--that reminds one that Hefner, in his 60s, is the father of two young sons with his wife, Kimberly, a onetime Playmate of the Year herself.

It was unusual to see so many Playmates without turning any pages. In retrospect, it occurs to me that Playmates may be the least qualified people to comment on the broader social implications of Playmatehood. Women who have been exalted as icons of male sexual desire may not understand the effect they have on the multitudes who are not so exalted.

“It’s nothing but wonderful,” declared 58-year-old Jonnie Nicely, Miss August ’56. “I’ve always said that if being in Playboy is being exploited, I’ll take another 37 or 38 years of it.”

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There is, of course, a dark side. Some Playmates, one confided, have been banished for inappropriate behavior, such as one who became a porno queen. Then there’s the sad story of Dorothy Stratten, the Playmate of the Year who was murdered by her spurned husband, who then killed himself.

Unpleasant memories were distant on this bright, sunny day as Jenny McCarthy’s family and friends watched her become the latest Playmate of the Year. Hefner made a point of describing her secure Catholic upbringing and her self-confidence in making the announcement and presenting her with a $100,000 check.

“It was signed by Christy, so I know it’s official,” Hefner quipped. Christy, Hefner’s daughter from his first marriage, is a self-described feminist who is Playboy’s president and chairwoman of the board. Hefner took his daughter to work more than 15 years ago.

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Later, I had a few minutes with Hef himself. Hefner argued that, contrary to what some feminists think, Playboy has been a liberating force for both sexes.

“The women’s movement grew out of the sexual revolution,” explained the sage of what he dubbed the “Playboy Philosophy.” “There’s an intricate connection between the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. . . .

“It’s the anti-sexual part of the women’s movement that gets publicity. . . . It’s quite fitting and delicious that a staunch feminist would become president of what is perceived in some quarters as the last bastion of male chauvinism.”

One non-Playmate who seemed to agree was Lynette McCarthy, Jenny’s older sister and an art history major at UC Berkeley. Lynette says that, though she is proud and happy for her sister, she avoids the Playmate topic at Berkeley. “Some of the girls who don’t shave their legs or their armpits might find it offensive,” Lynette explained. “But I find them offensive.”

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All these McCarthys can make a story confusing. But on Take Our Daughters to Work Day, the most important opinion belonged to Shannon.

“Do you know what a Playmate is?” I asked.

The birthday girl looked me in the eye. “Someone who models nakedly. Am I right?”

Shannon also said she was bored. But the next day, her father gave me a different report.

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That night, he explained, they attended an open house at Old Orchard. When adults asked Shannon what she had done that day, she announced: “We went to the Playboy Mansion!”

“And I got looks,” her father said. “Oh, it was tough.”

But then Shannon told them all about the birds and the monkeys and how it looked just like a castle.

Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

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