The Minnesota Daily, 11/3/05 - Despite the women’s movement, we still live in a world in
which women — their anatomy and appearance — are sold as objects.
But according to Ariel Levy’s book “Feminist Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture,” it’s increasingly women, not men, who are buying. They’re buying — and buying into — the bikini waxes, the boob jobs, The Howard Stern Show, the misogynistic porn, the whole “Girls Gone Wild” philosophy.
These postfeminist girls and women, whom Levy calls Female Chauvinist Pigs, say they find empowerment in sex, strength in objectification. They’re unflinchingly explicit and boldly bawdy.
Levy also thinks they’re sadly mistaken.
Her book and her analysis is intelligent and thorough; she posits that, because many women need to prove they are not polite, powerless “girly-girls” and want to (literally) do all the things men do, they increasingly conduct themselves according to stereotypes of masculine sexuality.
Apparently, this means porn, pussy and perversion.
And if you don’t like it, get ready to be labeled a prude; a woman’s tolerance for raunchiness is now a “litmus test for female uptightness.” The options are binary — you’re either raunchy or repressed.
Levy makes sense of current cultural trends even as they are happening, linking chasms in the ’60s and ’70s feminist movement to the Playboy mansion, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender culture to adolescent sex practices. It’s a skill that few individuals, and even fewer authors, possess.
While reading her commentary, I was prone to alternately enthusiastic and angry outbursts. Every woman should read this book — no, every human should! Why isn’t a concise history of the women’s movement in the United States taught in schools? Middle school girls are doing what to high school boys on buses?
The most shocking chapter is aptly titled “Pigs in Training.” It’s here that Levy takes on current adolescent and sometimes pre-adolescent female behavior. She explains the disturbing and colorful urban legend of “rainbow parties” in which middle school girls throw a coed slumber party, each girl selecting a different color of lipstick. The girls perform oral sex on boys until a veritable rainbow remains on each male’s penis; no similar “evidence” appears on girls’ bodies because the act is not reciprocated.
The girls’ actions are shocking, but their words — about their behavior, their bodies and their emergent sexuality — are, well, mind-blowing.
With Levy, middle school and high school girls discuss their competitiveness with other girls over weight, their “hotness” and who has the “sluttiest” reputation, all of which are good things. They admit to making out and performing lap dances with their female friends not for enjoyment, but because “the guys will like it.”
Yet they are pathetically in the dark about their own sexuality and desire. As Levy said, “We are doing little to differentiate their sexual desires from their desire for attention.”
Which is Levy’s whole point: Female Chauvinist Pigs might enjoy being one of the guys, going to strip clubs and watching porn. It may be good fun for them to refer to other women as “pussies,” and tally the number of sexual partners they have. But what these women experience when they do these things is not power; it is simply oppression in sheep’s clothing.
This artifice isn’t surprising, given that the reality of porn stars and strippers is based on faking, from breast size to arousal and orgasms. As Levy observed (linking porn to consumerism), “ ‘Because I was paid to’ is not the same as ‘I’m taking control of my sexuality.’ ”
Because the book is only 200 pages long, questions remain and much is left out. She glaringly omits the contribution of women of color to the women’s movement (and their eventual branching off), except for an obligatory mention of Shirley Chisholm. She ignores the way the porn industry affirms only a blond, white, thin standard of beauty while exoticizing other racial groups.
Further, she neglects to explore the effect “raunch culture” has had on masculinity.
Levy has succinctly identified and named a phenomenon that undoubtedly is present. However, perhaps she is a bit dramatic. I know that actual empowered females of all ages exist today. They are a positive product of, rather than a backlash to, ’60s and ’70s feminism. These women are comfortable with their identity and own their sexuality, whether gay or straight. They just aren’t as, well, flamboyant as Female Chauvinist Pigs.
Above all, though, Levy is right to assert that unexamined contradictions regarding sex are everywhere, and that, until female executives stop referring to assertiveness as “acting like a man” and female athletes stop posing in Playboy to “prove athleticism is not at odds with being sexy,” women will never achieve the respect they deserve. They might be seen as more sexually “liberated,” forever feigning arousal like a veteran stripper, but they will never be viewed as intelligent, funny or, as Levy said, themselves.
Girls Gone Wild
Miami Herald, 9/17/05 - They're the faces of feminism in the 21st century: Girls Gone Wild flashers, porn star Jenna Jameson and the Sex and the City supershoppers.
If that sentence made your head explode, you're on the same page as Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. If it made perfect sense, you may find yourself in her pages.
In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy takes a sharp-eyed look at perceptions of feminism in two very different generations. She asks whether Brazilian waxes really are more empowering than unshaven legs and, more important, whether the recent resurgence of sexual stereotypes means women are strong enough to transcend them -- or are just giving up.
In a phone interview from her home in Manhattan, as she begins afive-city book tour, Levy says, "There's more to female empowerment than sexual freedom."
FLUENT IN RAUNCH
She is not some old-school scold. A columnist for New York magazine and Slate, she's a smart, witty observer of American culture and, at 30, "fluent in raunch."
Raised by parents who were student activists in the 1960s and educated at the zenith of political correctness in the '90s, Levy says she "pretty much took for granted that everything feminism said was true," including the idea that seeing women as sex objects is discriminatory and damaging.
But, as she writes in Female Chauvinist Pigs, in the last few years she noticed her female friends going to clubs to see female strippers, digging on Howard Stern and The Man Show, and explaining that it was all "liberating and rebellious."
The trend rubbed off on her. A graduate of Wesleyan University, where 'You could pretty much be kicked out for saying `girl' instead of 'woman,' " she found herself calling women "chicks" and wearing thongs.
"My best friend from college was really into this stuff," Levy says. "This is a really smart woman. . . but she became completely fascinated with porn stars.
"It was so incredibly weird. In the last five years or so, there are just these fake boobs everywhere."
Levy started asking herself how a generation of women who fought for liberation and equality in the '60s and '70s was followed by a generation that thinks empowerment means buying into cartoonish sexual stereotypes.
The result is her first book. In Female Chauvinist Pigs, she spends a few days with a crew shooting a Girls Gone Wild video in Miami (where one 19-year-old masturbates for the camera and then points out that she's a virgin), interviews Playboy CEO Christie Hefner and X-rated filmmaker Candida Royalle, and attends a bawdy Manhattan party thrown by "hypersexual sorority" Cake.
She analyzes Sex and the City and the writing of cultural critic Camille Paglia. She delves into the lesbian "boi" subculture, in which young women adopt not only an exaggerated male appearance and mannerisms but also "male" promiscuity. She rails about the dubious effectiveness of abstinence education. She considers powerful female executives like HBO's Sheila Nevins who make documentaries about sex workers. She interviews middle school girls who perform oral sex on boys they barely know.
She talks to a woman who is one of the executive producers of The Man Show: "There's a side to boydom that's fun," Jen Heftler declared. "They get to fart, they get to be loud -- and I think now we're saying we can fart and curse and go to strip clubs and smoke cigars just as easily and just as well."
Levy wonders why women would want to.
Partly it's just the rebellion of the daughters of the baby boomers: "No one wants to be like her mother," she says.
Raunch culture doesn't just signify that feminism is far from winning all its battles. It's also an expression of the failure of sexual liberation, she says.
'People are always saying, `Oh, our culture is so oversexualized.' No, it's not. We're so uptight it's unbelievable," Levy says.
Instead of the freewheeling "everyone is beautiful" sexual openness of the '60s, the culture is once again pervaded by exaggerated sexual stereotypes, a time-honored way of not dealing with the sexual natures of real people.
She finds it curious that strippers, along with centerfolds and porn actors like Jameson, have returned as icons of female sexuality. "These aren't the people getting the most pleasure from sex," she says. "They're the people getting the most money to pretend."
Jameson's autobiography, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, spent six weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Despite its self-help-style title, Levy says, the book is a "harrowing account of sexual trauma" in which Jameson describes being gang-raped and left for dead as a teen and, as a sex worker, using her body as a weapon and being unable to watch her own films.
"And you're going to teach me how to make love?" Levy says. "It doesn't sound like much fun."
Cookie-cutter images of hot girls pervade the culture for children as well as for adults. One of the female porn fans Levy interviews said she was drawn to such women because they are "like live Barbie dolls. I look at Pam Anderson and I'm like, I played with you as a child!"
Yet 86 percent of public school districts that offer sex education require the promotion of abstinence, and 35 percent require that only abstinence be taught.
"What teens have to work with, then, are two wildly divergent messages," Levy writes. "They live in a candyland of sex . . . every magazine stand is a gumdrop castle of breasts, every reality show is a bootylicious Tootsie Roll tree. . . . But at school, the line given to the majority of them about sex is just say no."
SEX AS PERFORMANCE
As a result, Levy found, many of the teens and young women she talked to saw their sexuality as a performance for others, not a way to satisfy themselves.
"Making sexiness into something simple, quantifiable makes it easier to explain and to market," Levy writes. "If you remove the human factor from sex and make it about stuff -- big, fake boobs, bleached blond hair, long nails, poles, thongs -- then you can sell it. Suddenly, sex requires shopping; you need plastic surgery, peroxide, a manicure, a mall."
Many of her subjects, though, say their attitudes are ironic and hip.
"The Female Chauvinist Pig . . . is post-feminist. She is funny. She gets it. She doesn't mind cartoonish stereotypes of female sexuality and she doesn't mind a cartoonishly macho response to them," Levy writes.
But, Levy writes, 'None of this can possibly be `ironic' for teens because it's their whole truth -- there's no backdrop of idealism."
She talks about one girl who asked her whether girls obsessed over being sexy when she was in school.
Of course, she told the kid, girls wanted to have boys like them. "But you never wanted to look like a slut."
The teenager was utterly perplexed. "Then how did you ever get a guy?"
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Ariel Levy - Female Chauvinist Pigs
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