Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

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by Ariel Levy
     
 

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A classic work on gender culture exploring how the women’s movement has evolved to Girls Gone Wild in a new, self-imposed chauvinism. In the tradition of Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, New York Magazine writer Ariel Levy studies the effects of modern feminism on women today.

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Overview

A classic work on gender culture exploring how the women’s movement has evolved to Girls Gone Wild in a new, self-imposed chauvinism. In the tradition of Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, New York Magazine writer Ariel Levy studies the effects of modern feminism on women today.

Meet the Female Chauvinist Pig—the new brand of “empowered woman” who wears the Playboy bunny as a talisman, bares all for Girls Gone Wild, pursues casual sex as if it were a sport, and embraces “raunch culture” wherever she finds it. If male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women—and of themselves. They think they’re being brave, they think they’re being funny, but in Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy asks if the joke is on them.

In her quest to uncover why this is happening, Levy interviews college women who flash for the cameras on spring break and teens raised on Paris Hilton and breast implants. She examines a culture in which every music video seems to feature a stripper on a pole, the memoirs of porn stars are climbing the bestseller lists, Olympic athletes parade their Brazilian bikini waxes in the pages of Playboy, and thongs are marketed to prepubescent girls. Levy meets the high-powered women who create raunch culture—the new oinking women warriors of the corporate and entertainment worlds who eagerly defend their efforts to be “one of the guys.” And she traces the history of this trend back to conflicts between the women’s movement and the sexual revolution long left unresolved.

Levy pulls apart the myth of the Female Chauvinist Pig and argues that what has come to pass for liberating rebellion is actually a kind of limiting conformity. Irresistibly witty and wickedly intelligent, Female Chauvinist Pigs makes the case that the rise of raunch does not represent how far women have come, it only proves how far they have left to go.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What does "sexy" mean today? Levy, smartly expanding on reporting for an article in New York magazine, argues that the term is defined by a pervasive "raunch culture" wherein women "make sex objects of other women and of ourselves." The voracious search for what's sexy, she writes, has reincarnated a day when Playboy Bunnies (and airbrushed and surgically altered nudity) epitomized female beauty. It has elevated porn above sexual pleasure. Most insidiously, it has usurped the keywords of the women's movement ("liberation," "empowerment") to serve as "buzzwords" for a female sexuality that denies passion (in all its forms) and embraces consumerism. To understand how this happened, Levy examines the women's movement, identifying the "residue" of divisive, unresolved issues about women's relationship to men and sex. The resulting raunch feminism, she writes, is "a garbled attempt at continuing the work of the women's movement" and asks, "how is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women? Why is laboring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering?" Levy's insightful reporting and analysis chill the hype of what's hot. It will create many "aha!" moments for readers who have been wondering how porn got to be pop and why "feminism" is such a dirty word. (Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Female Chauvinist Pigs (FCPs), according to New York magazine columnist Levy, come in two species: the woman "open to a certain sort of attention" and her foul-mouthed female fan, willing and able to objectify "like a man." Though the reductive thesis imposes obvious limits, Levy nonetheless fortifies this original work with the boggling evidence of raunch culture's ubiquity. Defending their work variously as liberating, ironic, and humorous, influential triumvirate Christie Hefner (Playboy), Sheila Nevins (HBO), and Jennifer Heftler (former producer of Comedy Central's The Man Show) appear unreflective as they call the (compromising) hot shots. Community anecdotes also abound as lesbians (butch and boi) disparage their femme girlfriends or the straight dupes of the "Girls Gone Wild" juggernaut flash for a branded hat. Levy suggests that the motivation behind all this pole dancing and pose striking is fear of an uptight planet; she blames antiporn feminists like the late Andrea Dworkin and Elizabeth MacKinnon for this development. Her insights into preteens' confusion between feeling sexual attraction and simply desiring attention reinforce her argument for rehabilitation of comprehensive sex-ed programs. Levy's witty style entertains even as the facts disturb. Recommended for all public libraries. [See "Fall Editors' Picks," LJ 9/1/05.-Ed.]-Elizabeth Kennedy, Oakland, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An attack on "female chauvinist pigs," women who make sex objects of themselves and of other women. Levy, a contributing editor for New York Magazine, has expanded two of her articles in that magazine and a piece for slate.com into this biting critique of the phenomenon of raunch culture (think Paris Hilton) in which women choose to present themselves as bimbos. Noting that "raunchy" and "liberated" are not synonymous, she questions the assertion by some women that dressing and acting overtly sexual is empowering. She argues that they are deluded, that raunch culture is not essentially progressive but rather focuses on one particular commercial view of sexiness. For the roots of this, Levy turns to the schism between the women's liberation movement and the sexual revolution, with anti-porn feminists on one side and women who argued that freedom for women meant being free to look at or appear in pornography on the other. If grown women have adopted raunch as rebellion against the constraints of feminism, she asserts, teenage girls, growing up in a postfeminist era, are unaware of feminism's history and thus have nothing to rebel against. To learn why raunch culture is so pervasive among the young, she interviewed teenage girls. Her finding, in a chapter titled "Pigs in Training," easily the most disturbing part of her book, is that they are being blitzed with cultural pressure to seem sexy, to dress provocatively, to look as lewd as possible if they want to win social acclaim. Ironically, she notes that most teenage girls are being taught to just say no to sex before marriage rather than being educated about sexuality as a fundamental part of being human. It is, she asserts, a lack ofunderstanding about the complexity and power of sexuality, an anxiety about real sexual freedom, that has produced the current unfortunate obsession with raunchy exhibitionism. An assertive blast, filled with punchy language and vivid images.
From the Publisher
"With Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy becomes feminism's newest and most provocative voice, brilliantly laying bare the contradictions and evasions and self-deceptions that pass for empowerment."

— Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point

"Reading Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy's lively polemic, gave me an epiphany of sorts. Finally a coherent interpretation of an array of phenomena I'd puzzled over in recent years.... Levy's argument is provocative — and persuasive...a consciousness-raising call to arms."

The New York Times Book Review

"With the fresh voice of a young woman who grew up taking equal rights for granted while feminism was being perverted into a dirty word, Levy both shocks and sobers as she exposes the real cost of youth culture's 'Girls Gone Wild' form of status-seeking....A great choice for book clubs of either gender, it's a fast read and a surefire discussion sparker."

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Witty and provocative, painfully funny...as it documents the rise of trashy, raunchy, really, really bad female behavior, Levy's newly published book may well provide the next 'aha' moment in how North American women see themselves."

Maclean's (Toronto)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743274739
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
09/13/2005
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
247,628
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

I first noticed it several years ago. I would turn on the television and find strippers in pasties explaining how best to lap dance a man to orgasm. I would flip the channel and see babes in tight, tiny uniforms bouncing up and down on trampolines. Britney Spears was becoming increasingly popular and increasingly unclothed, and her undulating body ultimately became so familiar to me I felt like we used to go out.

Charlie's Angels, the film remake of the quintessential jiggle show, opened at number one in 2000 and made $125 million in theaters nationally, reinvigorating the interest of men and women alike in leggy crime fighting. Its stars, who kept talking about "strong women" and "empowerment," were dressed in alternating soft-porn styles — as massage parlor geishas, dominatrixes, yodeling Heidis in alpine bustiers. (The summer sequel in 2003 — in which the Angels' perilous mission required them to perform stripteases — pulled in another $100 million domestically.) In my own industry, magazines, a porny new genre called the Lad Mag, which included titles like Maxim, FHM, and Stuff, was hitting the stands and becoming a huge success by delivering what Playboy had only occasionally managed to capture: greased celebrities in little scraps of fabric humping the floor.

This didn't end when I switched off the radio or the television or closed the magazines. I'd walk down the street and see teens and young women — and the occasional wild fifty-year-old — wearing jeans cut so low they exposed what came to be known as butt cleavage paired with miniature tops that showed off breast implants and pierced navels alike. Sometimes, in case the overall message of the outfit was too subtle, the shirts would be emblazoned with the Playboy bunny or say Porn Star across the chest.

Some odd things were happening in my social life, too. People I knew (female people) liked going to strip clubs (female strippers). It was sexy and fun, they explained; it was liberating and rebellious. My best friend from college, who used to go to Take Back the Night marches on campus, had become captivated by porn stars. She would point them out to me in music videos and watch their (topless) interviews on Howard Stern. As for me, I wasn't going to strip clubs or buying Hustler T-shirts, but I was starting to show signs of impact all the same. It had only been a few years since I'd graduated from Wesleyan University, a place where you could pretty much get expelled for saying "girl" instead of "woman," but somewhere along the line I'd started saying "chick." And, like most chicks I knew, I'd taken to wearing thongs.

What was going on? My mother, a shiatsu masseuse who attended weekly women's consciousness-raising groups for twenty-four years, didn't own makeup. My father, whom she met as a student radical at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the sixties was a consultant for Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW. Only thirty years (my lifetime) ago, our mothers were "burning their bras" and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time?

What was almost more surprising than the change itself were the responses I got when I started interviewing the men and — often — women who edit magazines like Maxim and make programs like The Man Show and Girls Gone Wild. This new raunch culture didn't mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We'd earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.

When I asked female viewers and readers what they got out of raunch culture, I heard similar things about empowering miniskirts and feminist strippers, and so on, but I also heard something else. They wanted to be "one of the guys"; they hoped to be experienced "like a man." Going to strip clubs or talking about porn stars was a way of showing themselves and the men around them that they weren't "prissy little women" or "girly-girls." Besides, they told me, it was all in fun, all tongue-in-cheek, and for me to regard this bacchanal as problematic would be old-school and uncool.

I tried to get with the program, but I could never make the argument add up in my head. How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women? Why is laboring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star — a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place — going to render us sexually liberated?

Despite the rising power of Evangelical Christianity and the political right in the United States, this trend has only grown more extreme and more pervasive in the years that have passed since I first became aware of it. A tawdry, tarty, cartoonlike version of female sexuality has become so ubiquitous, it no longer seems particular. What we once regarded as a kind of sexual expression we now view as sexuality. As former adult film star Traci Lords put it to a reporter a few days before her memoir hit the best-seller list in 2003, "When I was in porn, it was like a back-alley thing. Now it's everywhere." Spectacles of naked ladies have moved from seedy side streets to center stage, where everyone — men and women — can watch them in broad daylight. Playboy and its ilk are being "embraced by young women in a curious way in a postfeminist world," to borrow the words of Hugh Hefner.

But just because we are post doesn't automatically mean we are feminists. There is a widespread assumption that simply because my generation of women has the good fortune to live in a world touched by the feminist movement, that means everything we do is magically imbued with its agenda. It doesn't work that way. "Raunchy" and "liberated" are not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go.

Copyright © 2005 by Ariel Levy

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