Title: Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
Author: Ariel Levy
Genre: Non-fiction – Women’s Studies
Publication Date: 2006
Purchase Price: Around $10.00 (paperback)
In the wake of Roe v. Wade, women should have come further. But instead of using our freedom to get more in touch with our feelings and who we are as individuals, many women are trying to “act like men” in an attempt to become equal with them. In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy wonders if getting breast implants, waxing our vaginas, and going to strip clubs–in essence becoming the Barbie look-alikes that men supposedly fantasize about–has really brought women equality, or simply shows us how far we haven’t come.
“This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, [interviewees] told me; it was evidence that the feminist project has 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 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.” (pp. 3-4)
I’m not here to do a broad critique of feminism, as I am neither willing nor qualified to do so. But I have been noticing some of the things that Levy mentions in her books’ introduction. “Girls Gone Wild” is everywhere, high school girls are carrying wallets stamped with the Playboy bunny, skirts are getting shorter and shirts, smaller. I know women who have gotten all dolled up and gone to a strip club (female strippers). And it’s all generally in a quest to be sexy, be famous, or sometimes merely a question of curiosity.
But is this healthy curiosity? Many of the young women Levy interviewed for her book seemed so focused on how other women looked that they weren’t bothering to pay any attention to how they themselves felt. Several of the women claimed to hate “girly-girls,” yet were simultaneously obsessed with the models in Playboy and the strippers at the nearby club–women who are paid to be smooth and hairless and inherently…girly.
Levy does a ton of media blaming, which is okay to a certain extent: magazines and advertisers have caught a lot of flack for creating unrealistic expectations about beauty and sexuality. But often there is a tone behind Levy’s words that irk me–it’s as if she’s blaming women, especially young women, for paying attention to media. But how can one ignore it all? We are completely saturated in advertising, and for the average middle- and high school girl, fitting in is what it’s all about.
It’s relatively easy for me to ignore it. With what some would consider a model’s physique, the only thing that’s holding me back is self-respect, and the knowledge that my slim build is more the result of a chronic stomach condition than of my efforts to keep it so.
Levy’s blame game is frustrating, because it is “we the people” who have turned the media into the monster it is. It didn’t just spawn fully formed; we Frankenstein’d it together. And because the concepts involved in “ideal beauty” are the results of millions of years of evolution, they’re going to be really hard to change. The recent news that a British magazine used Photoshop to magic extra weight onto a model they felt was too thin is a sign of a step in the right direction, but of course that has led to many wondering why the magazine didn’t select a healthier model in the first place. One step forward and one step back leaves you right where you started.
What to Do?
The only real combat against unhealthy media displays is education. It is here where my thoughts align perfectly with Levy’s. Young women are so inundated with images and ideas of how to be sexy, how cool it is to be desired by boys. I read a quote somewhere, many moons ago, that went like this:
“Just because I’m sexy, doesn’t mean I have sex.”
And normally I would be all for quoting this to every person I meet. But for some women the two concepts are confused: they only know others’ opinions about what it means to “be sexy,” and often the message that gets passed along is this:
“Be sexy, but don’t have sex.”
That is not helpful to a sixteen year-old girl who doesn’t know the difference between the two. And how is it possible to learn that difference when you are sandwiched between hyper-sexualized media and abstinence-only education?
“By any measure, the way we educate young people about sexuality is not working. We expect them to dismiss their instinctive desires and curiosities even as we bombard them with images that imply that lust is the most important appetite and hotness the most impressive virtue. Somehow, we expect people who are by definition immature to make sense of this contradictory mishmash. Our national approach to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy is predicated on the assumption that teenagers will want so badly to maintain their purity for marriage–despite the fact that half of their parents’ marriages end in divorce–that they will ignore their own hormones, ignore the porn stars on MTV and all the blogs and blow jobs on the Internet, and do as their teachers tell them. Unsurprisingly, teenagers are not cooperating with this plan.” (p. 162)
And it’s easy to understand why. Which source of advice is a teenager more likely to listen to: a middle-aged football/baseball/track/tennis coach who also teaches Health–and therefore the section on sex and STIs–or magazines, movies, television, advertising, and their peers, which are all touting the theory that men like a specific kind of woman, and if you want to be found attractive, you better either a.) look exactly like her, or b.) ogle her right along with everyone else?
Is this the kind of freedom that feminists like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul were fighting to gain? I think we should be focusing more on what we as women can bring to the table (and make sure we get paid equally for it!) and less on impressing men with how “hot” we are, and how much we love acting just “like men.”
” ‘…let’s not kid ourselves that this is liberation. The women who buy the idea that flaunting your breasts in sequins is power–I mean, I’m all for that stuff–but let’s not get so into the tits and ass that we don’t notice how far we haven’t come. Let’s not confuse that with real power. I don’t like to see women fooled.’ “ (quoting Erica Jong, p. 76)
A Tricky Issue
Like with many other points of contention, this is not something that be fixed quickly or easily. And it’s made even more complicated by the fact that not everyone thinks that “raunch culture” is a problem.
“Without a doubt there are some women who feel their most sexual with their vaginas waxed, their labia trimmed, their breasts enlarged, and their garments flossy and scant. I am happy for them. I wish them many blissful and lubricious loops around the pole. But there are many other women (and, yes, men) who feel constrained in this environment, who would be happier and feel hotter–more empowered, more sexually liberated, and all the rest of it–if they explored other avenues of expression and entertainment.” (p. 198)
Normally I am a very “live and let live” person–just because one person’s definition of feminism is not the same as mine, doesn’t mean that he or she is automatically wrong. But feminism is like a house of cards: what one group builds affects the others. It’s all well and good for me to be all-inclusive, but at some point this new “culture” is going to impede on my beliefs–and that’s when we’ll have a problem. Because something’s gotta give, and it ain’t gonna be me.
I’ve had to handle this review of a non-fiction work a bit differently than I have with previous fiction titles. And because of the specific nature of what this second part of my series on feminism, I have left out summarizing and discussing large portions of Female Chauvinist Pigs. Levy devotes several chapters to pornography, the LGBT community, and talks much more about sexual education for young adults than I have mentioned here. I really recommend this book, although readers must keep in mind that the author is expressing only one of the many, many opinions present with the feminist community. If you’re interested in getting ideas from all sides, below is a list of influential titles and authors.
- Jessica Valenti
- Full Frontal Feminism: A Yong Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters
- The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
- Betty Friedan
- The Feminine Mystique
- Wendy Shalit
- A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue
- Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find it’s Not Bad to be Good
- Simone de Beauvoir
- The Second Sex
- Susan Brownmiller
- In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution
- Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape
- Andrea Dworkin
What do you think about feminism in general? Do you agree with Levy’s theories, or is she totally off target? If you’re a woman who views pornography, why do you do it–because you enjoy it, or because you think it makes you more attractive to men? Gents, what do you think about a woman who wears a shirt that says ‘PORN STAR’?