I just finished reading Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. I always wanted to read it but never had the time, so now I could finally catch up. The book made a very complex impression on me : it's both very good and really bad.
Levy sets out to denounce the new trend among women of all ages and professions that she considers to be very dangerous for the cause of feminism. In order to be more acceptable to men, to seem cool, hip and "in", women participate - according to Levy - in a culture that objectifies women and revolves around a cartoonish, exaggerated, and unrealistic portrayals of female sexuality. These women wear revealing clothes (because that's what men like), are ready to strip for any one, frequent strip bars, are obssessed with strippers and porn stars, and provide sexual favors to men (stripping, oral sex) with no view to their own gratification. As a result, the images of women we see everywhere around us - from the schoolyard to the television - are those of half-naked, wriggling, heavily made up women with breast implants desperate to be seen as sexual objects and nothing else.
Our attitudes to sex, says Levy, have also changed and not in a good way. Sex is everywhere but it's not a liberating, feminist version of sex. It's the kind where women kill themselves to please and men sit back and decide whether to grant their approval. People have become indiscriminate about sex because of "our baseline assumption that sex is something you should always automatically take when you can get it". This happens because a large number of sexual partners brings us prestige.
This does sound like a nightmarish kind of world. The picture Levy presents in the book is, indeed, scary. The only problem is: where does she see all of this? I believe I have a pretty varied acquaintance among women of all kinds of age groups and professions. And, for the life of me, I can't remenber observing anything like what this book claims is happening all over the place. I don't know any women who frequent female strip bars. Some of my friends have been to male strip clubs, which makes more sense for heterosexual women, but going to look at female strippers? What on earth for? My friends and I do wear low-cut shirts and short dresses when we go out but none of us have ever stripped for men in public, or kissed each other to attract male attention, or even been asked to do any such thing. Neither do we ever discuss strippers and porn starts, either to admire them or to criticize them. It's just not a topic. As to women accumulating sexual experiences because it's considered prestigious, that doesn't happen either. I do, however, know women who conceal the number of their sexual partners for fear of appearing slutty.
As to men, I fail to see those men who have such a free and easy access to sex from any woman they want any time they want. The men who surround me are wonderful, intelligent, attractive, successful people. I can't say, however, that it's in any way easier for them to find girlfriends or sexual partners than it is for my female friends. When we go out together, I never see any women running up to them and trying to attract their attention to stripping. Just the opposite, my close male friends have shared with me how difficult it is to try and approach a woman you like in a bar or a club, how sometimes you feel rejected or even humiliated, how these experiences accumulate and leave you fearful of dating.
I belong precisely to the group of people in their early thirties, well-educated and professionally successful that Levy sees as the most avid participants in this "raunch culture." I have lived in many different places in North America, big cities and small towns, I know the East Coast and the Midwest. How come all of this has passed me by?
It is, of course, possible that I'm personally so out of touch that I managed to snooze through a major cultural phenomenon that is happening everywhere except within my circle of equally frumpy friends. In that case, I would have certainly seen manifestations of the "raunch culture" on television. Levy talks at length about the numerous TV shows where women strip, make a spectacle of themselves, are criticized if their appearance is not up to the mark, and behave in highly sexualized way. Yet again, among all the shows she mentions in her book, the only one I ever watched or even heard about is Sex and the City.
So, the question remains: does the "raunch culture" exist? And if not, then why are so many feminists (Levy is far from being the only one) wiritng about it as if it were the next big menace to the cause of feminism?
(To be coninued)