Levy attempts to explain the view of sexuality that currently exists in the US by the "unfinished business of feminism." The conflict between "sex-positive" feminists and anti-pornography feminists left us without a coherent stance on sex and female sexuality. As a result, the raunch culture emerged, where objectification of women hid undeer the guise of female sexual liberation.
I believe that it's here that Levy's argument fails. Her views become parochial and limited at the point where she sees the current attitude to sexuality almost exclusively as a result of what the 2nd generation feminists did or failed to do. As important as the ideological differences between Jong and Dworkin are for the history of the movement, it doesn't seem like the whole country was sitting there, waiting with bated breath for the resolution of their conflict. I propose that in order to understand the way sexuality is viewed, lived, and enacted in America today, it would be useful to look at the issue from the outside. Not only outside feminist debates, but also from outside the continent itself.
When we were talking about cultural stereotypes with my students, they asked me about the way I had imagined the Americans before moving to the US. I told them that the main stereotypes I had held were that Americans were friendly and sexually repressed. The students were very surprised. They were even more surprised to hear that after living in North America for 11 years, I hadn't found much to contradict these assumptions. My undergrads talked about the American culture as being overly sexually permissive, and even "too sexually liberated" for its own good. I reminded them of abstinence-only sex ed, virginity pledges, purity balls, the fact that Roe v Wade was still not safe (and this conversation took place even before Dr. Tiller's murder), and about all the times when I had to stop them from characterizing women as "slutty" for having more than one sexual partner. When I asked why they thought Americans were "too sexually liberated", my students echoed Ricci Levy by answering that "sex was everywhere" in the form of magazine articles, TV shows, movies, etc.
This is precisely the phenomenon that Levy addresses in Female Chauvinist Pigs. And she makes the same mistake as my students, equating obssessive sex talk with actual sexual liberation. There is a very telling moment in her book when she talks about the Girls Gone Wild series, the favorite whipping horse of those who believe in the "pornification of America." One of the young women who takes part in the show by stripping for the camera "declared proudly" that she was a virgin. Here is the answer to the entire problem. This young woman lives in a society where, instead of a mere physiological fact, virginity is an issue that merits emotional attachment and is something to be proud of. So she goes on the show to enact sexuality, since practicing it is forbidden to her by a repressive society. Girls Gone Wild comes not out of a sexually permissive society, but rather out of a sexually repressive one.
(To be continued).