Review of “Female Chauvinist Pigs”

Female Chauvinist PigsIn Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, 30-year-old writer Ariel Levy asks whether the joke is on us when we make sex objects of ourselves and other women and view it as funny and brave. She argues that by being good sports and embracing what she calls “raunch culture,” women are confusing conformity with empowerment.

Female Chauvinist Pigs makes for entertaining reading and offers compelling arguments. Levy cites numerous examples of the raunch phenomenon in popular culture, such as thongs being marketed to pre-teen girls and Olympic athletes flaunting their heretofore lesser known talents in Playboy magazine. She doesn’t take issue with porn or the sex industry but with how we’ve taken something seedy and made it squeaky clean.

Not only has it become entertainment for the masses, it has become a hallmark of being uninhibited.

Levy poses many thought-provoking questions, such as how is imitating strippers, women whose job it is to imitate arousal can really make us sexually liberated. According to her, we idolize sex workers when the “best erotic role models…would seem to be the women who get the most pleasure out of sex, not the women who get the most money for it.”

She points out the contradictions and self-deception that enable women to not only participate in but create raunch culture–to be “female chauvinist pigs” who are simultaneously obsessed with caricatures of femininity, but intent on being “one of the guys.”

Female Chauvinist Pigs traces how “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.” Levy argues further that rather than seeing raunch culture as the death of feminism, we cite it as proof that its goals have finally been achieved.

In a July interview with Janeane Garofolo for Air America Radio, Levy says she was inspired to write this book after realizing that everywhere she looked there were boobs and Playboy bunnies and she saw that what used to pass for stripper-wear was now being marketed to little kids. She sees it as an Emperor’s New Clothes scenario: “We’re all supposed to believe this is somehow the enactment of the feminist movement, this was something we should be celebrating, that this was great for us…and it eventually dwelled [sic] on me that this isn’t good, this isn’t feminism. This is what it looks like: It’s retrograde motion.”

It’s a bold stance. By taking a step back and refusing to participate in the charade, Levy risks being seen as prude and stodgy. Or worse still, as wrecking the fun for everyone else. But whether or not you view her as a sore sport, it’s hard not to nod in agreement with Levy when reading her book. It’s hard not to admit that maybe we are indeed selling ourselves short by buying into one form of female sexuality, namely one more concerned with imitating pleasure than genuinely experiencing it.

Female Chauvinist Pigs is a wakeup call for anyone who thinks they have to make like a stripper or porn star in order to be sexy. It’s for all of us who are clamoring for a piece of the sham that’s sold to us empowerment. Instead of being rebellious and brave, Levy points out, we are lapping up a flimsy pretense with all the awareness of herded sheep.

In her book, which began as an article for New York magazine, Levy bolsters her anecdotal evidence and cultural analysis with an array of interviews. She talks to people both in front of and behind the camera for Girls Gone Wild–a wildly popular series of videos that document college girls’ drunken exhibitionism while on spring break. She finds further support for her arguments in interviews with teenage girls, Playboy executives and bois.