Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Female Chauvinist Pigs

Last year about this time I heard an interview with the author Ariel Levy on NPR about her new book Female Chauvinist Pigs. I went right home and reserved it from the library. What she was saying fascinated me, and put words to vague concerns I had, but couldn't define, like how so many women were measuring their 'liberation' by how many clothes they took off in public.

She interviews teens in high school, she follows the crew of Girls Gone Wild, she attends sex education seminars and speeches by the leading women in magazine publishing. This article she wrote for the New York Magazine later became the basis of the chapter entitled "From Womyn to Bois" that detailed current ironically misogynistic trends in the lesbian community. And she connects the dots to draw a sobering picture.

Since she is much better words than me, I'll just give you a sampling of some of the ones she wrote that really struck a cord with me:

"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? ... 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." (that was a segment from the introduction, you can read more of it here.)

Some qotes that made into my journal:

"Raunch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial... it is not as though we are embracing free love. Raunch culture is not about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality. It's about endlessly reiterating one particular- and particularly commercial- shorthand for sexiness."

"If we were to acknowledge that sexuality is personal and unique, it would become unwieldily. Making sexiness into something quantifiable makes it easier to market... big boobs, bleached blond hair, long nails, poles, thongs... you can sell it. Suddenly sex requires shopping; you need plastic surgery, peroxide, a manicure, a mall."

Female Chauvinist Pigs is epic as it traces trends from second-wave american feminism to today's post-feminism... and also very intimate, and personal as it shares real life stories from real life girls and women navigating through this culture we live in.

Brava, Ariel. Brava!


Lessie said...

Alistiar and I were just discussing this the other day over a Victoria's Secret catalog. He had commented that one model's breasts were too big, so I showed him that same model in another pose that he had said he liked. He hadn't even recognized that it was the same woman. We had a long discussion about how manufactured the beauty industry is. How so much of it is artificial, and yet portrayed as reality--an impossible reality for the rest of us to keep up with.

Ziff said...

I thought that Levy's book was much-needed too. I really like the bit you quote about raunch culture not being progressive, but rather being commercial. That seems so true, that the push to get women to disrobe to prove their liberation is a moneymaking enterprise before anything else, even if it tries to sell itself as somehow progressive.

Another point I recall liking that she made was about how women's sex appeal is presented as an artificially created product. I remember her referring to Jessica Simpson as "waxy" and I thought that was such a great term. Or "plastic" perhaps. The reality of organic flesh-and-blood women is too messy to be a sellable product, I guess. :)

G said...

another part that really stuck out to me was the section about Amanda Beard (olympic gold medalist) who went on to pose in playboy and FHM. Levy made the comment that with our current cultures view of women, perhaps Beard thought posing nude in such magazines was scoring even higher than getting the gold.

Beard's nude modeling stint is discussed more in depth in this blog post [WARNING- it has some of those playboy and FHM shots in it. The 'discrete' ones]. I really liked this passage:

"Dr. Mary Jo Kane, director of the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport said this, “It used to be that female athletes were portrayed as wholesome, All-American girls. Now you get female athletes in GQ, Playboy and the Swimsuit issue. The result of it is coverage that is very damaging — that trivializes and marginalizes women athletes because it does not give them the respect they deserve as competent athletes.”

She added, “If elite female athletes think posing in Playboy is showing off their bodies as competent athletes, they are either naive or fools.” "

the author of the post felt differently, however:

"Beard is neither naive nor fool. Contrary to what others said, she is smart. She knows that her place to Beijing 2008 is not confirmed and before the world forget about it, she has to squeeze every dollar she can out from her body and fame... Also, let’s not forget Amanda is just a swimmer. She is not a basketball player and she does not command a $40 million deal. Nor she a England Premier League soccer player who makes 2 million pounds a year... It is a business decision, it is a career decision; It is her body, it is her right."

very interesting.