Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

Paperback | October 3, 2006

byAriel Levy

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A classic work on gender culture exploring how the women’s movement has evolved to Girls Gone Wild in a new, self-imposed chauvinism. In the tradition of Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, New York Magazine writer Ariel Levy studies the effects of modern feminism on women today.

Meet the Female Chauvinist Pig—the new brand of “empowered woman” who wears the Playboy bunny as a talisman, bares all for Girls Gone Wild, pursues casual sex as if it were a sport, and embraces “raunch culture” wherever she finds it. If male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women—and of themselves. They think they’re being brave, they think they’re being funny, but in Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy asks if the joke is on them.

In her quest to uncover why this is happening, Levy interviews college women who flash for the cameras on spring break and teens raised on Paris Hilton and breast implants. She examines a culture in which every music video seems to feature a stripper on a pole, the memoirs of porn stars are climbing the bestseller lists, Olympic athletes parade their Brazilian bikini waxes in the pages of Playboy, and thongs are marketed to prepubescent girls. Levy meets the high-powered women who create raunch culture—the new oinking women warriors of the corporate and entertainment worlds who eagerly defend their efforts to be “one of the guys.” And she traces the history of this trend back to conflicts between the women’s movement and the sexual revolution long left unresolved.

Levy pulls apart the myth of the Female Chauvinist Pig and argues that what has come to pass for liberating rebellion is actually a kind of limiting conformity. Irresistibly witty and wickedly intelligent, Female Chauvinist Pigs makes the case that the rise of raunch does not represent how far women have come, it only proves how far they have left to go.

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From the Publisher

A classic work on gender culture exploring how the women’s movement has evolved to Girls Gone Wild in a new, self-imposed chauvinism. In the tradition of Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, New York Magazine writer Ariel Levy studies the effects of modern feminism on women today.Meet the Female Chauvinist Pig—the ...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 8.44 × 5.5 × 0.7 inPublished:October 3, 2006Publisher:Free PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0743284283

ISBN - 13:9780743284288

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Introduction I first noticed it several years ago. I would turn on the television and find strippers in pasties explaining how best to lap dance a man to orgasm. I would flip the channel and see babes in tight, tiny uniforms bouncing up and down on trampolines. Britney Spears was becoming increasingly popular and increasingly unclothed, and her undulating body ultimately became so familiar to me I felt like we used to go out. Charlie's Angels, the film remake of the quintessential jiggle show, opened at number one in 2000 and made $125 million in theaters nationally, reinvigorating the interest of men and women alike in leggy crime fighting. Its stars, who kept talking about "strong women" and "empowerment," were dressed in alternating soft-porn styles -- as massage parlor geishas, dominatrixes, yodeling Heidis in alpine bustiers. (The summer sequel in 2003 -- in which the Angels' perilous mission required them to perform stripteases -- pulled in another $100 million domestically.) In my own industry, magazines, a porny new genre called the Lad Mag, which included titles like Maxim, FHM, and Stuff, was hitting the stands and becoming a huge success by delivering what Playboy had only occasionally managed to capture: greased celebrities in little scraps of fabric humping the floor. This didn't end when I switched off the radio or the television or closed the magazines. I'd walk down the street and see teens and young women -- and the occasional wild fifty-year-old -- wearing jeans cut so low they exposed what came to be known as butt cleavage paired with miniature tops that showed off breast implants and pierced navels alike. Sometimes, in case the overall message of the outfit was too subtle, the shirts would be emblazoned with the Playboy bunny or say Porn Star across the chest. Some odd things were happening in my social life, too. People I knew (female people) liked going to strip clubs (female strippers). It was sexy and fun, they explained; it was liberating and rebellious. My best friend from college, who used to go to Take Back the Night marches on campus, had become captivated by porn stars. She would point them out to me in music videos and watch their (topless) interviews on Howard Stern. As for me, I wasn't going to strip clubs or buying Hustler T-shirts, but I was starting to show signs of impact all the same. It had only been a few years since I'd graduated from Wesleyan University, a place where you could pretty much get expelled for saying "girl" instead of "woman," but somewhere along the line I'd started saying "chick." And, like most chicks I knew, I'd taken to wearing thongs. What was going on? My mother, a shiatsu masseuse who attended weekly women's consciousness-raising groups for twenty-four years, didn't own makeup. My father, whom she met as a student radical at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the sixties was a consultant for Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW. 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? What was almost more surprising than the change itself were the responses I got when I started interviewing the men and -- often -- women who edit magazines like Maxim and make programs like The Man Show and Girls Gone Wild. 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. 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. When I asked female viewers and readers what they got out of raunch culture, I heard similar things about empowering miniskirts and feminist strippers, and so on, but I also heard something else. They wanted to be "one of the guys"; they hoped to be experienced "like a man." Going to strip clubs or talking about porn stars was a way of showing themselves and the men around them that they weren't "prissy little women" or "girly-girls." Besides, they told me, it was all in fun, all tongue-in-cheek, and for me to regard this bacchanal as problematic would be old-school and uncool. I tried to get with the program, but I could never make the argument add up in my head. How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women? Why is laboring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star -- a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place -- going to render us sexually liberated? Despite the rising power of Evangelical Christianity and the political right in the United States, this trend has only grown more extreme and more pervasive in the years that have passed since I first became aware of it. 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. As former adult film star Traci Lords put it to a reporter a few days before her memoir hit the best-seller list in 2003, "When I was in porn, it was like a back-alley thing. Now it's everywhere." Spectacles of naked ladies have moved from seedy side streets to center stage, where everyone -- men and women -- can watch them in broad daylight. Playboy and its ilk are being "embraced by young women in a curious way in a postfeminist world," to borrow the words of Hugh Hefner. But just because we are post doesn't automatically mean we are feminists. There is a widespread assumption that simply because my generation of women has the good fortune to live in a world touched by the feminist movement, that means everything we do is magically imbued with its agenda. It doesn't work that way. "Raunchy" and "liberated" are not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go. Copyright © 2005 by Ariel Levy

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction

One Raunch Culture

Two The Future That Never Happened

Three Female Chauvinist Pigs

Four From Womyn to Bois

Five Pigs in Training

Six Shopping for Sex

Conclusion

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

Bookclub Guide

Group Reading Guide Female Chauvinist Pigs discussion questions: Try to define raunch culture. What are some examples you've noticed? What are the values expressed in raunch culture? Levy asserts that raunch is not essentially progressive, it's essentially commercial. Do you agree with her? To what extent do you, or people you know, participate in raunch culture? Has this book made you reconsider any of your habits or assumptions? Is there anything positive about raunch culture? Are there ways in which it demonstrates women's success? How does the rise of raunch affect teenagers? Can education help them cope with the messages about sex they find in media and entertainment? How do you think we should be educating young people about sexuality? Is this something best taught in school or at home? If you had a daughter, or if you have one, what would or do you tell her about sex? If you had a son, or if you have one, are those messages different? What does feminism mean to you and what influence does feminism have on your life? Has it always had the same value to you, or has it meant different things at different times? What do you think would be the single most empowering thing that could happen to women? Electing a female president? Seeing a female anchorwoman on television? The passage of the ERA? What did the women's movement leave unfinished? What does it mean to you to be "like a man?" Or "like a woman?" Is there any such thing? Do you believe there are any inherently female or essentially male traits? What would you ask or say to a friend who had decided to "transition" from female to male? What are your thoughts on cosmetic surgery? Do you feel it is something people take too lightly? Is it an expression of a vain and shallow culture or is it something positive people can do to improve their looks and self image? Or does it depend upon the context? What can we do to make progress? What are some positive ways for women to pursue freedom and power?

Editorial Reviews

"Witty and provocative, painfully funny...as it documents the rise of trashy, raunchy, really, really bad female behavior, Levy's newly published book may well provide the next 'aha' moment in how North American women see themselves."

-- Maclean's (Toronto)