Sunday, October 26, 2008

Female Chauvinist Pigs: an accurate portrayal of the "empowered female"

I just finished reading Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, a polemic on the inappropriateness of equating the objectification of women with sexual liberation.

In this book, Levy focuses on the objectification of women by women: there are women who play the role of the cartoon woman with the big boobs and lack of personality, and there are women who are "female chauvinist pigs," playing the role of the strip-club-going, misogynistic cartoon man. Levy's main point is that our present society seems to confuse sexual objectification for female liberation: while sexual liberation is an important aspect of female liberation, 1) what we have today is not really liberation and 2) there are other, more important aspects of liberation (i.e. serving in political office, running a company). Levy provides a compelling take on how we got to where we are now, starting with the beginnings of radical feminism and continuing to the present, describing the situation of women from lesbian "bois" in San Francisco who act tough to anorexic high school girls who compete to be the "skankiest."

The book describes the disturbing phenomenon of misogynistic women who claim to hate "girly-girls" but are obsessed with pornography. Levy talks about how the producers of The Man Show, which features ditzy, large-breasted women jumping around, see their job as a great defense against being seen as "that prissy little woman." Levy writes of these women who try to be seen as "one of the guys," "It can be fun to feel exception--to be the loophole woman, to have a whole power thing, to be an honorary man. But if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven't made any progress." Levy also criticizes Camille Paglia*, who tries to associate herself with what she sees as the masculine, writing, "Paglia's equation of all things aggressive, arrogant, adventurous, and libidinous with masculinity, and her relgation of everything whiney, wimpy, needy, and compacent to femininity, is, among other things, dopey."

The take-away message Levy offers is for women (and men) to separate women from the objectification to which men have subject women. Levy writes, "Without a doubt there are some women who feel their most sexual with their vaginas waxed, their labia trimmed, their breasts enlarged, and there garmets flossy and scant. I am happy for them... But there are many other women... who feel contrained in this environment, who would be happier and feel hotter... if they explored other avenues of expression and entertainment." In her last paragraph, she writes, "If we believed that we were sexy and funny and competent and smat, we woul dnot need to be like stripper or like men or like anyone other than our own specific, individual selves." Out of context, this advice may seem obvious and trite, but Levy has shown in this book that it is anything but.

Not only is Female Chauvinist Pigs a fascinating read, but Levy makes very good points backed up by careful thought and good research. All who care to think about the role of women in American society today should read this book.

Related note: I also read a somewhat related article on how it is seems to be no longer good enough for women to be smart, if they are not smart and sexy they're intelligence somehow does not count. This is with respect to how the Boston Globe equated MIT's growing well-roundedness with the fact that their female students are posing for fundraising calendars.

* A total anti-feminist goon and a faux intellectual.

1 comment:

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