Review: “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” by Ariel Levy [2005]

There is no denying that raunch is everywhere in our culture today. Music videos, advertisements and even children products are more often than not targeted as ‘sexy’ because, let’s face it, sex sells. In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy explores and discusses how this culture has risen and how the second-wave feminist struggle has appropriated into the war cry that sex and stripping now means liberalisation for women. Levy writes:

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.  – p. 4

But have women actually come so far as to not be objectified? Levy asks herself:

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? – p. 4

[Strippers] are merely sexual personae, erotic dollies from the land of make-believe. In their performances, which is the only capacity in which we see these women we so fetishize, they don’t even speak … they have no ideas, no feelings, no political beliefs, no relationships, no past, no future, no humanity. – p. 196

How has stripping, imitating sexually explicit poses and flashing their breasts in public or for the camera render women ‘sexually liberated’? Are they still not being objectified as sexual objects by men? Levy sets out to ascertain why the raunch culture is so appealing to women, particularly young, educated women and more concerning, young teenage girls, some as young as twelve, who strive to embody the raunch culture by wearing make-up and snapping g-strings at boys. Levy discovers that raunch and sexual appeal have become separated from the act of sex itself. These young girls understand acting and dressing sexily is what gets attention from boys but they do not understand the act of sex and its pleasures.

Raunch culture, then, isn’t an entertainment option, it’s a litmus test of female uptightness. – p. 40

In the book, Levy also details the history and battles of the second-wave feminist movement and key activists. Women have finally broken through the barriers and have presumably gained gender equality. The problem is, as Levy suggests, that women are still not free to act as ‘women’ or as themselves but they are now pressured to act as ‘men’ so they will be included and considered as one of the boys. Levy discusses women like Christie Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s daughter and the CEO of Playboy, and  Sheila Nevins, a high profile and formidable veteran producer for HBO. They see no problems with producing media that promotes and encourages female raunch. Women either have to ‘get with the program’ or risk looking prudish and uptight to both other men and women.

… the Female Chauvinist Pig (FCP) has risen to a kind of exalted status. She is post-feminist. She is funny. She gets it. She doesn’t mind cartoonish stereotypes of female sexuality, and she doesn’t mind a cartoonishly macho response to them. The FCP asks: Why throw your boyfriend’s Playboy in a freedom trash can when you could be partying at the Mansion? Why worry about disgusting or degrading when you could be giving – or getting – a lap dance yourself? Why try to beat them when you can join them? – p. 93

The female chauvinist pigs are women who consider themselves apart from their less raunchy sisters,

a new sort of loophole woman who is ‘not like other women’, who is instead ‘like a man’. – p. 96

And there lies the problem. Who is this invisible, ideal man that everybody strives to emulate? And are women actually liberated when all it seems is that they are still struggling to be accepted as themselves? Why aren’t the men concerning themselves that if they don’t flash their genitals, women might not find them sexy and think them prudish? The FCP is not limited to heterosexual women and Levy discusses how the lesbian community have appeared to have taken similar heterosexual gender roles such as butches, femmes and bois.

Female Chauvinist Pigs is a slim but thorough and interesting volume and Levy ties in the current, past and alternative cultures nicely although it is very American-centric. The raunch culture have appeared to stabilised since the book was published in 2005 but, having said that, strippers, gyrating dancers, porn stars and Paris Hilton are still figures that many young girls and women look up to. Women still find it hard to find their own independent voice, particularly if they work in male dominated and cut-throat worlds. To succeed, they ultimately have to become ‘one of the boys’ or otherwise come across as uptight.

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7 comments

  1. Hello and thank you for visiting my blog today. I have added you to my blog roll and look forward to visiting yours regularly.
    Thank you in particular for this review as I was unaware of this book and its subject matter is a major bugbear for me. You’ve laid it out perfectly and I enjoyed your review. I’ll keep a lookout for a copy… nice to know I’m not the only one who ponders about such things 🙂

  2. Christina – hi and thanks for your comment! These issues of female inequality, and the very idea of what a female, or woman, should be, is something that constantly concerns and irritates me. I love the header pic too – actually, I love any painting or drawings of people reading. 🙂

  3. I have been meaning to read this book for ages. I find this subject absolutely fascinating because I can’t help but agree a little with the author and her argument. It seems that the caliber of sexuality in the media has reached new heights as a “sign of the times” but I wonder if we’re going a little backwards…

    Just some food for thought.

    Great review!

    1. Thanks Lydia. I agree with many things Levy says and puts a label on this new ‘phenomenon’ where stripping can empower women. I can see both sides of the story – the empowerment of women who flaunt their sexuality but also Levy’s argument as to what is exactly to be gained by playing right into the hands of men. That to beat them at their own game would mean the women have the upper hand but…it’s very contradictory.

  4. I would think that Playboy Enterprises would have been taken over by one of Hef’s sons, not his daughter. I find it amazing that a woman would run and operate the most sexist and chauvinistic of magazines. It mystifies me.

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