Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005)

By Laura Clark

Laura Clark is a freelance writer based in Front Royal, Virginia.

Ariel Levy is not a conservative.  She identifies strongly with a fairly standard “Feminism”:  at least a Feminism which empowers women to do as they choose, and be treated equally with men.  Levy correctly sees, however, that women having equal footing with men in society should not mean the same thing as women having to practically become men.  Levy argues in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, that many women are becoming like the worst of men in how they treat other women.  She makes the case fairly well that there are a good many female chauvinist pigs running around.

There are the women who are involved in filming the “Girls Gone Wild” videos, where girls (some under-aged) are offered hats, tee-shirts, etc. if they will expose themselves to the camera.  One woman photographer of “GGW”, when asked if she would be in a video, says, “No way!”    In a photograph shoot, which Levy actually witnessed, a rather  threatening crowd of forty or so people gathered around two girls (on the beach in Florida) urging them to “take it off”  until one reluctantly pulled down the bottom half of her bikini and her friend began spanking her. The guys sunning next to them had wanted the free hats being offered.  (Levy does not say if the girls were offered anything).  One of the young men sunning (who stood to win a free hat) had so much confidence in the girls’ desire to objectify themselves that he yelled:  “You know you want to!”  But in reading the story you realize that they really didn’t want to, and that they even may have been a little frightened.  According to Levy, the crowd had increased to about seventy people before the first girl decided to “give in.”  And there doesn’t seem to have been anyone present (the outmoded gentleman, a mother, a father?) who could even try to help the girls “make their own decision.”  So much for female empowerment in the twenty-first century.   

Levy seriously questions whether these women, the ones who appear in GGW, actually do respect themselves.  When she followed up with some of them, weeks later, she finds that they are upset and even uncomprehending of their actions in GGW.  Apparently, very often, even for the modern “liberated” woman, her self respect is inexplicably tied up with not revealing herself, rather than the reverse.  Some radical feminists, recognizing that women feel this way, shrill on and on that it is still the patriarchy which causes their discomfort.  But this doesn’t make sense anymore. The current sexual mores do not encourage girls to think these kinds of actions are wrong.  Instead, the girls seem to have some kind of inner barometer at work indicating that something is not right, and that barometer is working against all odds.  Are the people who are promoting GGW and the like respectful of this inner sense girls possess?   Most of them do not seem to care whether it exists or not, or they would deny (as many feminists do) its existence.

“It doesn’t have to threaten us anymore.” This is what one of The Man Show’s women producers had to say to Levy who wanted her to explain how the content of a show (that does nothing but make fun of women and present them as male sex objects) is good.  Later, a male producer of the show would tell Levy that The Man Show’s thirty-eight percent female viewership reflects the fact that thirty-eight percent of women in general have a sense of humor.  Levy tells the reader that when she heard this, she laughed, not because she thinks The Man Show is funny, but because she wanted to be considered one of those women.  No one wants to be accused of not having a sense of humor.  I found her honesty endearing.  Unstated by the producer, but implied by Levy however, is that the laugh is on women.  Also unstated but implied by Levy is that women now have to laugh at other women who put or find themselves in awkward sexual situations or be considered “prudes”, “uncomfortable with our sexuality,” “bad sports,” “humorless”. . .    In other words, if we do not laugh, we are really boring, or worse, sexually conflicted ourselves.    A good question to ask is:  according to whom?

Levy is endearing.  Levy is brilliant.  But her book fails to really stir one to action (although it does make one think) because Levy cannot produce any standard for taking action.  Indignation (albeit righteous) is the only stand she can take, because that is the only thing that makes sense given her philosophical outlook.  She rejects the idea that sex has any intrinsic meaning (“Sex is one of the most interesting things we as human beings have to play with. . .” she says near the end).  She asks for a return to “idealism”, which once again is impossible if sex only has the meaning each individual gives it.  Whose ideal?  Then there is the all too predictable call for more sex education (and not, gasp, the abstinence based stuff).  One wonders how Levy thinks we’ve gotten to where we are today.  If someone had tried to get two girls to strip on a populated beach fifty years ago they would have been lucky to escape with all of their teeth.  Today they get a free hat.  We did not have “comprehensive sex education”, which Levy advocates by name, fifty years ago.  With these facts in mind, we can go on to the next book.

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