Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy starts by offering an in-depth look at the popular Girls Gone Wild franchise. She vividly shows how drunk girls are encouraged into exhibitionist behavior that many of them later regret, and also has interviews with the GGW folks who argue that is is all in the name of “sexual freedom” and that these women are empowered.
But as one continues to read Levy’s examples of what she terms “raunch culture,” it becomes apparent that these women aren’t really more empowered. Just as Freud and others postulated that women were getting satisfaction from the sexual status quo years ago (something we know to be false), Levy points out that few women are actually enjoying sex for pleasure, any more than they did in the restrictive 1950s. She also presents the story of the Women’s Liberation Movement and how it essentially fell to pieces and different ideals were co-opted and perverted.
The biggest case Levy makes, however, is the new breed of female chauvinist pigs (FCPs). These are women who seek acceptance in a male-dominated world by becoming just like men. They are interested in seeing women expose themselves while at the same time holding them in contempt. Levy points out that 38% of the viewers of The Man Show were women. A large percentage of women read Playboy. Levy argues that in a world where women are supposed to have more options that it is perverse that they are themselves encouraging the objectification of women. These are women who view their own sex as contemptible, and seek to find power by being “just like men” rather than showing that women can be sexy for reasons other then their bodies. Rather than try to promote a healthy, well-rounded view of sexuality that takes into account other passions, interests, and keeps women in their places as sexy only as it encompasses their bodies and as objects. These are women that run Playboy and produce Girls Gone Wild.
But Levy makes this interesting point about these FCPs who eschew their feminity and ogle women (even though many of them are straight) and laugh at degrading jokes: “There’s just one thing: Even if you are a woman who achieves the ultimate and becomes like a man, you will still always be like a woman. And as long as womanhood is thought of as something less than manhood, you will be thought less of, too.”
Levy interviews women who want to be sexually “like a man” but who do not find actual pleasure in sex. Women in our society are supposed to be sexy, she contends, but not sexual. They are encouraged to act in ways that simulate arousal, and give the look of “slutiness” but they mainly engage in sex for bragging rights or because their partners want to. Neither of these reasons particularly strikes one as being sexually liberated ways to operate.
Levy’s book provides food for thought. Although increasingly moving toward acceptance of soft porn on TV, in ads, and on the streets in the forms of scantily clad women, society is not closer to women’s sexual liberation. Just because they “can wear whatever they want” does not mean that they really are. Women are still socialized by society to dress to please the male gaze, they are still expected to fill one image of what is sexually pleasing to men (at this point in time the raunchy slut). And, Levy points out, despite the images we see in society, she’s not so sure that’s really what all men want anyway.
Female Chauvinist Pigs is an interesting look at how our society is accepting the myth of “empowerment” and an exploration of what true sexual liberation for women might actually mean. Yes, it would include those who enjoy the erotic stripping and promiscuity, for there are women who enjoy that. But it would include a view of sex that encompasses a woman’s intelligence, true desires, needs, and passions outside her looks and pleasing a man. And it would assume that there are men out there who want a woman who is more than just “sexy.”