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Finally a book that says sexism still exists

Review by Leia Petty | December 1, 2006 | Page 9

Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Free Press 2006, paperback ed., 256 pages, $14.

"I FIRST noticed it years ago, I would turn on the TV 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."

This begins Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, providing a refreshing response to the post-feminist mantra that pervades our society: If you choose to embrace objectification, it can be liberating. Ariel Levy details the increasing commodification of women, termed "the rise in raunch culture," with a much-needed exposé of how prevalent and devastating sexism still is today.

In one chapter, Levy follows a Girls Gone Wild van. For those fortunately unfamiliar, Girls Gone Wild is a video company that travels around the country and pressures young women, usually inebriated, to flash the camera or kiss a friend for a T-shirt.

In one instance, 60 men gather around two women at a beach yelling "Do it! Show us your tits! Show us your ass! You know you want to!" Eventually one woman pulls down her bathing suit bottom while the men in the crowd cheer and take pictures with their cell phones. Just another successful day for Girls Gone Wild.

From "cardio striptease" at your local gym, to a recent Victoria Secret fashion show introduced as, "Security is tight, and so are the girls!" to the 700 percent increase in breast augmentation in the past decade, such disgusting displays of sexism are not exceptional, but emblematic according to Levy.

Women are told we live in a post-feminist world where women have essentially gained equality with men, and therefore objectification is a choice and can be liberating. This is the "female chauvinist pig" as Levy terms it: the power feminist who gains equality with men by climbing the ranks of the corporate ladder, in some instances, the ladder to The Man Show, Playboy and Girls Gone Wild.

A co-executive producer of The Man Show describes her motivation for producing the show as, "Women have always had to find ways to make guys comfortable with where we are, and this is just another way of doing that." Where we are? Perhaps to her surprise, most women are not making millions off exploiting other women.

Levy also dismantles this version of power feminism in interviews with porn star-gone-millionaire Jenna Jameson and CEO of Playboy Christie Hefner. But as Levy states, "That women are now doing this to ourselves isn't some kind of triumph. It's depressing. Sexuality is inherent, it is a fundamental part of being human, and it is a lot more complicated than we seem willing to admit."

Levy is right. And for anyone truly disgusted and frustrated with relating objectification to empowerment, Female Chauvinist Pigs is refreshing in its thesis that sexism is alive and well and nothing to feel liberated by. But Levy falls short in where she places the blame.

While illustrating the genuine gains of the women's movement such as legalization of abortion and the introduction of the birth control pill, without a framework for understanding where sexism comes from, Levy falls into the post-feminist trap her book is meant to debunk. She blames women themselves.

And while her frustration is understandable, Levy, like post-feminists who see objectification as a choice, calls on women to stop. "This is not a situation foisted upon women," she writes. "Because of the feminist movement, women today have staggeringly different opportunities and expectations than our mothers did. "But to look around, you'd think all any of us want to do is rip off our clothes and shake it."

Levy sees the women's rights movement as something we should look to, but without an explanation for where sexism comes from or why the women's movement failed in providing a strategy for the liberation of all women, combating the objectification of women becomes a matter of personal lifestyle choice. Unfortunately sexism is not a choice.

Where Female Chauvinist Pigs finds its strength is in its relentless attack on the pervasive idea that women's bodies and sexuality abstracted, airbrushed, stripped and planted onto billboards, magazines and televisions around the world can be appropriated as a form of sexual liberation.

Levy is right to conclude, "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."

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