Book Review: Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture argues predictably yet effectively that it’s time we put to rest the myth that in this pornified era of Girls Gone Wild, oral sex mania, and girl-on-girl hookup theme parties, that women are somehow liberated and that the current sex-soaked era represents a victory for feminism.

I’m intrigued by feminism and consider myself a feminist, if the definition is that you care about the historical oppression of women and now want equality in society. I’m particularly interested in the "glass ceiling" in the corporate world — why it exists and what to do about it. A final feminist interest is whether this new breed of "MBA Moms," women who earn an MBA and then stop working to take care of their kids: are doing a service (making a choice) or disservice (not showing the world they can lead) to feminism.

Female Chauvinist Pigs points a finger at women and says, "Why are you choosing to embrace this raunch culture?" Levy notes that many of the large sex/porn companies (Playboy, for example) are run by women. She interviews these CEOs as well as strippers who say their work makes them feel "empowered" and finds their rationale nonsensical. Same with teen girls. Why aren’t women standing up? Why is abuse and selling your body passing as empowerment? Why can’t you be sexual but not in such a degrading, public way?

The reason I say Levy argues "predictably" is that she’s not breaking new ground or offering novel solutions inasmuch as organizing a bunch of trends and interviews into a coherent text. Don’t get me wrong, these kinds of books serve good purposes, but I felt like Levy could have been more imaginative. That’s why I suggest you read other texts or articles on this topic if you’re well read on feminism, or treat this as a quick flip-through if you’re not.

One final note. I really picked up on Levy’s author photo in the cover jacket. It’s a head shot. Levy looks attractive and her facial expression struck me as, um, kind of sexual. I’m sure this was a conscious decision. Too many guys (and gals) are turned off by "yet another bitchy feminist" who more often than not ranks low on the physical attractiveness scale. Though I’ve neither seen or heard Levy in any other context, my guess is her strategy here is, "Hey, I’m a hot woman, I get around, and I think what’s happening is horseshit. Feminism deserves better. Women deserve better."

Related Posts:
Are Motherhood and Feminsim Mutually Exclusive?

Are Progressive Feminists Less Happy Than Traditionalist Wives?

Also see this Slate dialogue on this book and feminism in general

20 Responses to Book Review: Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

  1. First, congratulations for working “oral sex mania” into a post; you get bonus points for making it a link to your own blog. Well played, Casnocha, well played.

    Second, I think “equality” is the biggest scam going. Much of the time, it means dragging down others to a lower level of accomplishment than they would otherwise be able to achieve (for example, those who want to ban private education, in the name of “equality”), and it necessitates collectivist viewpoints. I honestly don’t think women and men should be guaranteed the same salary for the same role; it should hinge on the individual and what experience and expertise they bring to it. Sex has nothing to do with it, nor should it.

  2. Bernadette Balla says:

    Hey Ben. I am going to let this article do the talking for me. Something i feel that i should let go, but can’t because i love the idea of being someone else’s wife.

    “My engagement ring was absolutely gorgeous.

    It was nothing I would wear now. Not only because when I called off my wedding I switched to silver, but because should I ever become engaged again, I don’t want an engagement ring.

    I think it’s time for women to let the engagement ring go.

    For me, specifically, it always felt a little creepy, the inequity of it all. I wasn’t in the position where I was cajoling to get married – in fact, I was totally surprised by the proposal, so in my mind I justified the ring as completely his choice, his gift. So I could ignore any antiquated meanings, right?

    Except, why didn’t he wear one again? Why was my status suddenly projected to the world and not his? So much for “Ms.”

    And the ring came up in discussion after discussion about why I wasn’t changing my last name – something that could hardly have been a surprise to him. But perhaps it was one of the many personality traits he thought I would “grow out of” when I “grew up.”

    I couldn’t understand why I would change my last name. Most women still do, I know, but for me, my name is a major part of my identity. Plus, I knew for a fact that changing it was a major pain, and I knew for a fact that he wasn’t changing his. “Why am I changing my name and you’re not changing yours?”

    “You have an engagement ring, and I don’t.”

    “I didn’t ask for this!”

    It was pretty. It was shiny. Truth be told, I loved it. And I felt like I took my soul back when I slipped it off and returned it.

    Sometimes, we lose good things when we choose bigger things that are best for us.

    I suspect most women aren’t ready to give up the engagement ring. For one thing, we are far, far away from feminism’s ultimate promise, and in this middle land, it is often true that the sacrifices for freedom and equality are still mostly made by women. Giving up that engagement ring surely feels like one more sacrifice, and your partner doing one load of laundry a month and being praised like a god just for showing up for one wedding meeting or one playdate probably doesn’t seem like equality. The entire wedding industry expects you, the bride, to spend months and months of your life planning a wedding and then the whole world takes back what you were told for your first ten years of adulthood and expects you to pick up your wifely duties and work that job feminism fought so hard to get you. I bet that ring feels only fair. Something to cling to. One battle where you just want to take the shiny and close your eyes to what it really means.

    Only you can’t, really, can you?

    Still not fair? You bet. Women still have to lead the way.

    We have to let the engagement ring go.”

    -Liz Rizzo

  3. Chris Yeh says:

    The issue of identity and stereotyping is a difficult one, and not just for feminists.

    Conforming to a stereotype gives the stereotype power over you. But so does rebelling against a stereotype.

    Make your own decisions, and don’t worry about what other people think.

    If you love performing fellatio, that makes you neither a feminist or a slut–it simply makes you popular.

  4. Dani says:

    Re: Engagement ring article–

    I’ve always felt engagement rings were creepy. Even as a kid, when ladies would oooh and ahh over them, and talk about the size of the rock. When my roommate took me to consult on rings for his fiancee, I spent most of the time staring at a pretty fish tank.

    the engagement ring as a symbol of oppression? Maybe. I just don’t find the idea of wearing something that expensive that encourages strange women to stare at your hand and ask weird, personal questions (and implicitly judge yer man’s bank account) all that appealing.

  5. Chris Yeh says:

    A private response to my first comment reads:

    “I think it’s much more complicated than ‘make your own decisions and don’t worry about what others think.'”

    I did not intend to seem like a pollyannaish 50s parent, advising “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

    Others’ opinions have consequences. You have to be aware of them. But if you take what others think as an input into your decision-making process, rather than as the controlling factor, you’ll be a much happier person.

  6. Jason says:

    I am a little confused by Levy’s problem with women working in sex companies…

    If they simply do it b/c it pays well, isn’t that enough? I mean, look at Jenna Jameson. At this point, she’s in the porn industry by her own free will; with the amount of money she has she could quit tomorrow and never work another day in her life.

    I assume that Ms. Jameson likes her work, and continues to do so because of it. Is Levy trying to imply that any woman who takes part in the pornography industry, or even a tame magazine such as PLAYBOY, to be betraying her gender?

    If I were to take a job in promoting gay porn, would I be betraying men?

  7. Jenna Puckett says:

    “Why aren’t women standing up? Why is abuse and selling your body passing as empowerment? Why can’t you be sexual but not in such a degrading, public way?”

    As both seventeen and female, I have to say that standing up, without seeming asexual, bitchy, or sexual in a “degrading, public way” is difficult.

    I see two trends in how many teenagers view the sexuality of women: 1) Sex is good- the viewpoint of the “pornified era,” where sex, sexual references, and sexy clothing are welcomed and a sign of fun. 2) Sex is bad- often linked with religion, where girls are supposed to remain pure and untouched by sexuality until marriage.

    These viewpoints are on opposite ends of the spectrum, yes, but falling somewhere in between the two is a difficult place to be in. By the first side, being in the middle means you are sexually repressed or asexual. By the second side, falling in between means you are sinful. Will America’s culture ever approve of a compromise? For some reason, I think that’s a long time away.

  8. Maria says:

    (Tangent)

    I am also fascinated by the phenomenon of MBA moms, and the question of homemakers vs. feminism in general.

    I’ve read and reread a Modern Love article by Terry Martin Hekker, who wrote a book in the 1960s on the joys of being a homemaker. After her husband divorced her, leaving her nearly peniless, she came out with a new book called “Disregard First Book”.

    From what I can tell, Hekker had an enjoyable and fulfilling life as a homemaker. However, choosing to stay home put her at a great disadvantage later on in life. She was awarded 4 years of alimony, which wasn’t enough to cover the bills, and had to find new sources of income despite being in her late 60s.

    Even though I’m fairly ambitious, I’d like to have a kid someday, and I’m not ruling out the possibility of staying home for a few years. But it would have to be done under controlled conditions. Hekker’s case is a warning to would-be homemakers: if something goes wrong, you have to be able to stand on your own feet.

    I was intrigued by this article by Linda Hirshmann in the American Prospect. At first, I thought it was merely trying to be shocking (“half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies…”) but it also offers some good advice (“prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry”).

    Actually, the prospect of having kids is part of why I want to save as much money as I can in my 20s. I think that having a sizable nest egg to fall back on is a way of resolving the unequal resources issue. That is, I won’t have to worry too hard about the consequences if I quit work to focus on kids in my 30s.

  9. Ben Casnocha says:

    I remember reading that American Prospect piece. It’s good.

    I think it’s fine if you want to have kids. But I haven’t seen many people “stay home for a few years” and then roar back to their previously career-ambitious self. My sense is it’s either a few months or whatever, or else many years. A few years out of the workforce and you may lose that corporate track you were on or your skills may already have dated or companies will be concerned you’ll be too focused on the kid.

    I have seen moms take a few years off and then come back in a part time capacity if they have a working husband, but it’s a much less ambitious career then.

    I like your idea to create a nest egg in your 20’s, but even 100k by 25 isn’t very much to support a kid and yourself for more than a handful of years!

  10. Maria says:

    Oh, I know that 100k by 25 isn’t going to be enough. I would have to save a lot more than that if I wanted to stay at home for a substantial amount of time.

    I have a unique upbringing, in that my mom brought in all the money and my dad stayed home to raise me. My mother has always been very career-focused, and my father has always been very nurturing.

    I didn’t get to know my mother very well until recently. She left me at the age of 1 to be a doctor in the States. When I was 9, my dad and I moved to the US to be with her. But I only lived with her for four years, until I turned 13 and moved into the dorm of a public math and science high school.

    My mom always made sure I had lots of opportunities, but she wasn’t a “mom” kind of mom. She never went to any of my math competitions or swim meets. While I was growing up, she spent most of her time working 24 and 36 hour hospital shifts.

    We never really understood one another while I was growing up. But then she started taking time off work and traveling around the world. Two years ago, we spent two weeks traveling through Cambodia and Thailand – the most time we’ve ever spent together alone. I think that was probably the turning point for me.

    The “saving up money so staying home is an option” idea is sort of a (half-baked?) reaction to this. Actually, I have no idea how I’m going to resolve the whole issue of motherhood vs. career. All I know is that I want something different with my kid(s).

  11. Larisa says:

    I was wondering about whether or not to read this book. Levy was on the Colbert Report maybe a few weeks ago? She was so great that I made my predominantly male/not so pro-feminist friends watch the clip on comedycentral.com. it might still be there if you’re interested.
    Although I haven’t read the book, I do like how she’s putting a new face on feminism as you said. She shows that women do not have to be unfeminine to be feminists.

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