Thursday, June 22, 2006

Women who seek to be equal with men lack imagination*

While we move into our new house next Monday, friends in London can go hear Ariel Levy and others debate "raunch culture." I read Female Chauvinist Pigs last year, and enjoyed it enough that I gave a copy to Es on my last visit to London. (Matt - did you ever read it?) It's not the greatest book but it's thoughtful and culturally current, and I found it to be an excellent discussion starter with both male and female students who (much to my horror) keep insisting that the feminist project is complete.

Guardian: Thongs, implants and the death of real passion

Levy's argument basically revolves around the notion that contemporary female sexuality is not as progressive as it is commercial, that we are making ourselves and each other into commodities for (primarily) male consumption, and that we are more and more complicit in our own objectification. While I wouldn't want this to be a final declaration on the state of today's feminism, I don't disagree with her assessment. Where she fails to meet my expectations is in her apparent willingness to absolve men of their complicity as well. Her position reminds me of the public service ads that encourage women to leave abusive relationships. The ads are good, but I'd still like to see some that tell men to stop abusing women. And although I think she overstates a few things, and her arguments lack the nuances of class and ethnic differences that would make them more solid, it really saddens me that almost every review I've read is based on the terribly naive and unproductive anti-porn/pro-sex dichotomy. In my mind, the fact that people call her a prude and ask her if she's worried that the conservative right support her position only indicates how little progress we've actually made.

* I first saw this second-wave feminist slogan in the back pages of RE/Search's Angry Women anthology in 1991. I couldn't reconcile it with my riot-grrrl attitudes of the time, but over the past few years it has started to make a lot of sense. I've never aspired to mediocrity and I can't feel proud of gaining acceptance from either the lowest common denominator of contemporary masculinity, or the self-proclaimed feminist male who continues to support, defend and protect women in the most patronising ways.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Andrew said...

You might be interested in this depressing story at Salon from yesterday along the same lines as Female Chauvinist Pigs

03:50  
Anonymous anne said...

thanks andrew - after reading it i'm more inclined to say it points at "how far gals will go to please a generation of guys weaned on online porn". it's bad enough that teenagers require so much psychological validation from their peers that they do all sorts of dumbass things, but it never ceases to amaze me that the girls either don't notice or don't care that the burden still lies with them to please guys.

04:02  
Anonymous anne said...

and that guys still want them to.

04:03  
Anonymous jean said...

Our public service ads around domestic violence have started addressing men - using strategies of inducing shame and raising awareness of the risk of losing 'family man' status (eg what will you do when she takes the kids and leaves?).

And about the young people...we got that story in the paper here, too. It made me realise that I do not know what to make about this year's crop of young, blonde, pornstar-esque Big Brother contestants (or, I have to say, half the students walking around campus).

It's not only the raunch culture, which is kind of lame, but doesn't worry me so much. It's the lock-stock-and-barrel adoption of extreme forms of heteronormative femininity, performed in a completely blase and matter-of-fact manner (but they'll tell you they're postfeminist, albeit not always using that word). I'm fascinated by them - like, are they the most brilliantly intelligent pragmatists ever - unlike my generation who were depressed with existential crisis after existential crisis and feel guilty unless we're resisting something? Or are they really that unconscious of history, of what they're participating in, of themselves? And will they snap out of it or will they all just look like Stepford Wives in another 10 years? I honestly don't know.

09:57  
Anonymous anne said...

jean - when I reread my post I realised that I should have avoided the phrase "tell men" precisely because of its moralising qualities. I'm not sure that shaming is ever a good idea, although I'm intrigued that a PSA would use loss of family status as incentive.

I think that raunch culture sexuality is precisely "heteronormative femininity, performed in a completely blase and matter-of-fact manner" and that does worry me. (Lesbians probably don't need more faux lesbianism from bored straight girls either.)

I'd love to think these young women I see and read about are "the most brilliantly intelligent pragmatists ever" but sadly I can't muster any reason why I should. I watch my female students pull their skirts up a bit higher and their tops down a bit lower before they bend seductively to ask the male TA (not me) for more marks. Now, I'm not claiming that femininity - or femininism - is going to hell in a hand-basket, but this is not ethically neutral ground I'm witnessing.

00:23  
Anonymous jean said...

"I think that raunch culture sexuality is precisely "heteronormative femininity, performed in a completely blase and matter-of-fact manner" and that does worry me. (Lesbians probably don't need more faux lesbianism from bored straight girls either.)"

Yes, it is, and it puzzles me too, and no, they don't. I'm disavowing whatever spurious claim to sexual power raunch might attempt to assert by expressing the depth of my shoulder-shrugging boredom with it - hence, 'lame'. It's a strategy.

PS I didn't say *ethical* pragmatism. More like a 'whatever' kind of pragmatism. And you're right, it isn't brilliant or intelligent.

01:20  
Anonymous Craig said...

I watch my female students pull their skirts up a bit higher and their tops down a bit lower before they bend seductively to ask the male TA (not me) for more marks.

Well, its an improvement over crying. At least they aren't trying be infants and throw a temper-tantrum to get their way.

08:53  

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