Ariel Levy's book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture takes on pop culture's objectification of women, and the new breed of Paris Hilton wannabes who willingly go along, exploiting their own bodies and degrading their sexuality.
The rise of the "raunch culture," embodied by the ubiquitous Girls Gone Wild videos and the mainstreaming of pornography, represents a backlash against the anti-porn feminism of the 1970s. The popular culture now glorifies women as sexual beings, for sure, but at a price: women's liberation is now bound up in high-heeled combat boots, S&M leather and lace, and body images that fulfill male fantasies of lascivious women with no agenda beyond the bedroom.
When teenaged girls (and even younger) where thongs and t-shirts that proclaim the wearer as a "porn star," and real porn stars like Jenna Jameson are lauded as feminist icons, Levy argues, something is desperately wrong. Women have traded the Feminist Mystique for the erotic boutique.
Levy's dissection of these pop trends hints at a deeper problem with our culture's conception of what is rebellious and what is cool. Instead of agitating for equality in women's health care or equal pay for women, today's version of anti-establishment action is to pierce your naval and learn how to perform a strip-tease, what Levy coins "raunch feminism."
In an interview with Playboy CEO Christie Hefner (daughter of Hugh), Levy elicits this response to a question of why women are so interested in posing for the iconic men's magazine:
... The post-sexual revolution, post-women's movement generation that is now in their late twenties and early thirties--and then it continues with the generation behind them, too--has just a more grown-up, comfortable, natural attitude about sex and sexiness that is more in line with where guys were a couple generations before. The rabbit head symbolizes sexy fun, a little bit of rebelliousness, the same way a navel ring does ... or low-rider jeans! It's an obvious "I'm taking control of how I look and the statement I'm making," as opposed to "I'm embarrassed about it," or, "I'm uncomfortable with it."
Levy chides a group of self-proclaimed feminists, founders of the group CAKE, who argue that throwing elaborate parties featuring strippers and pornography is, in fact, radical feminism.
The authors of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, tell Levy that dancing at a strip club, or even watching the cult TV show"Xena" is akin to volunteering at a rape crisis center or speaking out at Take Back the Night.
Throwing a party where women grind against each other in their underwear while fully-clothed men watch them is suddenly part of the same project as marching on Washington for reproductive rights. According to Baumgardner and Richards, "watching TV shows (Zena! Buffy!) can ... contain feminism in action." Based on these examples, it woul seem raunch feminism is easy to achieve: The basic requirements are hot girls and small garments.
Feminism comes to mean sexiness as lionized by the popular culture. And women who buy into these commercialized images of liberation are choosing style over substance. When fighting oppression means buying the right type of clothes, or watching pornography and "feminist" TV programs like Xena or Desperate Housewives, politics becomes irrelevant.