Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Female Chauvinist Pigs

I picked up Female Chauvinist Pigs at the library shortly after I got out of school for winter break. This is one of those books I've seen multiple times at the library/the bookstore/amazon etc. I've just never picked it up for some reason. Man am I glad I finally did. I devoured this book in two days and had to find my little sharpie page flags so that I could remember specific parts I loved (normally I just highlight them... but it was a library book).

Apparently some secret part of me misses writing papers about books that I read (for my undergrad women's studies degree) so I've decided just to write a blog post about some of my favorite parts of this book, and observations related to them.

Feminism as a whole loves to use "choice". Women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies, whether for reproductive uses or in the way they dress. I wrote an entire 10 page paper about the right to choose natural childbirth methods and if women can really "choose" when society is set up to tell them how to think. I think this can similarly be seen in Female Chauvinist Pigs.

But what of choice? In the first chapter Levy describes following the Girls Gone Wild crew around and how women were just throwing themselves at them, flashing the cameras with wild abandon. Of course the fact that these women had most likely consumed copious amounts of alcohol provides one possible reason. These woman are enlightened, they are owning their bodies and have the right to show off how sexy they look and feel. Right? So what's wrong with Girls Gone Wild? If it truly includes consenting adults (although I realize there have been cases of underage girls appearing), whats the problem with it? I guess maybe the better question is why do these girls want to flash the camera, get naked and make out with other girls?

Because society has told them that this is sexy, beautiful, alluring? That a woman's only value is her sexuality? I guess my point isn't that I think what these women are doing is wrong, in fact I fully support their choice to do what they want with their bodies... I'm more interested in the why. Why they think that flashing camera crews and making out with women is fun/good/exciting what have you. Is it our society? I'm inclined to think so.

I loved this quote from Erica Jong. She said,
"Let's not kid ourselves that this is liberation. The women who buy the idea that flaunting your breasts in sequins is power - I mean, I'm all for that stuff - but let's not get so into the tits and ass that we don't notice how far we haven't come. Let's not confuse that with real power. I don't like to see women fooled."

This new brand of "feminism" or enlightened sexism (as I've been reading about in the book Englightened Sexism), tells woman that feminism isn't necessary. All of the battles have been won, so go out, wear short skirts and flash your boobs for Girls Gone Wild. After all, we've earned it! The problem that I see with this is that we're not past feminism, feminism is still very necessary and when it is implied that it isn't necessary... there is a big problem.

One chapter that particularly interested me was the one describing teenaged and pre-teen girls and their response to sex. I thought it was interesting how she describes talk of "rainbow parties" where many girls give oral sex to guys, receiving nothing in return. I'm pretty sure there was just a recent revival of these "rainbow parties" in the news recently with parents organizations clutching their metaphorical pearls exclaiming, "Not the children!" I thought it was amusing that these rainbow parties, or the rumors of such parties were not a new phenomenon considering Levy wrote this book in 2005. The media seems to just recycle stories every few years.

There was also a lot of good information from interviews with pre-teen and teenage girls about why they have sex. So many girls seemed to have no idea why other than that it was "what all girls did". They weren't doing it because it was fun or perhaps enjoyable for them, but because everyone else was and there was a lot of peer pressure to be like everyone else.

This seems to be another conundrum.. we tell girls every day through the media that they have to be sexy and "hot", they need to buy this makeup or this brand to be desirable. But then through abstinence only education we tell them that they MUST NOT HAVE SEX. They should save that for marriage. There's no discussion about hormones or legitimate reasons to want to have sex... JUST DON'T DO IT. And we wonder why this type of sex ed isn't effective?

I specifically remember the sex ed I had in 8th grade. They split the boys and girls up and discussed STDs, showing horrifying pictures of them (it just doesn't get any easier to look at those). They was a sort of strange analogy about girls being like ovens, they take a while to heat up and boys being like a flame, they're hot instantly. (I'm paraphrasing but it was very similar to this.) I still have no idea what they were trying to get across with that analogy... considering the overall message I got was "Don't have sex". There was no talk about condoms for protection against STDs or pregnancy nor any discussion about the Pill.

And yet... the number of girls I knew that were having sex in high school was pretty high. Did someone else teach them about condoms and the Pill? I can only hope so. (Although some of them obviously didn't given the fact that a handful of them got pregnant and had babies in high school).

So what happens when women are the ones perpetuating this idea of "raunch" culture stated in the book? Is it worse than when men perpetuate it? In my opinion, sort of. But it comes back to the overall need for education (regardless of one's gender).

When I decided to get my undergrad degree in Women's Studies I basically had to explain what feminism was to one of my friends. (The definition I gave her was something along the lines of believing in equal rights for women, equal pay, etc. I can't say I'm very proud of it. It wasn't very complete or well rounded). She also happened to be several years older than me. I shouldn't have to explain feminism to her should I??

The answer seems to be yes. And to everyone else out there who seems to have forgotten the feminist movement of the 60's and 70's or never cared what it was about to begin with.

Sometimes I'm truly frightened by the world we live in. But then I read awesome thought provoking books and I think maybe I have the strength to struggle against the tide.

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