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Tracking the Issue: Raunch Culture Summary

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Our group (Tamar, Adam, Julia) decided to investigate raunch culture as a subset of sex wars.

First, we needed to find out what raunch culture is. Ariel Levy (since she essentially coined the term) gives us an explanation. Raunch culture is the idea that being sexy should be public, and being sexy means some very specific things. The current societal standard for 'sexiness' means participating in wet t-shirt contests, learning how to pole dance for fun, wearing revealing clothing, etc. Things that some feminists critiqued as degrading are now being embraced as the ultimate realization of female sexuality. It's a recent phenomenon - even 30 years ago, the societal reaction to hearing that someone took a pole dancing class would be very different than it is now.

Before learning anything about raunch culture, we were all interested in the idea, but knew very little about it. Researching and learning more about raunch culture has brought up a lot of interesting issues for us, and made us curious about the idea of what our society prescribes as "sexy" and how this affects peoples actions.

There's a fair amount of academic research that has gone into the 'raunch culture' phenomenon, on both sides of the issue. Some people think that it is sexually liberating for women, and a method of escape for puritanical ideals for sexuality - others think that it forces a conformation to one particular type of sexual identity.

Here are the main controversies in the issue:

1. Is acting "raunchy" a way to reclaim female sexuality from the male gaze, or is it playing into a male desire for public, degrading sexual practices? (lap dancing, wet t shirt contests, etc)
2. Can it ever be empowering for women to participate in raunch culture?
3. Does raunch culture narrow the sexual options available to women, or broaden them?
4. Is it "feminist" to ever critique a certain sexuality/way of being sexual? If feminists do critique certain types of sexuality, does that mean that feminists are making a new "charmed circle"?
5. Does the exchange of money make a situation empowering or degrading?
6. To what extent is the rise of raunch culture (in many ways, a product that can be marketed) due to capitalist profit motives?

All in all, the rise of raunch culture is a relatively new phenomenon. We think it's important for people to be curious and critically think about the ways that raunch culture relates to feminism and women's well being, but we think prescribing a certain "solution" is a bad idea. What is empowering and satisfying to one person is different than what is empowering and satisfying to another person, and we think people should strive to find out what REALLY makes them happy, and follow that, regardless of whether or not it has been approved by society.

Sex Wars: Sex Workers' Advocacy Groups

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(Tracking the issue: Prostitution)

In tracking the issue for sex work (more specifically, prostitution), I have come upon many web communities that focus on advocacy for sex workers and the rights of sex workers. Like Wendy Chapkis' discusses in her chapter "The Emotional Labor of Sex," these advocates call for recognition of the "labor" aspects of sex work, and demand that sex work be de-stigmatized and recognized as legitimate labor in order to support those who engage in sex work. The following is a PSA put together by Sex Work Awareness, and it is a product of a day-long media training conference they put together for sex work advocacy:

The clip itself and many of the comments shared by users on the site emphasize the well-roundedness and realness of the women who engage in sex work- they aim to de-shame sex work and to break the silence of sex workers.

The Sex Workers Project organization is somewhat less politically charged: their aim to improve rights and protection for any and all sex workers. Their mission statement claims that the Sex Workers Project "provides legal services and legal training, and engages in documentation and policy advocacy, for sex workers. Using a harm reduction and human rights model, we protect the rights and safety of sex workers who by choice, circumstance, or coercion remain in the industry."
Their focus is on improving the rights and safety of every sex worker, but their recognition that people who engage in sex work by choice exist alongside people who are likewise there "by coercion" is a bit disturbing.

Like much of the movement surrounding sex workers' rights, the focus of these organizations is very based upon the individual sex worker. Language about individual rights and freedoms prevail. Because so much of the debate is focused on individual rights, the implications that sex work can have for the broader community are left out. Issues about worker exploitation and the negative impacts sex work could have on clients and workers alike are skirted around entirely. I'd like to see an organization that advocates for sex work address these issues intelligently--not enough evidence is presented about the negative aspects of sex work for their arguments to be convincing.

Further Reading:

Prostitution-Local Impact

When I think of popular cities for prostitution, the first that come to mind are LA, New York City, and Las Vegas, not Minneapolis and St. Paul. I was surprised to learn that Minnesota is home to a large prostitute population. Here are some quick facts about prostitution in Minnesota:
-Minnesota is known to some as "the factory" for the number of prostitutes it produces (1).
-The FBI has reported that 10% of the teen prostitutes in Las Vegas are from MN (1).
-more Minnesota teens have been arrested for prostitution than Massachusetts, Maryland and Michigan combined (1).
-There are 6,000-8,000 women in prostitution work in Minnesota (2).

While these statistics are shocking, it is also important to know that our community has started programs to help women change their situations.
One such program, PRIDE (PRostitution to Independence, Dignity, and Equality), is a "nationally recognized and highly successful program to help women get out, and stay out, of prostitution." PRIDE is a part of the larger organization, Family and Children's Service, which strives to create healthy and strong families and communities. PRIDE provides court advocacy, outreach, and support groups for survivors of prostitution (3).

Another group, Source, is a faith-based non-profit that provides mentors, life skill training, and transitional housing to at-risk and alienated youth:
"Our holistic approach of being a FRIEND (serving physical, emotional and spiritual needs) and a VOICE (communicating God's love and forgiveness) allows us to reach those who are coming out of devastating and troubling histories, skeptical of the mainstream, and would not come into a church for help or answers. Our goal is to be a Missional Community embracing the lambs and looking for the *prodigals who want to return home - existing at the crossroads of culture providing hospitality and impacting this hurting, skeptical, and diverse culture through prayer, urban outreach, the Fallout Arts Initiative (Fallout Urban Art Center & Art Co-op), transitional homes and Urban Ministry Trainings" (1).

Kwanzaa Community Church in North Minneapolis is planning to open Northside Women's space this month as refuge to women in prostitution where "women could wash up or use a phone, take light refreshments and connect with community resources. They could sign up for health classes, counseling, job search support, chemical dependency referrals, HIV/AIDS services and spiritual direction, if desired" (4).

It's reassuring to see so many groups reaching out to prostitutes in the area, seeing them as victims and not criminals.

2- "Race and Prostitution in the United States" - Donna M. Hughes
4- "North Minneapolis church hopes to offer refuge for victims of prostitution" by Cynthia Boyd. 2-22-10.

A Brief History of Prostitution

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Prostitution is supposedly the oldest profession in the world. The ways in which society has viewed prostitution has changed over history. The 18th century BCE Code of Hammurabi included laws protecting the inheritance of prostitutes because they typically had no male figure, such as a father or older brother, looking out for them. In ancient Greece and Rome prostitution was legal and at times even state-sanctioned. There were three types of prostitutes. The first two, sex slaves called pornai in Greek and freeborn prostitutes who worked the streets, could be either male or female. The third class included only females. These educated prostitute-entertainers, called hetaera in Greek, were some of the wealthiest women in ancient Greece. State-sanction brothels included mainly inexpensive pornai, so that all men, despite income level, could afford to have sex.


As Christianity came about prostitution began to be seen as impure. In the 590s CE, Spain had laws punishing women who sold sexual favors by whipping them 300 times and forced them into exile. The men who exploited these women for their 'goods' were never punished. During medieval times, prostitution was so common in large cities that it was hard for kings and queens to outlaw it completely, instead it was heavily regulated. In England, single women could only be prostitutes brothels were inspected weekly. In the 1300-1400s in Italy, prostitution was seen as an integral part of life and many state-sponsored brothels were in operation. In the early 1800s in France, a government agency called the Bureau of Morals was created to inspect brothels to be sure that other criminal activities were taking place. During World War II, the Japanese government abducted between almost 300,000 women and girls from its territories and made them serve as sex slaves in brothels to serve Japanese soldiers. In India, laws have restricted legal prostitution to specific areas in large cities. Today, India's Kamathipura district in Mumbai is home Asia's largest brothels.


In 1971, Nevada passed a law allowing its counties to decide to criminalize prostitution. Of the 17 counties, 11 have legalized prostitution. In 1999, Sweden, calling prostitution a crime against women outlawed the buying of sex while still allowing the selling of sex.

Head, Tom. "History of Prostitution - Illustrated History of Prostitution." Civil Liberties at - Your Guide to Civil Liberties News and Issues. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .

Hickenbottom, Iris L., and Melanie Ulrich. "Women's History Then & Now - Prostitution." Digital Writing and Research Lab. 18 May 2002. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .

Tracking the Issue: Raunch Culture Academic Source


I researched the article "Empowerment and the Pole: A Discursive Investigation of the Reinvention of Pole Dancing as a Recreational Activity. It was authored by Kally Whitehead and Tim Kurz, and it can be accessed by going to, finding the Sage Journal Subscription package, and then searching for this article in "Feminism and Psychology."

Pole dancing came into being in the 1970s. It was considered another tool for erotic dancing. The pole was used as a prop to perform tricks and spins, and its use was strongly associated with strip clubs. Recently, the pole has been repurposed. Pole dancing is an aerobically strenuous activity, and women (and men!) have begun signing up for pole dancing classes as a form of fun, sexually liberated exercise. However, this form of exercise has not lost its sexual background. Australian advertisements for pole dancing classes include phrases like "Strength and femininity", "power and beauty" or "Sex appeal comes from within". Whitehead describes the activity as similar to an aerobics class. The selection of classes ranges from "flexibility" to "fat-burning". There are a number of poles in the room, each women selects one, and then follows the movements of the instructer, who has her own pole at the front of the room. Some women wear exercise clothing, while others choose to wear high heels and clothing which is more stripper-esque.

Whitehead and Kurz believe that pole dancing as an exercise activity represents an ideological dilemma. On one hand, who are we to judge the healthy (literally) choices women make? Using sexuality for health certainly seems empowering, and since these aerobics classes are not monitored by men, it seems difficult to make the argument that pole dancing for recreation is consumption of women by men. On the other hand, the sexualization of exercise and the rise of "porn-chic", where the trendiest new enterprises are also the most risque, may represent a movement towards the hypersexualization of women. When stripping and pole dancing is the only type of sex-positive imagery we can conjure, what does that say to the thousands of women who live subtler, more demure sexualities?

Whitehead and Kurz did a rhetorical analysis of the way that customers and teachers talked about pole dancing. They found that broadly, people thought it was empowering because the focus was on fun and fitness, and less on sexuality or "attracting" men to come into a club. One woman pointed out that because she was the one paying to take the class, she had the power. Dancing was an active choice she was making. She believed that when strippers were payed to dance, it made dancing a forced choice for them, because they had to do it for their livelihood.

Another group indicated that they thought pole dancing for someone you loved would be different that dancing for a stranger. They indicated that dancing for a stranger requires no emotional connection - the stranger merely sees a body. Dancing for a significant other means that they already know the person behind the body, and see the act as an example of confidence or playfulness.

Whitehead and Kurz were concerned by some of the statements that women said. Particularly, they thought the dichotomy between dancing for a boyfriend and dancing for a stranger was troubling. What if men said, "It's ok for me to objectify her, because I love her?" Using love as a justification may allow all sorts of degrading and objectionable activities.

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