Within the Sex Wars paradigm of feminism, the subtopic that our group is tracking is what Ariel Levy terms "raunch culture," and this is what her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, is based upon. In order to contextualize this idea of raunch culture presented by Levy, a brief history of the Sex Wars is in order.
The Sex Wars originated in the late 70s and early 80s largely as a dispute over feminism and its relation to pornography, sexuality, and erotica. As we have learned in class, the Sex Wars era of feminism was constituted by two diametrically opposed feminist viewpoints--namely, radical feminism and sex-radical feminism.
According to Ann Ferguson, a feminist who has documented the Sex Wars, radical feminism is encapsulated by four viewpoints:
- Heterosexual sexual relations generally are characterized by an ideology of sexual objectification (men as subjects/masters; women as objects/slaves) that supports male sexual violence against women.
- Feminists should repudiate any sexual practice that supports or normalizes male sexual violence.
- As feminists we should reclaim control over female sexuality by developing a concern with our own sexual priorities, which differ from men's--that is, more concern with intimacy and less with performance.
- The ideal sexual relationship is between full consenting, equal partners who are emotionally involved and do not participate in polarized roles. (Tong 66)
Whereas sex-radical feminism is constituted by four differing (and opposing viewpoints):
- Heterosexual as well as other sexual practices are by repression. The norms of patriarchal bourgeois sexuality repress the sexual desires and pleasures of everyone by stigmatizing sexual minorities, thereby keeping the majority "pure" and under control.
- Feminists should repudiate any theoretical analyses, legal restrictions, or moral judgments that stigmatize sexual minorities and thus restrict the freedom of all.
- As feminists we should reclaim control over female sexuality by demanding the right to practice whatever gives us pleasure and satisfaction.
- The ideal sexual relationship is between fully consenting, equal partners who negotiate to maximize one another's sexual pleasure and satisfaction by any means they choose. (Tong 66)
The viewpoints of the radical feminists, as we learned in class, are generally associated with second-wave feminism, whereas sex-radical feminism connotes third-wave feminism. However, as we learned from the excerpt from Astrid Henry's Not My Mother's Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-wave Feminism, these associations are not necessarily accurate; however, these generalizations are still part of the feminist discourse and the Sex Wars paradigm.
Nonetheless, perhaps one of the best examples of these dissenting factions within feminism culminated in the Barnard College sexuality conference of 1982:
A coalition of radical-libertarian feminists [or sex-radical feminists], including lesbian practitioners of sadomasochism and butch-femme relationships, bisexuals workers in the sex industry (prostitutes, porn models, exotic dancers), and heterosexual women eager to defend the pleasures of sex between consenting men and women, accused radical-cultural feminists [or radical feminists] of prudery. To this charge, radical-cultural feminists responded they were not prudes. On the contrary, they were truly free women who could tell the difference between "erotica," where the term denotes sexually explicit depictions and descriptions of women being integrated, constituted, or focused during loving or at least life-affirming sexual encounters, and "thanatica," where the term denotes sexually explicit depictions and descriptions of women being disintegrated, dismembered, or disoriented during hate-filled or even death-driven sexual encounters. (Tong 70)
Thus, it was in the context of this contentious issue within the feminist movement that we see the rise of "raunch culture," as described by Levy. While Levy never specifically defines raunch culture, in the introduction to her book, she documents a sequence of occurrences descriptive of the rise of raunch culture:
I would turn on the television and find strippers in pasties explaining best how to lap dance a man to orgasm. [. . .] Britney Spears was becoming increasingly popular and increasingly unclothed, and her undulating body ultimately became so familiar to me I felt like we used to go out. (Levy 1)
However, perhaps the most definitive manifestation of raunch culture--or any culture for that matter--was its general acceptance by the general public. Indeed:
This didn't end when I switched off the radio or the television or closed the magazines. I'd walk down the street and see teens and young women--and the occasional wild fifty-year-old--wearing jeans cut so low they exposed what came to be known as butt cleavage paired with miniature tops that showed off breast implants and pierced navels alike. Sometimes, in case the overall message of the outfit was too subtle, the shirts would be emblazoned with the Playboy bunny or say PORN STAR across the chest. (Levy 2)
The book documents the emergence of this culture as well as the ways in which it has thrived. Ultimately, however, this book is a critique of the culture that has emerged. Levy denounces the roles that certain women have come to hold in society insofar as they serve to subjugate certain other women. Indeed, she doesn't claim that the ways in which sexuality manifests itself in the world of sex, porn, and erotica is inherently bad, but rather the idea that while:
there are some women who feel their most sexual with their vaginas waxed, their labia trimmed, their breasts enlarged, and their garments flossy and scant. [. . .] there are many other women (and, yes, men) who feel constrained in this environment, who would be happier and feel hotter--more empowered, more sexually liberated, and all the rest of it--if they explored other avenues of expression and entertainment. (Levy 198)
Thus, Levy is seemingly advocating a culture in which pornography, sexuality, and erotica are more open to personal interpretation, personal preferences, personal desires, et cetera. She critiques what she sees to be a normalizing--and thereby disempowering--institution and discourse. Indeed, she concludes by writing:
Women's liberation and empowerment are terms feminists started using to talk about casting off the limitations imposed upon women and demanding equality. We have perverted these words. The freedoms to be sexually provocative or promiscuous is not enough freedom; it is not the only "women's issue" worth paying attention to. And we are not even free in the sexual arena. We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty, busty exhibitionist. There are other choices. If we are really going to be sexually liberated, we need to make room for a range of options as wide as the variety of human desire. We need to allow ourselves the freedom to figure out what we internally want from sex instead of mimicking whatever popular culture holds up to us as sexy. That would be sexual liberation. (Levy 200)
Henry, Astrid. Not My Mother's Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-wave Feminism.
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2004. Print.
"Lesbian History: The Sex Wars." Web. 20 Apr. 2010.
Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. New
York: Free, 2005. Print.
Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: a More Comprehensive Introduction. Boulder,
Colo.: Westview, 2009. Print.
Group Members: Adam Liter, Julia Wang, and Tamar Kaplan