Thursday, June 19, 2008
It's a little late....
I just wanted to write a short review of Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy which, after years of hounding via Marty, I FINALLY picked up two days ago and finished yesterday.
I'm writing this because I'm about to go digging for reviews on it, looking for people to bring up the strengths and weaknesses of the book, to ask questions, to reveal more information. I do this with books and authors I adore. And I ADORED this book.
My background is a confusing amalgamation of conflicting stories. I was raised a devout, orthodox Mormon- a religion which socially (though, I believe is doctrinally conflicted about the subject) holds ultra-conservative ideas about women's roles. And yet, somehow, I emerged from my teenage years, a feminist. I'm not sure if it was a response to the church or because of it. Though I no longer affiliate in a religious sense with the LDS church, it's in my bones- most born-and-raised post-Mormons will agree with me that it just doesn't leave you.
So coming out of the church and into the rest of the world has been a bit of a difficult transition at times. Feminism was something I could get behind, something I could believe in, something that I was convinced was of universal value. But the concept of "raunch feminism" which Levy discusses in FCP, has always remained an uncomfortable enigma to me. I never understood the whole womenwanttobelikemenandthusmustbesexisttowardsotherwomen. Maybe it's due to the Mormon church's emphasis on the differences between men and women (I think I must have blocked the part about women being subject to men, and men getting all the power), but I've never wanted to be a man. Oh I went through a phase in high school where I wanted to be seen as one of the guys and reviled everything girly, but it was short-lived and in the end, I just emerged wanting just to be a woman, except, you know, with POWER. I fundamentally believe in the awesome beauty that is our sex. Not in a pretty way, a pink-dresses-tea-sandwiches sort of way, but I have always seen women as this strong amazing force to be reckoned with.
Raunch feminism has always seemed like a big fat lie, and Levy hits the nail on the head with this book. The most fascinating and pertinent part of all of it to me was her careful emphasis on the fact that women do not enjoy this type of flaunted sexuality, aside from the occasional milk-toasty power trip. Why? Because it's not real power and it's not real sexuality. It's not about pleasure- it's about sex and the connection of sex to money and the connection of money to power and the sad realization that, even today, women do not have access to power that works outside the rules men have created.
In an odd way, it reminds me of Queen Elizabeth I, the "virgin queen" who parlayed her sexuality (or rather, her status as a marriageable woman) to her own benefit by allowing herself to flirt with and be courted by the world's more powerful (and power-hungry) men. It wasn't about the pleasure, it was about maintaining her sovereignty over the most powerful country in the world. She had to use men, had to lure them with the possibility of marriage (and dominance, and power) in order to keep herself aloft. She used her weakness as a strength because she had to. Because it was the 16th century and women were still property. She had to act like a man and like a woman at the same time in order to achieve what she most wanted: power. And this raunch culture today, this ideology that somehow believes that women have got to be women acting like men but still being fundamentally women, is much the same. Except, Elizabeth's solution was genius- political survival in a world she was never supposed to inhibit. Women today have Civil Rights laws and independence and personal sovereignty- so why are we still acting like it's 1575?
Levy's theory is that it all comes back to the feminist split on sexuality- a divide that I am still trying to navigate personally. We still haven't figured out a way to negate power politics in sexuality and thus, sex becomes commodified and utilized and all the great amazing things about it are muted.
I would recommend reading it, if for no other reason than to identify the parts inside each of us that believe in raunch culture- the part of me that cringes when I go to a bar because I'm wearing more clothes than 3 typical bar girls put together and feel like an overdressed frump, the part of me that wants men, all men, to want me because that means I have some power, the part of me that still strives to appear unaffected and bored, rather than enraged when I hear misogynist comments from acquaintances and people I love. Who wants to live that way? Read it and let's make a change.