[Paleopsych] Newsday: Girls gone wild

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Mon Nov 28 22:52:12 UTC 2005

Girls gone wild

    Emily Gordon is a writer in Brooklyn.
    November 6, 2005

    One afternoon last winter, I went by myself to see "Inside Deep
    Throat," the explicit documentary about the making of the classic porn
    movie, and found it hilarious and informative. Still, it bothered me
    that the filmmakers seemed to endorse the line that star Linda
    Lovelace, a subsequent anti-porn spokeswoman, was a loon to say she
    was ever abused by either the industry or anyone in it.
    Afterward, I talked to two young hipster guys who'd gotten a kick out
    of the movie and also mocked Lovelace's change of heart. "But it's
    very well-documented," I began - and I could see the red alert in
    their eyes: Tiresome feminist harangue ahead! Pro-sexual expression
    crusader or uptight speechmaker? They were both roles I resented being
    shoehorned into.
    This annoyingly familiar dilemma makes it somewhat difficult to
    address the theme of Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs." In a tone
    of deep disapproval, Levy outlines the ways in which women - by
    endorsing, imitating and producing the "raunch culture" of porn stars,
    strippers, exhibitionist celebrities like Paris Hilton, "Girls Gone
    Wild" flashers and other shameless hussies - are eroding the gains of
    the second-wave feminist movement under the banner of feminist
    choice-making, individuality and sexual freedom. Indeed, she argues
    briefly but persuasively, many young women have "relinquished any
    sense of themselves as a collective group with a linked fate."
    American women are indeed barraged with images of their counterparts
    acting like Jessica Rabbit. Levy argues that regardless of whether
    these women are drunk, peer-pressured spring-breakers or former
    women's studies majors cheering on pole-dancing at New York's
    exclusive Cake parties and flamboyantly smooching their female
    friends, they're all making the opposite of an empowered statement.
    She interviews both disapproving pioneer feminists and unsure-sounding
    younger women to prove the point. Levy's polar universe leaves no room
    for more ambiguous figures, such as the triumphantly unionized
    strippers in San Francisco or retro-burlesque dancers all over the
    country whose art form is genre-bendingly new and old at once. There
    are no quotes from articulate young feminists about how, for instance,
    porn (including the non-mainstream, female-centered variety) could be
    in any way entertaining, sexy or edifying.
    One of Levy's major points is both vital and extremely
    well-illustrated. Adolescent girls are under tremendous pressure to
    adopt an image of sexual willingness and to prove it. Unlike women in
    their 20s or 30s, they're unlikely to have a media-savvy filter for
    the messages they absorb. As a result, they're in serious danger of
    being slandered at school and online, of sacrificing their youth to
    self-conscious nymphettishness, of getting pregnant and contracting
    STDs more often than girls in other comparable countries, and of
    learning too late that sex is something they should actually enjoy.
    Her chapter on the confusing paradoxes of contemporary urban lesbian
    culture will also have relevance for younger lesbians unsure of where
    they fit in.
    Unfortunately, "Female Chauvinist Pigs" as a whole lacks the
    requirements of really energizing feminist polemics - a smooth,
    engaging prose style; a bird's-eye view of class, race and geography;
    and a rallying cry for concrete solutions or alternatives. Most
    distractingly, Levy provides readers almost no sense of her own
    background with or relationship to these subjects, except in a few
    tantalizing statements (inevitably in parentheses).
    On the penultimate page of the conclusion, she writes, "Our national
    love of porn and pole dancing is not the byproduct of a free and easy
    society with an earthy acceptance of sex. It is a desperate stab at
    freewheeling eroticism in a time and place characterized by intense
    anxiety." The complicated nature of that anxiety is worthy of a more
    focused look.

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