[Paleopsych] WP: Raunchiness Is Powerful? C'mon, Girls

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Wed Sep 21 22:34:43 UTC 2005

Raunchiness Is Powerful? C'mon, Girls

    By Ariel Levy
    Sunday, September 18, 2005; B05

    Afew years ago I noticed something weird: Raunch was invading my life.
    I would turn on the television and see babes in tight, tiny uniforms
    bouncing up and down on trampolines. I'd change the channel and see
    Oprah had a stripper on her show, teaching her how to wiggle. I'd walk
    down the street and see teens and young women -- and the occasional
    wild fifty-something -- sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the Playboy
    bunny. Britney Spears was becoming increasingly popular and
    increasingly unclothed, and her undulating body ultimately became so
    familiar to me that I felt like we used to go out.

    Watching these developments, it struck me that men -- the traditional
    target market for sex in its many forms -- were only half the equation
    here. It was women who, across the country, were choosing to firm
    their thighs by attending Cardio Striptease workouts. It was women --
    usually young, always unpaid -- who, by agreeing to flash their
    breasts or make out with their friends on camera, were making a
    killing for the insanely popular "Girls Gone Wild" franchise. Even my
    best friend from college, who is the kind of feminist who used to take
    part in "Take Back the Night" marches on campus, had become fascinated
    by porn stars and strippers.

    Apparently, where decades ago the women's movement saw
    objectification, contemporary women are seeing inspiration. The going
    wisdom is that we now are liberated enough to get implants, we're
    empowered enough to start lap dancing. Gloria Steinem and her
    compatriots were either wrong about these things, or just reacting to
    them in a different time, when different rules applied. Partly, this
    more recent attitude is a rebellion against the rigidity of the
    politically correct '80s. Partly, it's a corollary of an ever more
    pervasive American consumerism, which tells us that if only we buy
    enough stuff -- bigger and better body parts, tinier and tighter
    clothes -- we will be able to buy passion. The question is, when we
    pick up that "Porn Star" T-shirt, what are we really buying?

    Take Jenna Jameson. The most popular adult film performer on planet
    Earth, she has proved to be one of raunch culture's most effective
    proselytizers. In 2004, her memoir, "How to Make Love Like a Porn
    Star," spent six weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. In it,
    Jameson writes that "being in the industry can be a great experience"
    because "you can actually become a role model for women."

    She's definitely right about the second part. I've spent the last two
    years interviewing women for a book about how they relate to raunch.
    In that time, what I have heard over and over again is that all of
    this -- Playboy, porn, strippers, thongs -- is good for us. When I
    went to Miami on spring break with "Girls Gone Wild," a 19-year-old
    who'd taken her clothes off for the cameras told me, "It shows
    confidence . . . the only way I could see somebody not doing this is
    if they were planning a career in politics." When I went to Oakland,
    Calif., to talk to high school students, one girl remarked, "To dress
    the skankiest, that would be the one way we all compete. Since seventh
    grade, the skankier, the smaller, the more cleavage, the better." In
    Hollywood, Cardio Striptease creator Jeff Costa proudly told me he had
    a mother bring a troupe of girls to his class for a sweet 16 party.

    Which helps explain how a company like Playboy Enterprises, despite a
    faltering flagship publication that in August announced a $2.3 million
    second-quarter loss, still turns a comfortable profit. Licensing, for
    instance, is going extremely well because of the army of women and
    girls eager to sport the rabbit head logo on their underpants or tank
    tops or jammies, as an advertisement for their own independence and
    sass. (When a reporter asked in 2003 if he was concerned about Playboy
    merchandise being marketed to teenagers, Hugh Hefner replied, "I don't
    care if a baby holds up a Playboy bunny rattle.")

    But let's think about this for a second. That little bunny logo that's
    supposed to symbolize our kicky empowerment is also the emblem of a
    man who said in 1967, "I do not look for equality between man and
    woman . . . I like innocent, affectionate, faithful girls" -- and
    plenty of them. Judging by his new reality series on E!, "The Girls
    Next Door," Hef's views haven't changed much. He still surrounds
    himself with a small stable of girlfriends, each of whom must be
    involved exclusively with him, each of whom has a 9 p.m. curfew. And
    these are the women who are going to teach us about liberation?

    Jameson is unwittingly poignant on this dichotomy. In her book, she
    insists that being in porn is "one of the few jobs for women where you
    can get to a certain level, look around, and feel so powerful, not
    just in the work environment but as a sexual being." But there's a
    reason that Jameson's tome is subtitled, "A Cautionary Tale." When she
    describes her actual sexual experiences, they sound carnivorous and
    dissociated: "Sexuality became a tool for so much more than just
    connecting with a boy I was attracted to," she writes. "I realized it
    could serve any purpose I needed. It was a weapon I could exploit
    mercilessly." Not once in that description of her sexual life does she
    use the word pleasure, to say nothing of love. Making love like a porn
    star -- which is supposed to make us feel so powerful -- doesn't
    really sound hot or wild or fun, it sounds like a relentless routine.
    It sounds like a job.

    And, of course, for Jameson, as for other women in the sex industry,
    it is. Strippers, porn stars and Playboy Playmates are women whose job
    it is to fake lust, to imitate actual arousal. We're supposed to
    imitate an imitation of our own sexuality and call that empowerment?

    It's an amazing stroke of illogic, but somehow we have accepted the
    proposition. In truth, though, raunch culture is not about a real or
    unbridled exploration of what turns women on or makes us happy, it's
    about one particular -- and particularly commercial -- shorthand for
    sexiness, with an emphasis on performance over pleasure, formula over
    authenticity. It's ironic that we think of this as adult
    entertainment, because really, reducing sex to polyester underpants
    and implants is pretty adolescent.

    A uthor's e-mail : [2]ariel at ariellevy.net

    Ariel Levy's first book, "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise
    of Raunch Culture" (Free Press) is out this month.

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