The following short essay was written for my Psyc Gender class.
Definition of “Raunch Culture.” Levy describes raunch culture as “like a fantasy world dreamed up by teenage boys,” calling Girls Gone Wild “emblematic” of a “baseline [cultural] expectation that women will be constantly exploding in little blasts of exhibitionism” (p. 17). In raunch culture, women are obliged by clear, but implicit, social norms to be sexually ‘liberated’ in the mold of idealized sex workers. Levy connects both the specificity and the strength of this ‘liberation’ to the way that women’s sexuality has become commodified: “If we were to acknowledge that sexuality is personal and unique, it would become unwieldy. Making sexiness into something simple, quantifiable makes it easier to explain and to market” (p. 184).
According to Levy, then, the values of raunch culture demand that women be:
*Sexualized. Women who are not “overtly and publicly sexual” (p. 26) are, by default, ashamed and unliberated.
*Performative. Raunch culture demands that women, in addition to being sexualized generally (e.g. in dress), treat actual sex as a performance rather than an experience. Levy drives home this point when she references a study which found that a fourth of teen girls described their first time having sex as “‘voluntary but unwanted.’” (p. 163)
*Standardized. Raunch culture wants what Girl’s Gone Wild creator Joe Francis calls “tens”: “100 to 110 pounds, big boobs, blond” (p. 12), and what Levy calls “a tawdry, tarty, cartoonlike version of female sexuality.” (p. 5)
In short, Levy says, raunch culture wants women to be “fuckable and salable,” (p. 31) two criteria which, she contends, determine a woman’s worth within raunch culture.
Is raunch culture progressive? Levy’s thesis, by which I am persuaded, is that raunch culture is the co-option of “both sex radicals and feminists” (p. 196) by an alliance of old-fashioned patriarchy and new-fangled capitalism. In other words, raunch culture makes sexual power over women masquerade as sexual empowerment of women.
The most compelling evidence Levy presents for this claim is the contrast she draws between 1970s feminism (in ch. 2) and Female Chauvinist Pigs (FCPs) (in ch. 3). The former are personified by Susan Brownmiller, who Levy says “wasn’t interested in tweaking the system already in place…” but rather “a total transfiguration of society.” (p. 48) The difference here–between equality and liberation–is one of scope: FCPs are adept at raising themselves out of oppression and into privileged positions ‘equal’ to those of their male oppressors. Feminists, on the other hand, conspire to eliminate the privilege/oppression dynamic entirely. Rather than shifting women’s position in the social hierarchy, they want to tear down the hierarchy itself, starting with women’s oppression.
In my view, this is the only plausibly ethical political position available. A piecemeal approach to fighting oppression only changes which groups are oppressed. It does not diminish oppression per se. Example: in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Irish Americans were a racial minority roughly comparable to African Americans. Since then, Irish has become a species of White. But this hasn’t diminished racial oppression in general; it’s just created more Whites to oppress remaining racial minorities.
Indeed, the piecemeal approach of pursuing social justice by securing “equality” for one oppressed group at a time is an effective strategy for sustaining oppressive regimes, since it allows the privileged minority to co-opt the best and brightest of the underclass into their own ranks. If this sounds vague and theoretical, consider how effectively raunch culture has co-opted the strongest and smartest women of the ‘post-feminist’ generation to “prove [their] mettle” by becoming “‘like a man,’” i.e. FCPs. (p. 96) Instead of attacking substantive patriarchy (e.g. the wage gap or political representation), women like Christie Hefner and Sheila Nevins use their own sex appeal as power over men (p. 97) while at the same time proving that they’re smart and strong and tough enough–and ‘relaxed’ and ‘cool’ enough–to climb to the top of the patriarchal ladder as honorary men. “[T]o really be like men, FCPs have to enjoy looking at those women, too.” (p. 99)