Feminism: Show Us Where the Babies Feed
"Girls Gone Wild" feminism claims to empower women through sex -- but at what cost?
published on Thursday, April 20, 2006
Photo courtesy of KRT Wire
Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Rauch Culture, questions whether the sexual backlash to the anti-porn feminism of the 1970s is empowering or derogatory.
I remember the event clearly. It was a weekend night at some awful bar that caters to dewy-eyed ASU students, eager to live out their MTV fantasies. The dance floor (and I use the term "dance" loosely) was packed, girls were wasted and guys were either a) watching or b) standing in as a human stripper pole as some stumbly gyrating girl went to town.
I was doing my best, awkward version of the robot, when a sweaty girl whose body was pouring out of what she was wearing, came up behind me and started dancing very, very close. She leaned toward my ear and whispered in an excited slur, "C'mon! Look, look, they're watching us!" I turned my head and saw a group of guys staring stupidly at us as if they had just discovered their dad's collection of Playboys.
This was one of my first experiences with what has now been coined, "raunch culture" or "fuck me feminism." Both these terms refer to the current mainstreaming of pornography -- a backlash to the anti-porn feminism of the 1970s. According to Saucebox.com, a feminist blog, fuck me feminism is a "school of thought that suggests women are empowered by reclaiming and controlling our own sexual objectification." Basically, it's women objectifying themselves and passing it off as a legitimate contribution to the women's movement. Early feminists burned bras; we stuff ours with oversized synthetic mammaries.
My dance partner unwittingly tapped into this movement that encourages women to participate in "Girls Gone Wild" antics, and to exist in a world in which the hottest accessory a woman can have is another woman.
With the rise and proliferation of this new kind of feminist movement comes an influx of books exploring this phenomenon.
In Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture the author asks, "How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women? Why is laboring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? How is imitating a stripper or a porn star going to render us sexually liberated?"
There are many women who respond to this question with the argument that what Levy and other feminists criticize as the problem is in fact the solution. On the Web site, The F-word, Contemporary UK Feminism, an article written from a stripper's perspective says, "The pleasure we derive from displaying our bodies 'for' men may have its roots in male domination, but the more we show that we like it too, the more that power dynamic is challenged and the fewer rights men can assume over our bodies."
Kate Zinke, co-director of ASU's production of "The Vagina Monologues," takes the middle ground.
"It's about choice. Things like stripping can be both empowering and exploitive. It's all about how much control you have," Zinke says.
She adds that it is unproductive to play the blame game and place the responsibility solely on women, or even on men.
"We put the responsibility on women when we should be looking at the misogynistic society that doesn't allow women to freely choose what they want to do without judgment," Zinke says.
Valerie Flaherty, a teaching assistant in the women and gender studies program, says a danger of "raunch culture" is the tendency of women to subscribing to it without realizing the full implication of their actions.
"I think that some women flaunt their sexuality as a way to feel empowered or feel like they are in control. It is easier to not feel devalued when a woman says, 'This man can't hurt me because, I only want him for sex,'" she says.
In her book, Levy agrees saying, "Women have come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny."
Women often forget that the society we live in still fosters the "male gaze," in which women are the objects, says Flaherty.
She says she's afraid some women justify "having people look at my half-naked pictures on MySpace" because they want to show people these images. "This can feel empowering to a woman, initially," she says. "However, women are still living up to standards created by another person, usually a man."
In other words, the male gaze does not see the empowering decision process of a woman that has chosen to pose nude or strip; he is still only seeing the product of that decision.
"A man doesn't care if a woman is showing her body on MySpace because she wants to and it feels liberating to her," says Flaherty. "All the man cares about is that he is fulfilling his needs, so really, what type of liberation is that?"
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