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Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

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Meet the Female Chauvinist Pig – the new brand of "empowered woman" who embraces "raunch culture" wherever she finds it. In her groundbreaking book, New York magazine writer Ariel Levy argues that, if male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women – and of themselves. Irresistibly witty and wickedly intelligent, Female Chauvinist Pigs makes the case that the rise of raunch does not represent how far women have come; it only proves how far they have left to go.

236 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Ariel Levy

9 books691 followers
Ariel Levy is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where she has written about the swimmer Diana Nyad, the Supreme Court plaintiff Edith Windsor, the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and the drug ayahuasca. She was the editor of The Best American Essays 2015. Her personal story "Thanksgiving in Mongolia" won a National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism and is the basis for her book, The Rules Do Not Apply.

Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Vogue, Slate, Men's Journal and Blender. Levy was named one of the "Forty Under 40" most influential out individuals in the June/July 2009 issue of The Advocate.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 967 reviews
33 reviews
October 23, 2007
I'll start with the weak parts. Throughout the book she takes a half-anecdote/interview half-detailed analysis approach. She's a journalist so the first part is understandable. There is one part of the book where she interviews Christie Hefner, daughter of Hugh, about her job as the CFO or something like that of Playboy (she's the one that runs the enterprise.) Christie has a really interesting response to one of Levy's questions. She says, "So I think people who choose to pose for the magazine have a very definite idea of what they want to get out of it - and then they have a life and they may be an actress or a mother or a lawyer or an executive." Levy responds, "An actress or a mother sure, but a lawyer or an executive not necessarily. Putting your tush on display is still not the best way to make partner or impress the board." This is interesting and constitutes one of the serious weaknesses of the book.
I think Levy is guilty of going after the wrong force. Her book is called "Female Chauvinist Pigs" equating people like Christie Hefner with someone like Hugh, who admittedly only wanted to liberate men's sexuality. What Christie accomplishes by talking about the desires of women to feel sexy in that way, (she actually uses the example of a woman who was injured in a car accident and became paraplegic and posed for the magazine to regain her own sense of sexuality) is exactly what Levy advocates in the conclusion. The conclusion admits that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with posing for a magazine or stripping. The issue is when raunch culture elevates one type of sexuality to the norm and demands that people conform to that norm. It is true that Playboy does this through its photography so that people don't choose how to pose, but that isn't the focus of Levy's critique (if it was, it would have been awesome). She wants to call out people instead of structures. It's quite telling that she has more contempt for Christie, then the fact that the decision for posing for the magazine makes it impossible to join the board room or become partner. She seems to treat the latter as immutable, while the former is what constitutes blameworthiness.
Also there's a huge weakness, which is the entire fifth chapter. In that chapter she begins to talk about lesbian and trans culture. Her analysis of trans issues is actually pretty offensive. She sees the decision of FTM transpeople as part of the cultural shift away from pride in being a woman. She at a point admits a lack of clarity in understanding, yet still proceeds to judge an entire group of people. She appears to be fine with people that simply enjoy the fluid identity, but she has an issue if people opt for surgery. It's this sort of moralizing bullshit in terms of identity that really makes the book weak.

Now I'll go to the strength. When she does analysis, it's downright amazing. In chapter six she does this in depth analysis on Sex and the City talking about the commodification of sex and how that constructs people to look at sex as a status symbol instead of as a fulfilling experience that one comes into with desires. She quotes Carrie as saying, "she usually 'couldn't help but wonder; what was going on in the head of the man she was seeing and rarely evaluated her own happiness as such." That's perfect, because it gets to the basis of the problem of sex as she articulates it. The issue is when we have a standard and evaluate ourselves to the standard without considered what our own internal desires are. She says that sex is such a unique experience that there's no way the raunch standard fits everyone, but people play into it because of its commodification and current status as a status symbol and even power symbol. That was only one of the examples, but I really liked that one so I chose it. Each chapter had analysis and anecdotes, but the analysis is where the book is at its best.
Profile Image for Larissa.
Author 7 books244 followers
April 19, 2007
Ever since I heard--or rather, speculated on--the premise of this book, I wanted to support it. Wanted to get behind the woman who was willing to lay bare all the ways in which females so often 'ruined it for the rest of us.' And yet, Levy takes this theme very close to my heart and makes it almost impossible to take her seriously as anything short of a prudish, porn-hating, sexually reticent sapphist.

It's not that her discussion shoulnd't include interviews with women who proudly sport Playboy bunnies, who flash 'Girls Gone Wild!' cameras after the promise of a trucker hat, who have moved to the top of the corporate world by producing programs on the "ultimate fantasy" of being a porn star. Because it should. And Levy does make some insightful points about the common equation of exhibitionist sexuality with power, as well as the manner in which women who want to set themselves above the tradtional lot and reception of their gender mask themselves in a sort of faux masculinity, deeming their traits--their favored traits--as somehow 'male.' The problem is that she consistently (and unncessisarily) stacks the deck--interviews only people who are going to reinforce her vision of naieve girls commodifying themselves or foolishly contrary women who advertise their 'empowerment' whilst selling their 'sisters' down the river. She interviews porn stars who were raped, beaten, and abused prior to choosing their profession. She interviews Adam Corolla. And with the expected sound bytes from such individuals, who can argue with her point: women are still living in a degraded patriarchal society and they are bringing it on themselves.

What makes this assertion truly problematic is that Levy has no solution for this problem, no interviews with--or even speculations on--what a strong, healthily-sexual woman looks like. Presumably she thinks that she herself as above and outside, a paragon of liberated and feministic sexuality (although she occasionally admits to falling prey to the temptation of buying into masculine privlege), but she never actaully explains what qualities she has that others lack, or how she's managed to escape the vortex of 'raunch.' Instead, there she stands, on the sidelines, turning up her nose at the poor self-degraders, the prissed out, self-righteous lesbian that no doubt many people expected her to be.

It is, then, the final irony that Ariel Levy lets not a single sequined, tube-topped interview go by without first decribing--in great detail--the young women's hair color, innocent lips, curvaceous figure, glowing skin. Perhaps such characterizations are intended to draw our attention to the sad irony: the inherent beauty and innocence of girls and women who think of themselves as nothing more than flesh and display. But closer observation reveals nothing more or less than ogling--the visual consumptions of a woman who likes to watch, likes to critique, but doesn't have a single answer.
Profile Image for Zinta.
Author 4 books234 followers
January 5, 2009
What is a female chauvinist pig (FCP)? "If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves."

Levy observes the mainstreaming of raunch, and women, including feminists, falling obediently into line promoting it. "But I could never make the argument add up in my head," she writes. "How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish *good* for women?"

Somewhere along the developmental line of women's liberation, as we fought for equal rights and opportunities, we achieved much in some areas while failing in the area of female sexuality. It is where we are, perhaps, most vulnerable and needy for approval of the opposite gender. And so, it appears, our line has become - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Levy interviews various porn stars such as Jenna Jameson to dig into the motivation behind the act. And act it is. When these women describe what they do, not once, Levy observes, do they use the word "pleasure." The predominant descriptive word, in fact, is "pain." The reason for doing their work? "Because I was paid to."

If feminism was meant to be, among other things, an arena in which to develop a heightened sense of connection for a woman to her own body, the rise of raunch is built around male rather than female fantasy, the predominant theme being one of subjugation of the woman rather than her pleasure. As long as women emulate men in and outside of the boardroom in how they express their strength, their smarts, and their sexuality, they are still making a statement that to be a woman is to be inferior.

Levy explores the culture of raunch among youth, those scantily clad young women dressed in, as Levy calls it, "the slut uniform." When asked, it is not promiscuity they crave, but acceptance. One female teen expresses it this way: "To dress the skankiest, that would be the one way we compete... I wanted guys to want me, to want to hook up with me, I guess, even though I *didn't* want to hook up with them."

This same attitude appears among sex workers. "The cultural dominance of the porn-star fantasy is that it defies control. Porn stars are quite firmly under various controls. Most obviously, they are under corporate control. Sex workers are *workers.* They are having sex because they are paid to, not because they are in the mood to. The best erotic models, then, would seem to be the women who get the most pleasure out of sex, not the women who get the most money for it."

Levy explores the theory that most sex workers are victims of sexual abuse and finds basis for the estimates that as many as 90 percent have suffered sexual trauma, two-thirds suffer from post-traumatic stress, a number twice as high as Vietnam vets. "There is something twisted about using a predominantly sexually traumatized group of people as our erotic role models." Jenna Jameson writes, "To this day, I still can't watch my own sex scenes." In describing what she does, Jameson desscribes sex: "It was a weapon I could exploit mercilessly."

Levy concludes that the raunch culture is not a pursuit of female sexuality, but an abandonment of it.

"The proposition that having the most simplistic, plastic stereotypes of female sexuality constantly reiterated throughout our culture somehow proves that we are sexually liberated and personally empowered has been offered to us, and we have accepted it. It's time to stop nodding and smiling uncomfortably as we ignore the crazy feeling in our heads and admit that the emperor has no clothes."

Levy mentions "many letters from men confirming my gut feeling that reducing sexuality to a commercial formula is no better for them than for us." One can only hope so. But, either way, it is time for women to get back to being strong and competent, confidant and fully sensual. Now, that's revolutionary. And sexy.

Profile Image for Asher Huey.
6 reviews8 followers
September 14, 2008
I consider myself liberal and open-minded but over the past few years I have been shocked by how sexually charged society has become. It is a relief to read that there are like-minded people who agree. I've said for years that lipstick feminism is not feminism and this book clearly lays out that argument. By using their sexuality as power women have begun re-objectifying themselves and succumbing to the stereotypes they fought so hard to break away from.

Everyone should read this book.
Profile Image for sylas.
724 reviews54 followers
April 9, 2007
While Levy's analysis of the ways in which some women participate in and uphold raunch culture is, at times, quite apt, this book as a whole brushes past the true root of the issue (patriarchy) and in doing so places blame at the wrong placemat. Rather than critiquing the dominant paradigm of power and control, or focusing on oppression, racism or class, Levy focuses on the ways in which women (and sometimes men, who she inacurately identifies as women) can harm other women by perpetuating raunch culture and "acting like men". Though I agree that women should be held accountable for their contributions to a system that perpetuates mysogyny (just as any person of any gender should be) and though I'm sure that it was Levy's intention to write a book that encourages such accountability, I don't believe that this book effectively calls women to action in this ragard. In fact, I think that this book -- when placed in the hands of the wrong person -- could prove dangerous.
In Levy's chapter "From Womyn to Bois", she discusses the ways in which female born gender variant people, female born genderqueers and transguys -- all of whom she describes as "bois" -- uphold and perpetuate raunch culture through their actions and behaviors. Levy uses female pronouns for all but one of the differently gendered people she refers to in this chapter (who she seems to have decided is trans enough to warrant appropriate gender pronouns) and belittles their experience in her description of them as promiscuous "lesbians" caught up in the "fad" of testosterone and top surgery. This is transphobia at its finest.
Levy's book seems based on very limited, few and far between interviews with randomly selected members of various communities (whose experience she proudly generalizes as indicative of all members of that community). Her research is, in this way, flawed and ineffectual. Her transphobia is frightening and hazardous.
This book is intended to be accessible to and appropriate for the average reader, which is why I take such great offense to her denegration of gender variant and trans identified folks. Hidden in amongst a proportedly feminist analysis in true hate-speech mired in disdain for queer culture. This is not a message I want distributed en masse throughout popular culture, for the aforementioned reasons.
September 25, 2022

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I was a teenager in the aughts, when raunch/party culture was at its zenith, and this shaped me in some really negative ways. It gave me ideas about what it meant to be a girl versus what it meant to be a boy that were very problematic, that I internalized for many years. It also gave me issues, because I didn't embody any of those cultural attitudes, which made me feel like a social failure. So when I found out that FEMALE CHAUVINIST PIGS existed and was essentially an attempt to analyze party/raunch culture from a feminist lens and how it harmfully effects women (and, presumably, everyone), I was very interested. It seemed like a book destined to be a favorite.

It was not.

First, a caveat. This book is dated. It was published in 2005 and I knew that going in. I wasn't expecting the pop-culture references to be current, and I knew it might use some out-of-date language that would probably not be optimal today. And yet-- I was surprised at how problematic this book ended up being for me, personally.

I'm not even sure how I want to rate this because there were some essays that I really liked. The first essay, which I believe was titled Raunch Culture, was the best. It was a condemnation of Girls Gone Wild and celebrities like Paris Hilton and Hugh Hefner, and how the commodification of women causes everyone to lose, even if women are the ones buying and selling. This sort of socially acceptable objectification isn't progressive: it just sells the lie that making it public removes the barriers, when really, the issue is that women are still being reduced to objects but are now being encouraged to objectify themselves with the "boys" in a grotesque mockery of egalitarianism. This was the strongest essay in the book and gave me a misguided idea as to how much I would enjoy this work as a whole.

The third essay, the titular Female Chauvinist Pigs, felt, to me, like an entire essay that could have been an expansion of Gillian Flynn's infamous quote about "cool girls" from GONE GIRL: basically, a critique of women who pull up the ladder behind them, who excel at being a woman by being one of the boys-- but also still feminine enough to make it look attractive. In other words, an unfair an impossible dichotomy that makes both men and women (and everyone in between) look bad. But I also felt like these essays felt somewhat hypocritical because they seemed to be blaming women and not really examining the societal and infrastructural contexts that drive decision-making like these. The second essay, The Future That Never Was(?), could have just as well have been called "Pulling Up the Ladder" or "I Became a White Feminist to Piss Off My Second-Wave Feminist Mom." It felt like more blaming women for things that are already skewed by an extant patriarchal society and I didn't like that.

The essay I had the most trouble with was called From Womyn to Bois because it felt really TERFy. Levy seemed to be buying into the (mistaken and hurtful) idea that some FTM trans people become trans because they hate "being" women or, you know, just hate women in general. The idea of gender-fluidity also seemed very muddled and problematically portrayed here, because the focus of this essay was on people who identify as "bois," which I looked up and seems to mean anything from people who are gender-fluid and trans to women who are lesbian but like to present as masculine. For example, one of the people Levy interviewed said that they felt more comfortable living in a murk, which sounded, to me, like someone who is non-binary or gender-non-conforming. I felt like this was portrayed as this person being confused, but to me, it just sounded like someone who didn't like labels and was enjoying living their best non-conforming life. In this essay, she (Levy) also interviewed gay women who acted like f-boys, and the implication seemed to be that a lot of women use masculinity as an attempt to live out the trendy fantasy of being an immature jerk with no emotional responsibility. Top surgery was described as faddish and the way that transitioning was described here as a whole just felt incredibly problematic and transphobic. I hated this essay so much and it left such a sour taste in my mouth. Lumping queer women with pre-transitioned trans men felt... like a bad take. And I got kind of angry when she (Levy) was like, "Oh wow, isn't it weird that one of the founders of this lesbian group is a trans man?" (Not exact quote.) Like that wasn't allowed, or was somehow sus. Like I said, the language here felt really TERFy, or at the very least, similar to what TERFs use. I think trans people reading this chapter are going to feel very triggered and offended. It ages very, very poorly.

There's also an essay on how high school and middle school kids are being affected adversely by social media that forces them into a precocious sexual coming-of-age and this could have had merit if the essay weren't called "Pigs in Training" (ugh, why?). It felt very shaming and I didn't like this essay, either. I do agree with the author that sex education should start younger and kids should be taught at least a very basic idea of what sex is and how it relates to pleasure and consent, because otherwise they're going to turn to media for answers and media is often horrifically wrong. In the age of TikTok and fake news, I think that's even more the case now than it was back in 2005. But the way she talked about these girls having sex and mimicking pornographic acts made me very uncomfortable. It felt almost like she was mocking these girls and that, paired with the title, felt like she was blaming these girls for trying to fit in with what a sexist society was demanding of them. It felt different from the way she described the male teen she interviewed. From the quotes she used, I felt like Levy was almost going out of her way to make these girls look vain and foolish, to cherry-pick the conclusions she wanted, kind of like how the "bois" she interviewed were all flaky and sexist.

There's an essay on Sex and the City that I wasn't interested in at all, even though it does circle back to the sexuality as consumerism theme. It wasn't a bad essay, but after two essays that really bothered me, I was less inclined to agree with the author. FEMALE CHAUVINIST PIGS had such a strong beginning, and I think if this had been an essay holding raunch culture accountable and really emphasizing the idea of women as products, it could have been a really good essay. Nowadays, an essay such as this would probably tie into incel culture (if women are products, what happens if someone is unable to "obtain" what they feel that they are entitled to), rape culture, and the hyper-sexualization of women as video game and anime characters, or by social media personalities who gamify callbacks to these easily accessible stereotypes (like Belle Delphine).

One last thing I had an issue with was that the author compares women taking on masculine attributes to get ahead to Uncle Tom w/r/t Black stereotypes equaling likability from white people. She quickly doubles back and says that obviously stereotypes rooted in slavery and generations of inequality aren't quite equivalent to sexism and that of course Black women exist, too, but then there's virtually no mention of how women of color are sexualized or eroticized, and I'm pretty sure that was happening a lot in rap music videos at this time (not to mention the magazines peppered with microaggressions or overtly macro aggressions with how women of color and especially Black and Latina women were described in pop culture). I get what she was trying to do with this comparison-- and other feminists have used it before (I believe Gloria Steinem was one of these), but it's just another example of how this book comes across as a little short-sighted and problematic.

I thought about giving this book a rounded-up three but as I'm listing out all of my issues with this book, I'm thinking more of a 1.5 or a 2. There were some good points buried in here and the first essay is exceptionally strong, but it all quickly goes downhill from there.

1.5 stars
Profile Image for Caroline .
418 reviews576 followers
April 12, 2021

What’s so wrong with “sex positivity” today, with “Girls Gone Wild” videos, with strip tease fitness classes? As it so happens, a lot. Female Chauvinist Pigs is a provocative and well-reasoned exploration of “raunch culture” and how it undermines feminism. The concept of feminism has changed since it first came about, to the point where what qualifies as feminism today is markedly different from the feminism of the 1970s.

Levy made a solid case for why women still don’t have the equal rights it seemed they’d have by now. She also explained that men and women alike are confused on a fundamental level about what it means to be feminist and about what truly empowers women. In short, our current idea of feminism has become a tad warped.

Levy’s arguments are forcible and hard to dispute. Something I thought she did particularly well was properly define “rape culture.” I see this term thrown around a lot in a way that makes it clear it’s not fully understood. Raunch culture is indisputably part of rape culture.

She covered all her bases by exploring different aspects of today’s feminism in depth. These range from the lesbian community to “CAKE,” an “entertainment company for women,” whose entire ideology is based on the belief that it’s strongly feminist, when, on closer inspection, it’s sexist.

One of the best parts of Female Chauvinist Pigs is Levy’s detailing of the history of the women’s movement--focusing in particular on the self-assured Susan Brownmiller--to the present day. This history helps ground and add helpful context to Levy’s points. This chapter is aptly named “The Future That Never Happened” and is crucial to understanding exactly why raunch culture is problematic.

Another chapter focusing on adolescent girls offers a powerful illustration of raunch culture’s pervasiveness and the confusion it creates regarding sex in general. A section where Levy interviewed Erica Jong--“one of the most famous sex-positive feminists”--underscores well just how different feminism is today:
“I was standing in the shower the other day, picking up my shampoo,” she said, “and it’s called ‘Dumb Blonde.’ I thought, Thirty years ago you could not have sold this. I think we have lost consciousness of the way our culture demeans women.” She was quick to tell me that she “wouldn’t pass a law against the product or call the PC police.” But, she said, “let’s not kid ourselves that this is liberation. The women who buy the idea that flaunting your breasts in sequins is power--I mean, I’m for all that stuff--but let’s not get so into tits and ass that we don’t notice how far we haven’t come. Let’s not confuse that with real power. I don’t like to see women fooled.”
Because of its many pop-culture references, the book is a product of its time; however, the fact that some references are outdated (such as "The Man Show") doesn't matter because Levy's overall point stands--and remains current.

As this is a serious exploration, Female Chauvinist Pigs would have been stronger if written in a slightly more scholarly tone (e.g., using “attractive” rather than the colloquial “hot”). Additionally, Levy’s political and personal opinions creep in from time to time, disrupting the writing’s journalistic quality (e.g., Regarding a conference on abstinence-only sex education: “It’s interesting (in a nauseating kind of way) to watch educators struggle to make this message coherent.”) Fortunately, however, these are minor problems that don’t detract from the work as a whole in any significant way.

As long as sex positivity isn’t viewed for what it’s now become--raunch culture--women will continue to struggle. I hesitate to recommend this book only to feminists, though they really should read it if they want a well-rounded understanding of feminism. There’s no escaping this sex-centric society, but that can change if people learn to perceive what’s around them with a critical eye and demand change. Reading this book is extremely helpful in seeing it all with new eyes.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
1 review3 followers
July 2, 2007
People have criticized this book in many ways, one of which is by saying that Ariel Levy suggests that girls or feminists can't be sexual beings or enjoy sex, but I saw it completely differently. Levy is saying that womyn and girls shouldn't be sexual for the sake of men or for the sake of our society, because being sexual has become about how womyn look through the eyes of men, or other womyn. Levy reminds us that being sexual should be about sexual pleasure for womyn, which girls gone wild, strip cubs and porn has ignored. The current pecieved "expression of sexuality" is really just a manifestation of stereotypes and gender roles that have been around forever. Levy says and I agree that it would truely be an expression of sexuality for womyn to enoy sex, not just show it off.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,462 reviews8,570 followers
June 2, 2014
In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy deconstructs the idea that sex always empowers women. She argues that the sexualization of women sets them back in terms of equality and that they only hurt themselves by using their bodies as bargaining chips. For the sake of simplicity, I'll divide my review into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good: Levy creates a compelling argument against overt female exhibitionism and sexuality. She interviews a variety of people - from businesswomen to sex workers - and through their stories she shows how raunch culture only appeases men, instead of freeing women. She incorporates interesting ideas like "tomming" (an allusion to Uncle Tom's Cabin), as well as how the sexual revolution movement coincided with and somewhat harmed the female liberation movement. Levy's overall analysis brought forth a few innovative concepts, such as teaching young girls why they should have sex instead of forbidding them from learning about what their bodies will push them toward anyway.

The Bad: Where are the solutions? Levy spends so much time lampooning women in this book that she fails to formulate a plan of action. She succeeds in saying that too much promiscuity harms women, but what can we do to empower them? Perhaps Female Chauvinist Pigs would have benefited from more analysis instead of the multitude of interviews Levy included: a few of her interviews felt biased and unnecessary, and she could have spent more time talking to empowered, successful women instead of the ones she found lacking.

The Ugly: Did anyone else find Levy's sentiments about transgender people horribly offensive? Her idea that trans men choose their transition for the political, financial, and social advantages made me sick. How can anyone generalize why people spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars, go through countless surgeries, and face discrimination in order to attain their true gender? How can anyone call it a "choice" in the first place? Levy made some stretches in this book based on her interviews, but her politicizing of an entire group of human beings made me outright upset.

Overall, a good read, especially for those who haven't read much about feminism. I had fun discussing this book with a friend, and, alongside Appetites by Caroline Knapp, it's inspired me to read more books about feminism in the future.

*review cross-posted on my blog, the quiet voice
Profile Image for Ngaire.
325 reviews21 followers
November 8, 2007
Saw Ariel Levy on The Colbert Report, and thought she sounded really bright. She has several really important things to say in this book, and it's a good, easy read. Firstly, she notes how stripping and pornography, formerly on the fringes of society, have been mainstreamed to the point where middle class suburban women take poledancing courses at the gym. She takes issue with the idea that this acceptance of objectifying women is in any way healthy. There's a whole generation of women who are disdainful of "girly-girl" stuff, and yet feel perfectly comfortable with the idea of themselves as sexual objects.

She also looks at young women and how increasingly, they seem to feel that their value lies in how they look and how much they put out. She then takes a look at our culture and the way in which even women often devalue other women - you know, the way lots of women will say things like "I never liked hanging out with girls, they're too mean/nasty/bitchy etc" (if you want to make me grind my teeth, say that to me) or "I'd much rather work for a man than a woman." She examines the corporate world and notes that many women see their positive and successful traits as male - they're "one of the boys." The problem, Levy points out, is that when you say things like that, you're actually saying that men are better than women. And whatever you do or how you act, you'll still always be a woman.

Profile Image for Vi.
67 reviews8 followers
March 2, 2009
Very well written.

There is some excellent research to be found and it's readable. In addition, the majority of it is done through interviews and speaking to women, which gives it a human element and really takes it into the realm of a cultural critique.

However, Levy only addresses phenomena that primarily affects white women, making it clear that the subject should be White Women and the Rise of the Raunch Culture. In addition to that, Levy seems to place the blame more on individual women than on a culture that shapes these women to view their bodies and themselves as sexual objects whose worth lies in that sexuality.
Profile Image for Crystal Starr Light.
1,350 reviews820 followers
September 23, 2022
It used to be that strippers and the Playboy Bunny were a "man's thing", but now many women are wearing the Playboy bunny proudly or going to strip clubs. And all this is done in the name of empowering women. But is it empowering - or is it the same old patriarchy in different clothing?

A lot of intro to feminist books I've read have referenced this book, so I had to check it out. And even though I sorta knew what to expect, I was stunned and felt I learned a lot.

Levy has a great, professional, engaging tone that at times drips with anger and sarcasm. It seems a lot of the feminist books I have been reading lately have a very informal tone, so I appreciated Levy's approach. I also liked how she showed her disgust and anger while never coming across as unprofessional.

As for the book's actual contents: WOW! I remember the popularity of the Playboy brand back in the early noughties and was aware, but had never seen, Sex and the City, but apparently, the culture was way more wild than I realized. Women idolizing porn stars? The desire to be sexually appealing, but not for actual female sexual desire? And then there is how the 18 and under set adopted this phenomenon. How absolutely vile and disgusting to tell these poor girls that they are only as good as their bodies and how sexy (and skimpy!) their clothes are! At a time when they need to figure themselves out - sexually, mentally, and holistically.

Some random comments: Levy, like it seems every feminist author is required to do, includes a bit on labiaplasty, aka "designer vaginas", a horrible procedure that women are doing to make their woo-woos look like porn stars. Disgusting...but does every feminist author have to include a section on this? Is it THAT prevalent of a trend? Also, if you read this book and were curious more about the abstinence movement, check out Valenti's "The Purity Myth". (I unfortunately am way too familiar with the movement, being raised as an isolated homeschooled evangelical fundamentalist.)

This book was definitely insightful and educating, just like how I like my non-fiction. After reading this book, it's hard to think of the raunch culture and women embracing it as anything but anti-feminist. Raunch culture specifically caters to men and the male gaze - the women in this movement very rarely say ANYTHING about being turned on by their girl-on-girl encounters, wearing sexy clothes, or acting like a stripper. And that is terribly wrong; women can't continue to be objects of men's desires. We are our own unique beings with our own desires and deserve to be respected for who we are, not for whether a man finds us sexy. A worthwhile read.
19 reviews3 followers
August 8, 2007
I could read this book a million times and it would still be awesome.

If you are a woman and you "hate girls" and consider yourself "one of the guys" you better pick up this book.

If you think stripping is "liberating" and "empowering" you better pick up this book.

If you have or ever plan on watching one of those "Girls Gone Wild" tapes, do yourself a favor and pick up this book.

If you ever thought that the womens movement has lost considerable ground in the past few years, you better read this book.

Basically, everyone should read this book.
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books549 followers
August 28, 2017
This book had an interesting premise, and for that and the ideas discussed and questioned raised, it is worth reading. Unfortunately, I listened to the audiobook version and the narrator had no inflection/charisma and this made the book feel a bit of a chore after a while. Still, I read it for a book club, and the discussion surrounding it should be very interesting!

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for N.K. Layne.
Author 5 books27 followers
September 22, 2014
Incorrectly, this book was recommended to me because the queer chapter was supposed to resonate with me. Um.... that chapter did nothing but fill me with abhorrent rage. When I spoke to the previous reader, they were surprised with the way I read it. So I re-read it again, and this time I felt like spitting in the book. So, no that queer chapter didn't resonate with me. But okay, let me say something positive before I get too deep into that.

Despite the advert homophobia, transphobia, and whorephobia, there *is* something of merit to this book. It deconstructs enthusiastic sex-positivity feminism, pro-sex work feminism, AND commercialized feminism, all areas that need a hard eye. As a sex-positive pro-sex work feminist, it is really easy for me to be really open and enthusiastic about any element of a (wo)men expressing their sexuality, either personally or commercially. This book's main idea is to be wary of this.

It reminds us that a man-centered, materialistic, comercial and very sexual feminism is very easy to sell and buying into it can lead to poor education, self-esteem issues, and issues with our consent and self-expression. Raunchiness is only one type of sexuality, but it is the one that is being packaged and bought in mass leaving minimal room for personal growth and individuality.

On the other hand, sex isn't this monogamous pleasurable romantic experience all the time. For example, turning some tricks for money isn't inherently oppressive because sex means more things that making love, basically. But I do agree with her point in saying that sex workers are *workers* and aren't the sexual role models for our private life. At times the overbearing idealization of sex workers forces some women to replicate porn stars and strippers in their actual non-fantastical lives, leading to a male-centered idea of sex, the complete opposite of "sexual revolution".

But anyway, let's get back to the queer chapter. The author discredits genderqueer and transmen experiences by making massive generalizations about lesbians and transpeople. Basically, the author writes that the motivation between mastectomies, masculine pro-nouns, and transitioning away from one's assigned gender (female) is internalized misogyny. This blanket statement is extraordinarily problematic and dangerous for readers who are not familiar with transpeople, and especially genderqueer people--- the author straight up says that the only way to be a real boy is to go "all the way" with the transition. She also interviews transphobic lesbians and asks them about their opinion on trans* people as supporting evidence--- let's repeat that. This straight cis-feminist, a group that has historically eliminated trans* people from their community, interviews lesbians, another group that has historically eliminated trans* people from their community, about wether trans* people are ~real~ or not.

*head desk*

I mean, okay, her point is that misogyny is pervasive and is in queer communities, and I would agree with that. I would agree that queerness isn't a safety net to be oppressive and queer people have been given too much slack in the civil rights world. But like, the couple of interviews with random NY/SF misogynistic lesbians she met and one queer magazine editor / "community leader" isn't exactly fact-finding. If she didn't have time to do this chapter right, she should of just cut it.

Also, what's up with her insulting queer people for being non-monogamous. Since queer people have been exiled from traditionalism, they have created their own relationship structures that go beyond the monogamous fairy tale idea of sex and love that the author is trying to push so badly.

Yeah, this book has some interesting points but honestly I would just read the Conclusion and Afterword in the library and then pick up something else.
Profile Image for Jane.
536 reviews50 followers
April 16, 2020
Update: Ariel Levy's recent article on the Renee Bach case, which No White Saviors rightfully criticized, has me decided that she is not worth reading at all. She's like the Lena Dunham of journalism. So, don't read this book!

I'm a little undecided with this book. The premise of an in-depth exploration of this culture was very interesting to me but I don't feel like it quite delivered on it.

At the end of the book, the author states that it wasn't intended to be a history on prostitution but I think that would have been a really great foundation for her to start. Instead, she starts out with 'Girls Gone Wild' and girls showing skin or making out with each other to get free merchandise and snowballed from there. The way she wrote about all of the girls she interviewed came off as very slut-shaming with little discussion on how society helped cultivate this culture. Ironically, while she seemed to lament that girls only valued their appearance, she felt the need to describe the hair and skin color of every girl she interviewed, all of which were white.

There was very little compassion for sex workers. She wrote a little about the economic situation of most workers, as well as the history of sexual abuse among workers but not as much as the subject deserves. For a book about how awful it is for women young and old to be so consumed by porn and strippers, she goes very little into the history and condition of women in the industry, coming off rather contemptuous of them. I feel like she limited herself by only really looking into porn, strippers, and 'Sex and the City' when there is a plethora of other media that should also be held accountable. I'm specifically thinking 'Family Guy' here, but just television and film, music, and literature in general are loaded with subtle and blatant in-your-face sexism, which can be just as dangerous if not more so.

A common theme between those interviewed is the disdain for 'girly-girls' and the need to dominate them which wasn't explored further at all. It was acknowledged but again, no history or culture explored to find out where this hatred stemmed from. It was just acknowledged and then glossed over, no further explanation required.

Another reviewer brought up a point I completely agree with and didn't think about: the author offered no solution. Obviously this culture is a pretty big thing to tackle and not something any one person can most probably solve, but she didn't even suggest anything to help combat this phenomenon. And the same goes for everyone she interviewed. Everyone she talked to was part of the culture so there weren't any contradicting points of view, other than the author's, which gets repetitive and a little bland.

Overall, I'm glad I read it and I do think feminists should read it, but I wouldn't swear by it. It's limited in it's research as well as point of view (she seemed to exclusively talk to or only include interviews with white girls and women). Being a current affair book, it's also quite dated (if it were written or updated now, she'd be talking about Kim Kardashian, not Paris Hilton). I guess I just feel like I've read much more enlightening anecdotes and discussions on tumblr than what she included in this book.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,259 followers
March 2, 2018
Although I’ve been familiar with the concept for a while, I think I first came across the term Female Chauvinist Pig in Holly Bourne’s excellent How Hard Can Love Be? . In her novel, Bourne presents us with Melody, a stereotypical busty blonde who struts her stuff and embraces her sexuality and “hotness” because she believes that this is what makes her empowered in today’s society. It’s such an intriguing concept, something that interests me on multiple levels. My experiences growing up male mean I don’t really understand the pressures women find themselves under to behave in certain ways, or to exhibit empowerment in certain ways. Moreover, being asexual, I find a lot of the processes behind these behaviours, in people of any gender, slightly baffling. So I’m always interested in reading and learning more about how feminism intersects with portrayals of sexuality. I’m not sure, though, that this book really told me anything I didn’t already know.

In Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Ariel Levy examines whether women are truly “free” in a sexually liberated sense. She posits that this freedom is in fact an illusion, that the anti-feminist goalposts have just shifted so that the pressure on women now is not so much to be the perfect wife or homemaker but instead to be the “sexiest”, the “most empowered”—where the definition of “empowered” is “most willing to exhibit oneself for the male gaze”. To substantiate this thesis, Levy presents a number of anecdotes, case studies, interviews, and editorialized glimpses into this world of raunch culture. She takes us behind the scenes of the Playboy corporation, gives us a little history lesson in second wave feminism, and analyzes how Sex & the City revolutionized certain segments of society’s relationships to sex and shopping.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t like this book, but I don’t actually disagree with a lot of it. I think Levy is, for the most part, spot on in her critiques of what our society is doing wrong. I agree with many of her points about how, in response to women fighting for more rights in the workplace and an equal spot at the sex table (so to speak), the capitalist elements of the patriarchy decided to regroup and simply absorb these changes instead of pushing back against them. But I don’t think this book does a very good job of tackling these issues in a meaningful way, and that’s what I want to focus on in this review.

Firstly, Levy approaches this very much from a journalistic perspective. That is not inherently a bad thing. However, it means that most of this book reads like a series of loosely-connected chapters, of interviews woven together to try to help Levy make a point. Levy jumps from example to example, essentially arguing her case at a very fine, specific level—so when she pulls back and tries to justify larger conclusions, I’m not sure they follow. I don’t think Female Chauvinist Pigs necessarily needed to be strictly polemical, but Levy’s tone and the way she includes other people’s points of view makes for a less-than-unified read.

Secondly, it matters whom Levy interviews. Obviously the author ultimately has the prerogative of which voices to include in her work. Yet I can’t help but notice that these voices inevitably skew towards certain stereotypes or perceptions of these industries. Levy interviews Christie Hefner and quotes at length from people like Jenna Jameson, but she never seems to bother to find someone like Erika Lust, who seems very dedicated to a positive portrayal of sex work, to talk to. (This book, incidentally, is now hella old by modern cultural standards, seeing as it references LiveJournal and Friendster as things that are not defunct, but I assume that there were Erika Lusts around even back in the ancient days of 2005.) Levy doesn’t quite come down on the anti-porn, anti–sex work side, but she heavily implies that sex workers are just victims with incredibly troubled pasts and are all being taken advantage of by …

… and that leads me to my biggest issue with Female Chauvinist Pigs. It’s really interesting how Levy goes about examining the causes or key figures of this raunch culture. She interviews a gay man who makes Girls Gone Wild! videos and Christie Hefner. She spends an entire chapter talking about how lesbian women, genderqueer or genderfluid people, and trans men are involved in shifting sexual mores and folkways in our hookup scenes. She points out that Sex & the City was created by gay men and this CAKE movement is run by women. So are queer people, and women of various sexualities, the problem here? I don’t know, because Levy only ever really gives us these various examples without connecting the dots into a bigger picture.

One thing that Levy does that I really like is how she talks a lot about the history of various parts of feminist movements in the United States. She points out how many of the more fractured elements of the movement emerged as disagreements over how to respond to an increasingly sexualized culture. As a fairly young person, I find these history lessons very valuable in helping me understand why feminism looks the way it does today.

But that’s why Female Chauvinist Pigs misses the mark, in my opinion. Unlike many of the seminal works that Levy cites in this book—works that may or may not have stood the test of time but are important nonetheless—Female Chauvinist Pigs does not present a clear, coherent feminist approach to dealing with the problem Levy identifies. I’m not saying Levy should be able to offer up a simple solution, but I’m looking for something a little more specific than the conclusion’s kind of self-evident conclusion that women should be free to create their own ideas of what sex and sexual power looks like. In her rush to point to all these specific examples of things that she sees as wrong or problematic in culture, Levy never really engages with the power dynamics that have created these problems.

So I’m left with a sense of … so what. Like, yes, I agree with a lot of what Levy has said. (Content warning, though, for that chapter “From Womyn to Bois”, which is filled with cherry-picked interviews and perspectives and language that is problematic and transmisic.) Nevertheless, there just isn’t enough analysis in here, not enough actual thought about the structural nature of the problem, for this to be a transformative feminist work.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Ceilidh.
233 reviews568 followers
April 14, 2011
Definitely a must read for any feminist, young or old.

The structure sort of comes undone in the final 50 pages or so but the book's a refreshing and often merciless expose of the rise of raunch culture, where Playboy bunnies, porn stars and pole dancing classes are seen as signs of a post-feminist liberated woman. Levy effectively dismantles the notion that these are good things and shows how they do more harm than good. It was also refreshing to see the chapter discussing the lesbian point of view and how such changes in culture have effected the gay community. There aren't a whole lot of feminist books out there doing that. The most interesting stuff came when Levy examined the rise of the feminist movement in the late 60s onwards and how it evolved into this new culture we see before us.

Raunch culture and this idea that selling yourself based on your sexuality is something that my mind's battled with since my adolescence and Levy manages to put into words what I spent a lot of my teen years trying to do. I'd love to see an updated version of this book, possibly covering the Disney franchise and their habit of selling sex to little girls in the safe form of silver rings and the child beauty pageants that scare me so much. I highly recommend this book (I'd also recommend Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth - which tackles the abstinence movement Levy briefly touches upon in her own book - for some follow-up reading.)
Profile Image for Wryly.
110 reviews13 followers
June 30, 2015
this book has some really important points that unfortunately are mired in condescending agency-minimizing sensational language. She often describes women who she's identified as sexualized with childish characteristics. At one point near the end writes off the sexuality of anybody who's worked as a stripper or sex worker. This came pages after cavalierly saying "but some of my best friends are burlesque dancers..."

Chapter four is one hefty transphobic chunk that brings down the whole book. I literally wanted to tear it out of the book.

I do believe there's important points in this book and that women who behave in a chauvinist manner should be called out for it. But I think in several cases Levy goes too far. It does nothing to suggest a possible restoration with those Levy identifies as 'chauvinists" and unfortunately falls into the divisive radfem trap of villainizing and denying agency to the people who make up their perceived opposition.

For a more thorough look at the problems in this book read this review of it: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
Profile Image for Jessica.
9 reviews5 followers
September 15, 2018
One of a kind read. I read this in college almost ten years ago and I'll still never forget the lessons and enlightenment it brought to the table.. You don't have to agree with everything in this book, but it did not fail to challenge me as a young adult to question sexism and the meaning of chauvinism and my attitude towards myself, others, and my potential success as a female in this 21st century.
Profile Image for Bill.
219 reviews76 followers
February 22, 2015
Similar to Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, which I also recommend, but much more accessible due to its sharp wit. Levy constructs a damning indictment of what she dubs "Raunch Culture," the ubiquitous blend of consumerism, pornography, and so-called sexual liberation that has infected every corner of American culture. As she says in the conclusion, "Our love of porn and pole dancing is not the byproduct of a free and easy society with an earthy acceptance of sex" but rather the obsession with a singular and quite narrow mode of sexuality, one that is distinctly androcentric and ultimately disempowering for women, in spite of its banner of liberation.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews291 followers
November 23, 2019
Female Chauvinist Pigs is an easily readable compilation of all kinds of different, problematic facets of contemporary raunch culture in the USA that Ariel Levy researched, especially in relation to today’s women (and girls). In this book, Levy puts forth that women these days seem to be using raunch culture in order to empower themselves. Aiming to rise above their own gender, women want to become ‘one of the guys’, accepting raunch culture just like the guys do (and often becoming an active part of it in the process, too), showing that they’re somehow cooler, better, and more desirable than other women. Plus, not to mention, just as good as men, believing they liberate themselves along the way. In doing this, they become the female chauvinist pigs (FCPs) of the title. Levy says it best herself: “If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves”, p. 12.

Levy’s argument is convincing, and I think she does have a very valid point in the main message of her book that I just summarized above. She goes on to say that even though there might be women out there who genuinely enjoy being a part of raunch culture – who like the big breasts and the blond hair, the saved nether regions and the sexy pole dancing, and more – that there are also a lot of women who don’t, and they shouldn’t force themselves into a very narrow, stereotypical image of what a (‘liberated’) woman’s sexuality must be as provided by our current cultural climate. This is something I agree with wholeheartedly; a woman should be treated (and should treat herself) as a person, and let her own wishes and desires guide her, instead of conforming to those of others while none of those actions or behaviours do anything for her specifically.

There is some promise in Levy’s analysis of today’s raunch culture, and I thought she was especially strong in the chapters on female chauvinist pigs in general (chapter three), and the one on the influence of raunch culture on young girls and boys (chapter five). I think she validly addressed the problems that raunch culture might cause, especially in youngsters, and I have to say that I found the interviews she had with a bunch of girls to be quite shocking. I hadn’t expected raunch culture to be so deeply ingrained in these terribly young girls, but then again, I don’t live in the USA so I haven’t seen the situation up close.

All that said, there are also A LOT of problems with Female Chauvinist Pigs. First of all, the writing is sloppy and the editing could’ve been a lot better, and at times I wasn’t so sure about the format Levy was going for. The interviews were written into the text a little awkwardly, making it unclear what kind of questions Levy had been asking the interviewees, and whether she’d been interviewing them at all instead of just documenting quotes. It seemed almost as if she’d been turning separate articles and/or interviews into a cohesive book, but she didn’t entirely succeed in this.

Now for the actual content – one of my biggest problems was Levy’s biased manner of interviewing. It was super obvious that she went only for those interviews that would confirm her ideas; though she says that there probably are women out there happily enjoying raunch culture purely for their own pleasure, she never seems to interview those types of women. Furthermore, she aims her text almost completely at women, seemingly saying: “Look at what you’re all doing to yourself! Sex should be intimate and personal and special! Don’t let yourself be swept away by raunch culture!” In other words, she seems to ignore the influence of the entire human culture, and instead blames the individual women themselves for the existence of FCPs (or for being one). Well, guess why the tendency towards FCPs developed and where it came from? Why do you even think there exists a raunch culture in the first place?

Next to that, Levy absolutely gives no solutions to the problematic situations she presents in her book. Nothing other than “Stop doing what you’re doing if it’s not making you happy!”. Not necessarily a big problem, as her aim could’ve been just to document all that she thinks is wrong with raunch culture, yet it annoyed me a little bit, especially since she seems to pin it all on women themselves.

And last but not least, I considered her chapter on lesbians, transmen and transwomen, and non-binary people in general to be extremely problematic. Again, her interviews show a big bias in wanting to confirm her own ideas, and she never seems to use people’s preferred pronouns only if someone specifically asks for it (even going so far as to call someone a “he/she”). And it that case, she claims she used that persons preferred pronouns because he was more fully the gender he aimed to be. Excuse me, but that is ridiculously rude. I didn’t know Levy was an expert on how men and women are supposed to be/behave.

A big part of her argument of why FCPs exists, is the fact that women wish to be one of the guys so that they can show that they can do the same things as men. And in this chapter, she actually says that transmen are part of the whole ‘faux men’ attitude. I don’t think I need to explain just how offending and wrong that statement is.

Anyhow, a few of Levy’s observations really hit home (I wanted to be part of the guys, too, in my teens, and used my bisexuality often to show that I, too, could appreciate women sexually in a raunchy manner). I think she has a valid point, but there’s definitely some selective choosing of interviews/interviewees, problematic statements, and dehumanizing treatment of transpeople and non-binary folx.

EDIT 13/11/2019: ... the queer chapter is bad. Very bad, and way worse than I remember. Taking this review down another star for the rampant transphobia.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,212 reviews35 followers
December 13, 2017
3.5 rounded up

Oh boy! This was a bit of a mixed bag to be honest.

I think it's hard to review this impartially in 2017, when so much has changed since this book was published in 2005. A lot of the popular culture and events Levy references are ones that took places in 2002 to 2004. 2002 is 15 years ago! We've had another wave of feminism since then! Yet I still think many of the points and arguments she makes are pertinent, even if the cultural references seem hopelessly dated. (There was a lot about Paris Hilton, which was amusing to me in some ways but got me thinking... do teenagers today even know who she is?)

There's a lot to unpack here for such a short book, so I'll just stick with the main things that stood out to me. Firstly a positive - I thought the chapter on Sex and the City was really interesting, especially Levy's observation that it was "a flawed guide to empowerment". I watched SatC in the mid 00s and had similar feelings about it, but Levy articulated this argument really well in my opinion, in a way I wish I could have done myself.

I also found the chapter where she talked to teenagers about their attitudes to clothing and appearance fascinating. I was a similar age in 2005 to the young women she talked to, and although I knew I should probably feel outraged that these girls felt this way about their own self-value related to their appearance, I have to admit that it hit pretty close to home.

One part that felt the most dated and.. I don't want to say biased, but perhaps skewed, was the chapter about lesbians. I mean, I don't know a whole lot about American lesbian dating culture in the mid 00s but the women Levy talked to did not seem entirely representative of the whole - they were all pretty misogynstic. Apparently at this time the primary way women met other women was through Craigslist, which really brought home the fact that this book was written pre-social media. I guess the only other way to meet people online then was through chatrooms or messengers, like MSN or whatever, but this stood out to me as one of the parts of the book that felt the most dated.

Levy spoke to a woman who was an eminent figure in second wave feminism, and I would be curious to find out what she makes of this fourth wave we're amidst now. Have things really changed that much? The conclusion in the book was disappointingly short, but I feel like we have come some way at least from the "raunch culture" of the early to mid 00s.. but I don't know if the new challenges to feminism that have arisen since then have meant that much progress has been made. Honestly, reading this book made me feel like I'd travelled back in time, back to a time that was shitty in its own unique way. Bush was president! Paris Hilton was everywhere! A show called Girls Gone Wild was (apparently) super popular! I think it would be interesting if Levy was to write a book on feminism and if female chauvinist pigs still exist in 2017, and to see how far we have actually come since 2005.

As is probably pretty evident, this book gave me a lot of food for thought. I found some sections weaker than others but I think this is still worth reading - as a snapshot of a specific point in time, but also as a jumping off point for further discussion on feminism, gender equality and the patriarchy.
Profile Image for Richard.
219 reviews
May 4, 2007
Female Chauvinist Pigs was a difficult book for me to enjoy. Levy digs deep into our culture and finds a plethora of gender problems, and shows that feminism's relative successes in the job and education worlds have not translated to a healthy gender situation in America. These problems are fascinating, alternatingly intuitive and shocking, inspiring and lamentable. In the end, Levy doesn't propose any predictions, solutions, or unifying theories. The book ends as a laundry-list of the Chernobyl-children of feminism with no look at the future. Despite the unsatisfying conclusion, the book should be more than read, it should be considered and discussed.
Profile Image for Literary Ames.
828 reviews396 followers
July 13, 2014
Did you know Barbie dolls were modelled after blonde German sex dolls called Bild Lilli? Disturbing to know I played with a sex doll as a child. o_O

Chapter One: Raunch Culture
Published in 2006 one would assume Female Chauvinist Pigs would be fairly up-to-date, but it becomes obvious quite quickly that much has changed in the six years since this was written. Here, Levy focuses on the late nineties and early noughties, in the days of Sex and the City, Sexcetera, and Eurotrash, producing nauseating examples of raunch, harassment and coercion of women, exploiting them and their insecurities for entertainment and profit. Playboy's hypocrisy is maddening.

I could almost picture Levy's lips curling with distain and hear the disgust in her voice as she makes judgements about what women do with their own bodies. Framing her concerns in terms of self-respect and self-worth would encourage these strippers and porn stars she castigates, to listen to her arguments. Her angle seems to be to comment and complain rather than influence change to the status quo, therefore FCP appears at this stage only marketable to conservative types, or at least those that keep their private parts private.

Nevertheless, she does tell both sides of the story by using, as examples, the women who embrace, participate and perpetuate raunch culture, and Hugh Hefner and Playboy, letting their own words and actions speak for themselves. However, there is no mention of disadvantaged backgrounds or anything else that could lead them women to turn to raunch. [She rectifies this in Chapter 6.]

Chapter Two: The Future That Never Happened
Less relevant to me as a non-American was the description of American feminist history, most of which was completely new and confusing to me, though, in the end, I grasped Levy's messages.

The ultimate (ideal) feminist goal:
“Women as a class have never subjugated another group; we have never marched off to wars of conquest in the name of the fatherland ... those are the games men play.We see it differently. We want to be neither oppressor nor the oppressed. The women’s revolution is the final revolution of them all. [...] The goals of liberation go beyond the simple concept of equality.”

Feminism diversified and splintered into the anti-porn feminists vs. sex-positive feminists, the former believing porn degrades women and feeds rape culture, while the latter thought porn empowering; evidence of sexual emancipation and freedom to pursue active sex lives, like that of men.

Raunch culture was pervasive, unrelenting. At its emergence, when it wasn't instantly rejected, it's subversive nature, working in the background until those you'd expect to denounce it embraced it instead, even feminists. That's when it became socially acceptable. The saying, 'give them an inch and they'll take a mile' comes to mind.

[Levy's thoroughly ruined "sexy" for me. She'd probably like that since we agree it's been co-opted as a slang term for "cool".]

Chapter Three: Female Chauvinist Pigs
'Why worry about disgusting or degrading when you could be giving - or getting - a lap dance yourself? Why try to beat them when you can join them?’

‘Them’ being men. Joining men meant taking part in male activities i.e. forgetting the feminist cause upheld by your forebears and participating in the un-sister-like behaviour of denigrating your fellow woman by acting like a man. In effect, they switch teams and start actively working against feminist goals and promote male ones. ‘FCPs don't bother to question the criteria on which women are judged, they are too busy judging other women themselves.’

In turning ‘traitor,’ FCPs can be interpreted as Uncle Toms. ‘An Uncle Tom is a person who deliberately upholds the stereotypes assigned to his or her marginalized group in the interest of getting ahead with the dominant group.’ Upholding sexist stereotypes and mimicking male behaviour by positioning themselves as the exception to the rule, setting themselves apart from other (inferior) women –‘the girly-girls’, ingratiates FCPs to men by showing them they share a similar mindset, thereby reinforcing anti-feminist views once the subject of them (women) accepts them.

So Levy theorises there are two types of FCP:

(1) ‘acting like a cartoon man-who drools over strippers, says things like "check out that ass," and brags about having the "biggest cock in the building"'
(2) 'or acting like a cartoon woman, who has cartoon breasts, wears little cartoon outfits, and can only express her sexuality by spinning around a pole.’

Both involve pleasing and seeking the approval of others rather than being true to individual wants and needs.

Chapter Four: From Womyn to Bois
Lesbianism and the transgendered are the examined in this chapter.

Butch (masculine lesbians) and femmes (feminine lesbians) I've heard of, bois is a new one on me. They seem to be characterised as behaving similar to teenage boys: unsophisticated, immature, letting their id control their actions.
[There is] 'another camp of bois who date femmes exclusively and follow a locker-room code of ethics referenced by the phrase "bros before hos" or "bros before bitches," which means they put the similarly masculine identified women they hang out with in a different, higher category than the feminine women they have sex with. This school of bois tends to adhere to almost comically unreconstructed fifties gender roles. They just reposition themselves as the ones who wear the pants-they take Feminist Chauvinist Piggery to a whole different level.'

I'm in complete agreement with Rosskum on finding 'the idea that there are two distinct genders and nothing in between constricting and close-minded.' Physically, genetically, hormonally and psychologically -One person can be a different gender in each of those categories (intersex). XX and XY are not the be all and end all to gender identification.
'Women are actually becoming men' and 'Elective cosmetic surgery - implants for straight women, mastectomies for FTMs (female-to-male transexuals) - is popular to the point of being faddish. Non-committal sex is widespread, and frequently prefigured by a public spectacle.'

Why so much body modification (or mutilation)? Genuine need for plastic surgery to aid reconstruction after injury or cancer, psychological requirement (e.g. gender dysphoria, severely impeding quality of life), or fear of dangerous situations (e.g. revirginization of girls worried about repercussions from religious community) -Those I understand, but to make possibly life-altering decisions when succumbing to peer pressure or to conform for acceptance is profoundly sad.

Almost exclusively focusing on specific subgroups of women in two metropolitan areas (San Francisco and New York City) of one country, such as the career woman, the stripper, masculine lesbians (butch and bois), FTMs, serves to highlight extremes among minorities some of which the global media may have made popular and as a result, socially acceptable, to the detriment of the feminist cause (i.e. equality with men) and the benefit of masculinism by reconfirming the superiority of men.

Unrepresentative of the larger population, these generalisations based on small groups aren’t necessarily indicative of a larger problem and treating them as such may hurt Levy’s message when some of us haven’t experienced or witnessed the examples given (but just because we've not encountered something doesn't mean it doesn't exist), and fail to see or understand the relationships between certain behaviours, causes and effects detailed.

Culturally speaking, on the whole, this is only directly applicable to metropolitan America, and to a lesser extent other developed countries, because feminism isn't always recognised or is oppressed in the developing world.

Chapter Five: Pigs in Training
By far the best chapter, describing the feelings and actions of teenage girls, and the ineffectual sex education they receive.

A girl's self-worth is derived from the attention of boys, competition with other girls for a boy's attention results in dressing provocatively, flirting, the flashing of 'assets', performing oral sex on boys, intercourse and publicly documenting nudity or sexual acts and sharing them to increase one's popularity. Sadly, peer pressure seems to dictate when girls lose their virginity rather than thrill-seeking curiosity and the pursuit of pleasure.

At no point does it occur to these girls to request reciprocal oral sex, and have difficulty recognising, expressing and experiencing sexual desire, and sex education doesn't teach 'sexuality as a larger more complex, more fundamental part of being human.' Instead guilt-ridden Christian America has spent $1bn in ten years teaching abstinence while ignoring contraception or lying about its effectiveness. The message children receive is:
'Girls have to be hot. Girls who aren't hot probably need breast implants. Once a girl is hot, she should be as close to naked as possible all the time. Guys should like it. Don't have sex.'

Confusing. I feel lucky to have received the sex education I did. It wasn't perfect but it was practical, informative and truthful. I can't wait to read The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women because it looks to be an outrage-inducing experience.

Chapter Six: Shopping for Sex
Levy's highly critical of Sex and the City, Carrie in particular, because she 'rarely evaluated her own happiness' and instead 'measur[ed] men's interest' which is a 'flawed guide to empowerment.' I loathed Carrie's unchecked materialist obsession with expensive shoes when she needed money to pay her rent. She regularly offended my practical sensibilities and her frequently 'complicated' love life because she made it so.

As a teenager I watched the show with fascination and surprise. It was a source of sex education, an insight into the fashionable American woman, and covered important subjects I'd never considered before, like abortion. Miranda and Charlotte were my favourite characters, though I respected Samantha's refusal to be embarrassed about anything sex-related, to her it was a fact of life, which it is.

I'd argue with Levy about Samantha's mannish approach to her sexual exploits as Levy emphasises FCP's requirement for quantity of sexual partners over quality, knowingly robbing themselves of satisfying sex, whereas Samantha made a concerted effort to get as much enjoyment and pleasure out of every conquest she could, exploring the different facets of sexuality along the way, without fear or judgement. She doesn't comfortably fit the mould Levy's created, though she does match a few of the criteria.

An underlying inferred theory for the reason women act like men by seeking unemotional, non-committal sex, is the possible prior rejection and hurt experienced after what turns out to be a one-night stand, encouraging women to take out emotion from the equation when they recover and decide to move on to the next man, and use sex as proof of future desirability to soothe the insecurities that arose from that injury to her pride.

Pornography is documented prostitution, and Levy argues stripping falls under this category as well, for the commodification of a naked body. She goes on to use successful porn star Jenna Jameson as an example of the damaging nature of porn:
'Jameson thinks that women outside the sex industry have internalized its spirit and model their sexuality on porn. [She] presents life in the industry as marked by violence and violation: She tells us she was beaten unconscious with a rock, gang-raped, and left for dead on a dirt road during her sophomore year of high school; she was life-threateningly addicted to drugs before she was twenty; she was beaten by her boyfriend and sexually assaulted by his friend. She also writes, "To this day, I still can't watch my own sex scenes."

Not once does she use the word 'pleasure' to describe her sexuality. 'Like most employees of the sex industry, [she] is not sexually uninhibited, she is sexually damaged.' Being a sex worker further damages these vulnerable people, and Levy suggests these inappropriate erotic role models are suffering PTSD from past sexual abuse, 'It's like using a bunch of shark attack victims as our lifeguards.'

We've adopted and conformed to the sex industry's representation of sexuality, which dictates what's desirable and worthy of fantasy. 'We have to ask ourselves why we are so focused on silent girly-girls in G-strings faking lust,' must we also fake it to the detriment of our own personal tastes and sexual satisfaction?
'Why have we fallen sway to a kind of masculine mystique, determined that to be adventurous is to be like a man, and decided that the best thing we can possibly expect for women is hotness?’ The 'prevalence of raunch in the mainstream has diluted the effect of both sex radicals and feminists, who've seen their movement's images popularized while their ideals are forgotten.

‘Sexual power is only one very specific kind of power,' we should be looking at other types of power, breaking through the glass ceiling and pursuing higher female representation in politics and the boardrooms of big business for which previous generations’ feminists originally strived.

Men are all evil, sexist pigs! Well, no. They're not. As Levy shows men so unfavourably throughout, I do wish she'd included a caveat in her introduction stating that not all men act in negative, stereotypical ways. Kind and respectful men do exist, though you wouldn't think so from reading this book.

Occasionally, I was uncomfortable with taking Levy's chosen quotes from other people, whether from printed sources or her own personal interviews, as a truthful representation of that person's opinion. It would be so easy for Levy's bias to influence the way she edits and presents others' words. Although this was based on my own inexperience and naivety with regards to certain viewpoints, e.g. having had little knowledge of the ins and outs of lesbian and transgendered culture and communities, etc.

A thought-provoking, informative and nauseating read, one I hope will one day be studied in schools. It would've been very useful to me when I was studying for A Level English Literature 'moral pornographer' Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories first published in 1979, who was compared to Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, informally known as the father of Sadism, the Marquis de Sade.

Warning: Don't read this book if you're easily offended, or partial to feeling shame or guilt for falling into one of the groups Levy criticises, it will only make you feel worse. Both Christianity and politics are also discussed and criticised.
Profile Image for Zack Rock.
Author 3 books26 followers
October 20, 2007
Pretty terrific analysis of the female contribution to "raunch culture." It's been frustrating to me, as a proponent of feminism (to the extent that it enables women to reconsider themselves as distinct individuals outside the bounds of traditional gender roles), to see so many women get on board with such demeaning activities as stripping, prostitution and the like. In facts, anecdotes and interviews, Levy addresses both the current shape of female raunchist, and reconstructs the history of the branch of feminism that gave the she-rauncies their birth. And while I realize that this book may not totally reconfigure society, it's at least a timely and lucid first step towards something better.
Profile Image for Alejandra Arévalo.
508 reviews1,294 followers
May 1, 2018
Chicas cerdas machistas es una investigación sobre la cosificación e hipersexualización de la mujer y que nos han vendido a través de 'la libertad feminista'. Ariel Levy analiza varios programas televisivos y los testimonios de sus participantes para cuestionar y abrir el debate sobre los estereotipos hiper sexualizados de la mujer y cómo pareciera que vamos en contra de toda la corriente de la segunda ola del feminismo. Sencillo, amable con primeros lectores de feminismo y con una opinión un tanto cruda sobre nuestra supuesta libertad de cuerpo y sexualidad
Profile Image for Shannon.
144 reviews
July 20, 2007
FCP is very easy to read. She selects provocative topics such as: Girls Gone Wild, Sex in the City, “Bois” in San Francisco, Playboy, The Man Show, a supposedly feminist organization called CAKE, Jenna Jameson’s bio, and a crop of incidents of teens giving BJs on the school bus. She also offers a comprehensive history of the feminist movement that is quite informative for a “beginner.”

Her whole shtick is an attack on “raunch” culture a la Paris Hilton and stripper/porn star idolization. She complains that too many women are acting like men, objectifying themselves and other women.

Her riskiest pursuit is comparing this phenomenon to the racial dynamic in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”:

“…there are parallels in the ways we can think about the limits of what can be gained by “acting like” an exalted group or reifying the stereotypes attributed to a subordinate group…In doing so, you may be getting ahead in some way…but you are simultaneously reifying the system that traps you.”

She makes many other interesting and impressive points. Despite that, I didn’t read it 100% snowed by her ideas and command of language and argument. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the text’s flaws so I read some reviews and some of their points hit home.

Though her topics are varied and interesting, they are not synchronized as well as they could have been. One review complained that Levy seemed to have take a bunch of her editorials (she writes for New York magazine) and linked them together with a sentence or two. Another review commented that FCP was just a glorified college thesis.

Levy also interviews several young women and uses their testimonies as evidence to support her arguments, but true research and analysis requires more rigid statistical accumulation and Levy offers the reader none of that.

Other than that, I recommend the book to any female (and male) who thinks about our society and culture and examines the way in which it influences us. It is super easy to read and if anything, FCP is capable of raising people’s consciousness. I appraise her effort to revive feminist thought.
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