Review of “Female Chauvinist Pigs”

At 20 pages, From Womyn to Bois is the book’s shortest chapter. It also may be one of the most contentious. She does acknowledge that some bois "are more interested in dissolving fixed ideas of man and woman," and that for them "the whole point is a fluid identity." But she seems to miss the point of gender play in a queer context, coming too close to reducing boihood to an unexamined desire to become a teenage boys, with all the brazen and licentious sexuality–the sense of entitlement and lack of accountability.

Levy doesn’t seem to question what is essentialized as masculinity in the first place. To her, bois are women invested in being like men, and, in the case of trans men, actually becoming men. According to her, "The confusing thing, of course, is why somebody would need serious surgery and testosterone to modify their gender if gender is supposed to be so fluid in the first place."

Then she comes to the conclusion that women–queer and straight–are all embracing raunch culture: "Even in an entirely female universe, there a plenty of women who want to be like a man." But the universe isn’t entirely female, not even for the most separatist lesbians.

The most compelling arguments come in a chapter called Pigs in Training. Levy shows how the indoctrination begins with young girls, who are told they must say no to sex but are encouraged to get bikini waxes and dance like strippers. She describes sex tapes in middle school, lap dances at proms, and a world where a "Cardio Striptease" class is considered an appropriate venue for a 16-year-old’s birthday party and Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson are seen as positive role models.

Levy is persuasive in her insistence that American teens get two contradictory messages: Girls have to be hot, but girls don’t have sex. Sex is all around them–marketed specifically to them–and a certain performance is expected of them. But then under the current administration, we only offer them abstinence-only sex education. Levy points out the defects in the way we educate young people about sexuality: "We expect them to dismiss their instinctive desires and curiosities even as we bombard them with images that imply that lust is the most important appetite and hotness the most impressive virtue."

In a chapter that seems like digression, Levy traces the roots of the female chauvinist pig phenomenon in the women’s liberation movement. In The Future That Never Happened she points to unresolved issues between the women’s revolution and the sexual revolution, the divide between those who believed that freedom for women should include the freedom to be sex workers and others who equated porn with women’s oppression.

But some of her most intriguing points are near-digressions. Citing a poll on gay marriage, Levy points out that, "If half this country feels so threatened by two people of the same gender being in love and having sex (and, incidentally, enjoying equal protection under the law), that they turn their attention–in wartime–to blocking rights already denied to homosexuals, then all the cardio striptease classes in the world aren’t going to render us sexually liberated."

And she offers up more than a few fascinating factoids, such as Hugh Hefner’s early support of the ERA and reproductive rights, and that the author of Diary of a Call Girl and the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist once shared a "Meet the Author" event. So we should forgive her for the odd irrelevant factoid, such as Susan Brownmiller ordering the veal at a dinner celebrating the Roe v. Wade decision.

But overall, Levy goes beyond simply pointing out the problem or faulting women for their complicity. She offers up her own vision of true freedom and power: true sexual liberation entails making room for "the variety of human desire" and "allowing ourselves to figure out what we want from sex instead of mimicking whatever popular culture holds up to us as sexy."

This is what distinguishes Female Chauvinist Pigs from merely another cynical commentary on the horrors of pop culture analysis and elevates it to a consciousness-raising project that is thoroughly entertaining to read.

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