Early this month, after a federal court struck down Seattle's 17-year moratorium on new strip clubs, the leaders of the notoriously liberal city—fearing an onslaught of new venues—opted to make them as unsexy as possible.
In a vote that made international headlines, the Seattle City Council passed strict new rules for strip clubs. The Associated Press noted that there would be no more lap dances, nor dollar bills placed in G-strings:
“Under these rules, dancers would have to stay 4 feet away from customers, private rooms would be barred, customers couldn’t give money directly to entertainers, and the minimum lighting would be increased”—think parking-garage brightness.
Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy's dissection of what she calls America's "raunch culture," lists at $25—which I'd venture is about the same as one of Seattle's newly sanitized, no-longer-lap dances. If you live near the Emerald City and want to learn what emotions underlie women's sexual expression, your money would be far better spent on five minutes with a talkative "adult entertainer" than on Levy's pretentious excuse for biting social commentary.
When she describes the sordid scenes at a 'Girls Gone Wild' video shoot... her attention to detail puts the reader in the picture.
Compared to a Seattle strip-club special, Female Chauvinist Pigs is the literary equivalent of the apocryphal Mexican donkey show. Levy promises bold insights into the psychological underpinnings of women's deepest and kinkiest sexual desires, only to drop the reader in a dead-end alley.
The Free Press's promotion of the book relies heavily on the "wow" factor: At last, a liberal young woman who dares challenge the fruits of her peers' "sex-positive" feminism. The publisher is counting on an audience too young to remember Levy's idol, Susan Brownmiller, who—in fighting pornography—believed she was, in Levy's words, "liberating women from degrading sexual stereotypes and a culture of male domination and”—consequently—“making room for greater female sexual pleasure."
In other words, while Levy, like Brownmiller, believes pornography creates a culture that permits and even encourages violence against women, she has nothing against sexy photos of nekkid women. She writes quite affectionately of Candida Royalle, the prolific producer of female-friendly sex films. Levy's beef with pornography stems solely from its embodiment of male fantasies. The idea that the very nature of pornography—whether produced by women or not—demeans human dignity, is never addressed, and indeed, it appears to have no meaning to Levy.
The author is a contributing editor for New York magazine, and her reporting shows a talent for wry observation. When she describes the sordid scenes at a "Girls Gone Wild" video shoot or a New York City sex party, her great attention to detail puts the reader in the picture. These you-are-there sections are the book's strongest points.
Levy blames conservatives for women's desire to assume male-created sexual stereotypes.
Unfortunately, Levy is determined to synthesize her anecdotes into social criticism. To make that leap, she tries to widen her net to address deeper social issues—and fails miserably. The farther she stretches, the more her shoddy research shows through.
The weak spots are evident when the author looks for backing for her philosophy—and when she doesn't find it, either makes it up, or finds a straw man to knock down.
Early on, Levy establishes her liberal credentials by arguing that the Left doesn't have a lock on raunch culture: Conservative Middle America made Paris Hilton a star. A fair point—but then she can't leave well enough alone:
“The values people vote for are not necessarily the same values they live by. No region of the United States has a higher divorce rate than the Bible Belt. (The divorce rate in these southern states is nearly fifty percent above the national average.)”
The source for Levy's statistics is a New York Times article which, in turn, doesn't list its source. But the slightest research would have turned up to question the Times' statistics. As Maggie Gallagher noted in her article debunking the Times piece:
"In 2001, Massachusetts had a lower-than-average divorce rate (2.4 per 1,000 residents, compared to a national average of 4 per 1,000 residents). But it also had a lower-than-average marriage rate: 6.4 per 1,000 residents vs. 8.4 in the national average. Texas was the exact opposite: a higher-than-average crude divorce rate and a higher-than-average marriage rate."
When the conversation goes further into the Planned Parenthood agenda, Levy goes into full propaganda mode. "We are pouring an enormous amount of money into abstinence-only education—that is, sexual education that promotes virginity and discredits or disregards contraception—despite the fact that not a single study has shown this approach works.”
That the very nature of pornography demeans human dignity is never addressed.
Levy doesn't give a source for her sweeping generalization—and, indeed, no source exists. With apologies to Al Franken, Ariel Levy is a skinny little liar.
A number of studies show the effectiveness of abstinence education, and a simple online search would have turned them up—like a study in the April 2003 Adolescent and Family Health journal which found that increased abstinence among teens was the major cause of declining birth and pregnancy rates among single teenage girls. But actual evidence would get in the way of Levy's true intent: to blame conservatives for women's desire to assume male-created sexual stereotypes.
"Our national love of porn and pole dancing is not the byproduct of a free and easy society with an earthy acceptance of sex," Levy writes. Would that it were! No, "[i]t is a desperate stab at freewheeling eroticism in a time and place characterized by intense anxiety."
Hmmm. And who do you think might be the cause of this anxiety?
Oh, I don't know ... could it be....
"In 2004, our forty-second president, George W...."
Ha! What do I win?
Levy goes on.... "proposed an amendment ... to forever ban gay marriage"... blah blah blah...
Here we go: "...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—during 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."
Yes, ladies, this is about sexual liberation—and the only things preventing it are those nasty masculiheterodubyacentric fantasies perpetuated by red-state raunch culture.
That's why marriage appears in Female Chauvinist Pigs only as a battering ram against conservatives—to accuse them of divorcing too readily, or to criticize them for allowing homosexuals to wed. The truth is, marriage never fits into Levy's equation. Her book ends with an answer to Freud's perennial question, referring to the things "…Female Chauvinist Pigs want so desperately, the things women deserve: freedom and power."
Marriage never fits into Levy’s equation... it’s just a battering ram against conservatives.
Which brings us back to Seattle and a better use for your 25 bucks. If you spoke with a female employee of the strip-club industry that fuels America's raunch culture—something Levy never did—you'd find that what they really want is the same thing women have wanted since time immemorial: a loving husband. If they don't have one, it's Levy's vaunted radical feminist movement—and not "our forty-second president"—that's to blame.
Come to think of it, Bush isn't No. 42. He's No. 43. Levy couldn't even get that right.