Female Chauvinist Pigs

Stiletto Feminism: Power or Exploitation?

Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture explores how the over-sexualization of women in America has blurred the lines between female empowerment and female exploitation to the point that society wouldn’t know real feminism if it bit it in the ass. In Levy’s point of view, many women believe they need to behave “like men” or male chauvinist pigs in order to receive respect. So, women end up treating each other like fine racks of lamb in an attempt to be considered dominant and strong — but all they’re really doing is encouraging misogyny and confusing their right to be sexy with the right to equality.

Levy’s main aim is to caution against post-feminism — which is the idea that sexism is no longer an issue and that genders are now equal. Levy explains that the feminist movement was originally meant to encourage women to keep their clothes on, rather than use their sexual prowess for social or financial reasons. She jumps back to feminism in the 70s, referencing the perspectives of Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller — females of high influence during the women’s liberation movement.

Levy claims that early feminist females were against sexually exploiting themselves for money or power, and now the feminist outlook is all kinds of lost and fucked up. Sure, it’s true that gender equality clearly has not been achieved (what with women still being paid less than men and conservatives still trying to ban birth control), but it’s certainly not the 70s anymore. And frankly, there did exist sex-positive feminists back then (i.e. Susie Bright) who took off their clothes for liberation and considered harnessing female power in sexuality as freeing, not degrading.

Levy suggests that most females in modern society, whether they’re 14 or 40, can’t operate above their narcissistic need to exert their power of sexiness. To demonstrate her point, Levy mentions how Katie Couric always shows off her legs during interviews, how Paris Hilton gains popularity with every sex tape she makes, and describes how 16-year-old girls are now competing with one another to see who can dress the sluttiest to attract the most boys. Since women associate sexiness with clout and status, looking “hot” is a way to assert that power. This outlook is especially common among younger women, which Levy proves when she describes her experience while tagging along with the Girls Gone Wild production team during spring break.

Levy’s diction when describing what she sees while with GGW is horrific but accurate (if you’ve ever watched a GGW commercial while cruising late night television, you have an idea of the classless organization). She describes a scene in which a bunch of guys gather around two bikini-clad females on the beach and try to get them to flash their breasts; the males circle “around like seagulls sensing a family about to abandon their lunch.” Her descriptions are brilliantly reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, with Levy going so far as to say that she was afraid the crowd might start throwing rocks at the women if they didn’t show more skin.

The book mostly presents women as sexual victims (which they definitely can be), but it gives no examples of women who are happy with their pro-sex and highly sexualized lives. Why not get the perspective of Annie Sprinkle, renowned porn performer turned sex educator, or Nina Hartley, a porn-performing feminist writer/director? Why not talk to Erika Lust, a feminist who creates pornography from a perspective that elevates women rather than degrades them?

Though it’s clear Levy did an ass-load of research for this book, she’s no expert on sex work or porn. Sure, she presents some depressing statistics about how most female sex workers have been sexually abused. And sure, she did what she considered to be “on-set” research when she went on spring break with GGW. But did she once set foot on a professional porn set with professional porn performers? Nope. Or at least she didn’t talk about it in her book.

Levy pretends to get the full porn star perspective when she quotes some lines from Jena Jameson’s autobiography How To Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, but she only uses the lines from the book that support her point and she doesn’t mention any of the perks of Jameson’s lifestyle. Levy also presents Jameson’s appearance as the status quo for women in porn, and suggests that the pornographic “plastic” look is influencing girls to get breast implants. Levy is way off base. In Deep Inside: A Study of 10,000 Porn Stars and Their Careers, it’s revealed that the majority of females in porn are brunettes with B-cups. Blonde, gigantic-breasted women like Jameson are the exception.

Even though the book is heavily one-sided and Levy gets a little sloppy with her support at times, her concerns for the current state of feminism aren’t unfounded. She wants to remind women that sex is a personal experience that is for pleasure, not just power and status, and women don’t have to look or behave like the actresses do in movies or television to please men. Women also shouldn’t have to act like asshole guys and objectify other females in order to be considered strong human beings.

Levy also emphasizes that female chauvinist pigs are emulating men who are, essentially, jerks (i.e. men who leave in the morning after a one-night-stand without saying goodbye and men who don’t respect other people and treat them like sex objects or property). Why the hell would women want to emulate this behavior anyway? Does joining a hoard of men on a beach and screaming at a girl to take her top off sound liberating? As Levy so eloquently puts it: “Sexual freedom can be a smokescreen for how far we haven’t come.” Sexual freedom is a choice — never an obligation.

Have a different opinion? Sound off in the comments below.


  1. I’m curious as to the balance between overt female sexuality being judged as either exploitative or freeing. My mother is a gender studies expert and part of the original feminism movement in the 70’s, and absolutely dislikes all porn as inherently exploitative and degrading, which seems to match the attitude expressed in the reviewed book from that generation.

    Is that attitude the book author seems to project, that our growing sexual expression is inherently because of the wrong reasons (female self-worth being defined by their value to a male), also just an artifact of liberalising attitudes towards female sexuality in general?

    Historically, we saw early Western civilization’s attitude towards female sexuality flipping from worship of the female as the bringer of life, and their sexuality as a natural expression of that, to religious dogmatic judgement blasting female sexuality as impure and dangerous with the collapse of the Roman Empire into the European Dark Ages. We still see echoes of this attitude today, even after the Enlightenment chipped away at most theocratic cosmological worldviews…and flatly unchanged in some theocratic countries (Sharia/Islamic law?).

    But as we see the attitudes of the 20th century fading, this new generation’s blurred lines of sexual freedom and self-exploitation seem to be a double edged sword. You can’t have one without the other. The increasing freedom also enables females to fall prey to their own societal pressures and groupthinks, and when sexual in nature will result in those unfavorable situations. Positive education of young females as to the true nature of their sexual self worth is probably the answer, not negative blasting of the “wrong kind” of sexualization. Because when it comes down to it, who are we as other people to judge?