Levy’s basic thesis is that women are no longer simply submitting to an environment of sexual objectification but are actively participating in it under the misguided belief that this is empowering. We have been distracted by the shiny baubles of sexual potency into thinking that turning college frat boys on with our breasts is some sort of real Power, which…I’m not sure if you’ve met college frat boys? That’s like saying I can sit in a chair without falling off.
Levy describes the rise of ‘raunch culture,’ how women have bought into and now form a large part of the client base of the porn and strip club industries because we want to be Like Tha Dudes. This has translated into an idolization of porn stars and strippers, women who embody performative sexuality, and conflated ‘being hot and looking turned on’ with ‘everything else that is important about sex.’ We confuse ‘sexy’ with ‘sexual.’ The quotes in this book will make you stabby, like one from a girl who pursues anonymous sexual encounters just for the notch in the belt (which, fine) and will cheerfully endure substandard sexual encounters in favor of ‘getting what she wants.’ Which appears to be substandard sexual encounters, because she finds more value in the having had sex than in the having sex.
And ok, preemptive strike for my sidebar: I get that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are social constructs, so when I say ‘girl-things’ and ‘boy-things’ below, I mean ‘socially-accepted-as-girl-things’ and ‘ditto-but-for-boys’ which takes much longer to type out so please indulge my elisions.
Whenever I hear women say things like ‘I never liked playing with dolls, I always liked trucks better’ or ‘I prefer hanging out with dudes’ I want to grab them and shake them and be all YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. Because even if you legitimately preferred trucks to dolls, and even if you legitimately prefer the company of dudes (and aren’t just in it for the attention which, shout out, I totally always was) when you say it all scornful like that, it reinforces an attitude of Girl-Things Suck and Boy-Things are Great. And you know what? Balls to that. Because I like baking cookies and holding babies, not because I am a girl but because I am The Raych. It is essential to my Raychness that I enjoy baking cookies and holding babies and society says Fine, do these things, but don’t get too high on yourself for being good at them because they still fall under the category Girl-Things That Suck. So can we all please stop? Stop trying to be the boys. I’m not saying don’t do Boy-Things if you like them, but don’t do them because they are Boy-Things. Liking cars is not inherently better than liking clothes. They are both useful and good in their place and people who spend too much time and/or money on either are idiots.
All that indirectly brought to you by the line, ‘Women who’ve wanted to be perceived as powerful have long found it more efficient to identify with men than to try and elevate the entire female sex to their level.’
For all of our grrrrl power, we secretly (or not so secretly) believe that Boy-Things are better, and that Girl-Things are only valuable insomuch as they can attract Boy…Things. And it is making us tired. This about a high school student: ‘Monitoring her appearance and measuring the response to it have been her focal point. If her looks were a kind of hobby – if dressing and grooming and working out were things she did for pleasure – then the process would be its own reward. But she spoke of her pursuit as a kind of Sisyphean duty, one that many of her friends had charged themselves with as well.’
Levy is wise and sharp and very, very funny (you know I can only take people seriously if they are also EXCEEDINGLY ENTERTAINING. Jon Stewart has ruined me), and she interviews All The People. Hullo, feminist restauranteur Jill Ward. Hullo Girls Gone Wild tour manager Mia Leist. Hullo porn stars, college girls, members of New York’s transsexual community, original hosts of The Man Show, abstinence-only educators, and so on.
I really just want to quote the whole book to you, so how abouts you go read it instead. Nine caterpillars.