Being loved for your body
Men, you can relax. You are no longer the enemy. Instead, judging by recent events in the United States, modern feminists have a much shapelier target in their sights—other women. Specifically, scantily clad women who use their sexuality to get ahead. I don’t know if this is a PR campaign to get men to finally pay attention to the cause, but it’s certainly stirring up trouble.
It all kicked off with the publication of Female Chauvinist Pigs, a rant against “raunch culture’’ by the New York magazine writer Ariel Levy. In the book, she argues that the recent trend for soft-porn styling in everything from music videos to popular TV is reducing female sexuality to its basest levels. Which is all fair enough, until Levy starts to list the ways in which today’s women are allowing their sexuality to be sold short. Thongs, for example. Crop tops. Lap-dancing classes. Lads’ magazines Maxim and FHM. Playboy T-shirts. The word “chick’‘. Levy thinks raunch culture is a feminist movement gone terribly wrong. We are, in her eyes, doing all these things merely to show the men that we are “one of the guys’’ and “liberated and rebellious’‘. Naturally, she finds this confusing. “Why is labouring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering?’‘
The answer is, labouring to look like Pamela Anderson is not empowering. We’re not trying to be empowered. The twentysomething women I know don’t care about old-style feminism. Partly this is because they already see themselves as equal to men: they can work, they can vote, they can bonk on the first date. For younger women, raunch is not about feminism, it’s just about fashion.
Another reason for the rise of raunch is that women are rediscovering the joy of being loved for their bodies, not just their minds. Today, sexes mix a lot more than they used to, so boys grow up having girls as friends. They tend to listen to what women have to say, and when they marry they don’t consider sharing the housework to be castrating. Instead of desperately longing for the right to be seen as human beings, today’s girls are playing with the old-fashioned notion of being seen as sex objects.
This is not terrible news. In fact, this is the ultimate feminist ideal, which Levy would realise if she stopped shouting at MTV for a moment and thought about it. She proclaims that boob jobs and crop tops “don’t bring us any closer to the fundamental feminist project of allowing every woman to be her own, specific self’‘. But what if a woman’s “own, specific self’’ is a thong-wearing, Playboy-T-shirted specific self who thinks lap dancing is a laugh and likes getting wolf-whistled at by builders?
Levy is not alone in raging against raunch. The f word, a British feminist website, recently launched a tirade against lads’ magazines such as Loaded, Zoo and Nuts; they “relentlessly promote the message that women exist solely for the sexual gratification of men and boys’‘, argued Rachel Bell. “By internalising this one-dimensional male construct of sexuality, both sexes are losing out; but it is girls and women who will pay the heavier price.’‘
I’ve worked for GQ and the British tabloid press, and in neither place did I see women being exploited. Does Bell have any idea how much money women make when they take their clothes off? How much freedom and independence these girls can earn in an hour? The new breed of totty generally own the copyright to their naughtiest photos, so with each publication they rake it in. Look at lads’ mags from a different perspective and you see that what’s being exploited are men’s sexual responses, to give money to women.
It has always been like this, and it always will be, because men’s Achilles heel is that they go to pieces when a woman drops her top. Old-style feminists never understood this, but their way is not the only way to achieve equality with men. The world is different now, and we should follow the trends instead of waving the banners of 20 years ago.
That version of feminism will never regain its popularity as long as its proponents insist on lecturing, instead of leading. We should be working together to support women across the world whose rights are still ignored, instead of squabbling and catfighting.
If a thong makes you feel fabulous, wear it. For one thing, men in the office waste whole afternoons staring at your bottom, placing bets on whether you’re wearing underwear. Let them. Use that time to take over the company. But even if you wear naughty lingerie for you, for no other reason than it makes you feel good, that is reason enough to keep it on. True feminism should celebrate femininity, and make you feel wonderful to be born a woman. It’s a shame some feminists today can’t do the same.—Â