Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reading for Pleasure (shhh! don't tell!)

You know, Dr. Crazy began the blog tradition (blogition?) of the RFP Wednesdays--on which we'd blog what we were reading for fun, as opposed to all that we read for work. I've thought about this several times, but have found that I'm lucky to squeeze out a post on Wednesday AT ALL, much less one about reading for pleasure.

As I'm a bit ahead of the game for a Sunday, however (and thank you! oh gods of daylight savings time), I thought now might be the time to experiment. And how great is it that I'm actually getting to read for pleasure now and then?

So, what I'm currently taking to bed with me (aside from Junior Bear, who has noticed the the warmest place in our cold house is between myself and Senor Fluff--at about 3 a.m.) is Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Levy's book got lots of good press when it first came out, and I've been stalking its paperback release (I hate reading hardback books--no fun to try to hold up one-handed in bed in order to keep the other arm warm and under the blankets).

First off, I'm struck by the ambitiousness of her project. How do you even begin to account for a widespread, seemingly sui generis phenomenon of women and girls dedicated to the performance of sexuality? Levy does her homework: I'm about halfway through, and she's been out on the town with the Girls Gone Wild camera crew, interviewed the producers and hosts of The Man Show, talked about the strippers' workout (made famous by Teri Hatcher on Oprah)...the whole nine. Throughout, she's careful to note (and I think it's an important distinction), that she's not critiquing women's performance of sexuality per se, but rather of a very specific kind of sexuality--one that celebrates and seems to quote excessively porn (she mentions here the success of Jenna Jameson's book, etc.).

What I very much enjoy about her analysis is the way that she offers up some language and some criteria for assessing the actions of women--what it buys them, and what it buys other women around them. There are many great points in her analysis, but here's one definition that sticks out for me:
The Female Chauvinist Pig likes to position herself as something outside the normal bounds of womanhood. If defending her own little patch of turf requires denigrationg other women...airheads who prioritize be it.

This gets away, a bit, from her overall thesis concerning women's need to perform a kind of sexuality (although she makes the link, I can't follow it all the way through here). The thing that struck me, of course, is the way that Levy describes the desire to/strategy of separating oneself from the undifferentiated mass of women. And while I have, on occasion, realized the need to work together for the sisterhood, I don't think I've thought through exactly how powerful the cultural messages are to stand out--to continually characterize ourselves as "not like other girls." We're not too girly, we're "like one of the guys," we're "not one of those kind of women"... What an incredibly powerful tool for both the establishment of the individual and the eradication of a group consciousness.

Levy describes a moment in her interview with Jimmy Kimmel in which he explains the ways that women have power by watching The Man Show (which had, at one time, a 38% female viewership). "You take responsibility for your life and you don't walk around thinking, I'm a victime of pop culture!...You get it." She thinks: "for a moment I allowed myself to feel vaguely triumphant." While the situation is laughable (seriously, the day Jimmy freaking Kimmel gets to say that women have power is the day that I barf all over myself), Levy's reaction isn't surprising. That moment of being told "you're not like them--you get it" is the moment of greatest temptation. I'm not even there and I think the desire to be let into the club is palpable. Yes! I'm different! I'm special!!

All of this, of course, fits into a larger American model of fetishizing the individual. Thus, although Levy never says it (or hasn't yet, that I've read), this invitation to be different from other women, even as that differentiation is based on your assent to craven objectification, fits neatly into a larger national set of values--thus making it more difficult to resist.

I'll keep reading, but in the meantime, I'll be asking myself how special I really am, and what I have to accept in order to be perceived as such.


Blogger Lee said...

Two words: The Slanket
Google it. It may make you a fan of hardcover books again.

Friday, November 03, 2006 2:36:00 PM  

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