Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ariel Levy talks female raunch at Eckerd

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 8:35 AM

Ariel Levy (center) at the conclusion of her speech at Eckerd on Tuesday night
  • Dawn Morgan
  • Ariel Levy (center) at the conclusion of her speech at Eckerd on Tuesday night
Ariel Levy has been writing and reporting for the New Yorker since 2008, and before that she served on the staff of New York magazine, but what has distinguished her from the pack of New York city based journalists is her 2006 book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture , which continues to be taught in Women's Studies classes years after it was first published. It's also been the vehicle for her to give speeches around the country on college campuses about feminism in the 21st century, such as Tuesday night at Eckerd College in Gulfport.

Speaking before a crowd that looked to be between 120-150 people at the Fox Theatre, Levy talked about what led her in the early part of the aughts to write Female Chauvinist Pigs.

Levy said it was around a decade ago when she began seeing the first elements of what she calls "raunch culture" begin to take root in American pop culture, referring to things like Comedy Central's "Man Show" that featured two women producers, as well as young women willing to exploit themselves for free in the making of Joe Francis' "Girls Gone Wild" videos. "I wrote this book because I noticed there was something weird happened," she began.

Levy said that when she interviewed some of the young women involved with the exploitive "Girls Gone Wild" productions, many of them proudly talked about how it would get them attention. But Levy said she didn't understand what was so positive about this, how somehow "we've earned the right to be objectified. It didn’t add up to me."

That tension between women taking control over their own sexuality but conforming to traditional male standards when it comes to pornography is a central thesis in her work.

Last year Levy traveled to Italy to write about the final days of longtime Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a piece called "Basta Bunga Bunga." She refers to him as an amalgam of Donald Trump , Rupert Murdoch and Hugh Hefner, and says the nudity that is now shown on Italian television thanks to Berlusconi isn't progressive in any sense, but is essentially commercial, talking about things like G-strings and breast implants that can now be bought and sold. "This is not the same thing as a sexually liberated culture."

During the short question and answer session that came after her 40-minute long speech, Levy elaborated on the differences between nudity and what she calls sex work (i.e., prostitution). She's skeptical when she hears about "feminist pornography," and says she truly believes most women who work in the sex industry do so to make money, not to make a great political statement. "We don't make porn in this country that has any concern for women."

But she emphasized that it's not up to feminists to call for banning pornography.

"Who gets to decide what's art and what's porn?" she asked. "Feminists haven't earned the right put themselves in charge of that," she said.

She concluded her speech by saying, "I think we’ve reduced sex into this really boring, really commercial shorthand. We haven’t been creative enough or liberated enough to think of ways to think if sex that don’t reduce women to barely blow up dolls. That’s about a lack of creativity..it’s not the new feminism, it’s the old objectivication, repackaged. I think we can do better."

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