Friday, October 07, 2005

Female Chauvinist Pigs : Ariel Levy

"Female Chauvinist Pigs" is a big, messy, troublesome, exciting book. It doesn't take up much space on a bookshelf - it's only 212 pages long, including the notes - but in terms of its impact, it can be compared to the other Big Books of feminism, including Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae" and Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch." Like Paglia and Greer, Levy talks back to feminism, addressing its perceived failures and asking for more. Unfortunately, along with Paglia and Greer, Levy often delivers old stereotypes in shiny new packages. Many of her would-be "radical" statements are just re-phrased puritan cliches.

Levy argues that the images of hetero pornography -- blonde, skinny/curvy, ultrafemme women performing for the male hard on -- have become mainstream. She also argues that, whereas straight pornography used to be an imitation of sex, straight sex now tends to imitate pornography. She cites women who perform pornographic tropes for men or present their bodies in a porn-o-riffic way (bleached hair, long nails, high heels, skimpy clothes, bodies exercised or altered to meet stereotypes of "hotness") without bothering to figure out what feels sexy or beautiful to them, women who are "sexy, but not sexual." And she blames women - women who, she says, watch "The Man Show" or go to strip clubs or consume mainstream porn in order to be "one of the guys," and to prove that they're not "prissy little women." Women who aren't performing the porn-femme are embracing a frat-boy aesthetic in order to win male approval; in either case, we're doing it for the boys, for a taste of their money or their power or their freedom. Rather than being a personalized, fluid expression of identity, gender is increasingly being locked into a mutually repressive, male-supremacist binary.

That portion of her argument is right on. But it's buried in messed-up generalizations, obviously skewed reportage, and heterosexism. She cites only the porn that fits her argument, and ignores the radical queer, feminist, and amateur pornographers who make porn that challenges conventional power dynamics and beauty standards. She devotes one chapter to young queer women, but she only acknowledges genderfucking and genderqueer people by claiming that bois are misogynist and femme-phobic and that many transgender men are "confused lesbians." (In a book filled with fairly offensive and inaccurate generalizations, this one ranks at the top of my list.) The rest of her book is devoted to the power dynamics of heterosexuality. It's also mostly about white people. Her book would have been much stronger, in my opinion, if she had consistently drawn correlations across the lines of race, gender, and sexuality. But for the most part she treats white, heterosexual culture as the only reality that exists, as if it were the only culture that could indicate anything important about gender relations. She says very little about straight men who feel oppressed by the need to "be men" or to embrace conventional "manliness." And despite her fixation on pole dancers - she mentions them obsessively, once every few pages - she interviews not a one. She has plenty to say about their motivations, about their looks, about their victimization, but she doesn't have much to say to the actual people who work the pole. For an author so obsessed with sexual performance and sex work, Levy doesn't engage with many sexual performers. She quotes sporadically from Jenna Jameson's memoir, holds a brief interview with feminist porn director Candida Royalle, and talks to a few of the performers at a "Girls Gone Wild" video shoot. The rest of the book, for the most part, is representation without interaction. This points to one of the key flaws of the book: Levy seems to feel that the sex industry is inherently, irredeemably dirty, and that anyone who participates in it or enjoys it is a woman-hater or a victim. Rather than wanting it to change, she wants it to go away. She does make some fairly compelling statements about women owning their bodies and their sexualities, rather than imitating a commercial brand of "hotness," but too much of her book seems to echo the words of Andrea Dworkin: "If pornography is a part of your sexuality, then you have no right to your sexuality." Instead of offering alternatives, she corrals sexuality into a retro moralism that feminism has always sought to escape.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

God damn. I know I said that I didn't like to post about major news items, but right now there is no topic more interesting than crazy-ass Bill Bennett. First he says this:

The former U.S. education secretary-turned-talk show host said Wednesday that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett quickly added that such an idea would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do." But, he said, "your crime rate would go down."

Evil. But it's the apology that kills me:

Bennett's statement went on to say that "the whole issue of crime and race" has been on people's minds in light of the situation in New Orleans, and is aired frequently in academic settings. Given that, he called his comments barely noteworthy.

"Anyone paying attention to this debate should be offended by those who have selectively quoted me, distorted my meaning, and taken out of context the dialogue I engaged in this week," his statement said.

I cannot think of a more spectacular instance of someone missing the point. The assumption underlying his statement (that black people = criminals) is the real problem here, and it's the one thing that he doesn't address or apologize for. Not that an apology would be worth much.

Friday, September 30, 2005

John & Roe

John Roberts was confirmed today as the new Head Justice of the Supreme Court.

In other news, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, look forward to a lot more of this:

Today: September 30, 2005 at 9:46:0 PDT

Boyfriend Gets Probation for Beating

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. (AP) - A teenager accused of hitting his pregnant girlfriend in the belly with a baseball bat and causing her to miscarry has been placed on probation and ordered to perform community service at a pregnancy crisis center over his lawyer's objections.

The 17-year-old pleaded no contest Aug. 31 to a charge of intentional conduct against a pregnant woman that results in a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Authorities said the girl wanted to end the pregnancy and consented to the beatings. She was not charged with a crime. Under the 1999 Michigan law used against the boyfriend, only the person acting against the pregnant woman can be prosecuted.

The boyfriend, whose name was withheld because was prosecuted as a juvenile, was put on probation Thursday until he turns 19. Juvenile Judge Matthew Switalski also ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service at the Compassion Pregnancy Center.

His attorney, Miranda Massie, complained that the center is overtly anti-abortion and works religious themes into its counseling. But the judge said: "If the message is `What can we do to help save the pregnancy?' I'm not going to take issue with that message."

The girl was 16 when the boy struck her over a two-week period, causing a miscarriage in October 2004 six months into her pregnancy, authorities said.

Police learned about the matter after the girl spoke about it while at a high school leadership conference. An adult contacted authorities, and the fetus was found buried at the boyfriend's home.

This is the part that kills me: pro-choice advocates don't want to make abortion possible, they want to make it safe. It's always going to be possible, and it's always going to happen, but if people don't have access to sophisticated medical technology (which is still pretty crude and painful, according to many of the people who have used it), they're going to use baseball bats and coat hangers.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Corruption In The Republican Party? Surely You Jest!

Why is it that, when everybody and her dog starts to posting about a specific topic, it almost invariably leaves me cold?

Tom DeLay is in trouble. It's going to be a big deal and people are going to get fired and it will change everything forever and ever. Yeah, like that Karl Rove thing. That turned out to be a big deal, too.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

France Isn't Cool Any More

France has an eloquent, experienced, viable left-wing presidential candidate, and politicians on both the right and the left wing are throwing a fit, because she's a woman. The Independent Online has an article chock full of quotes to make you boot:

Jacques Lang, the obsessively politically correct, sixty-something former culture and education minister, said the presidency "should not be a beauty contest". Laurent Fabius, the former prime minister, mocked François Hollande, the Socialist party's first secretary, Mme Royal's "husband", and father of her four children.

M. Fabius sneered: "Maybe we should have a rotating [husband and wife] presidency. But who would look after the children?"

I'm fairly certain that I could not possibly be more excited about "Serenity," Joss Whedon's upcoming "Firefly" movie. Joss Whedon is one of the few people in the entertainment industry who has been consistently and openly feminist. He's also been reliably witty, innovative and concerned with character, and has infused various dork-tastic genres with personality and warmth. Now, he's taking on the big-budget science-fiction action movie. It's hard to imagine a form that has been more thoroughly corrupted by cheap commercial misogyny and soulless plot gimmicks. (In fact, the only form that's more problematic is the horror movie, which he re-invented for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer.") I find it hard to believe that his message has not been at least a little bit blunted or corrupted by the big studio process, but according to fan buzz, the Whedon vibe has been left intact on the big screen. And he's working from "Firefly," a cancelled series that may have been his finest work to date. It has nine fully fleshed-out and original characters, including one of the most positive representations of a sex worker that I've ever seen. It revises the traditional sci-fi futurescape to include the eternal facts of poverty, political corruption, and prejudice, without going all Death Star, good-vs-evil: in Whedon's work, there are always shades of gray. And it has a space ship, and it has fight scenes, and you can watch it without feeling dirty. So, no: I could not possibly be more excited.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Noah's Ark: CocoRosie

I find it entirely unlikely that two sisters from New York should spontaneously develop Icelandic accents, but this is only one of the many oddities that you have to accept in order to appreciate CocoRosie. They’re terminally quirky, aggressively cute; on the title track, not only does Bianca Cassady sing “Noah’s Ark came to my house one day with all of his animals,” she pronounces the last word “animaws,” like a four-year-old. She does this over, and over, and over, until you want to put her into speech therapy. But the delicate, dreamy lo-fi sound is so seductive that somehow, when I came to the final song of “Noah’s Ark,” all I wanted to do was listen to it again.

For more of this review, visit Girlysounds

Friday, September 23, 2005

Segregation In America

"It's a lot easier for white folks of good conscience to acquiesce in the immiseration of thousands of black and Latino children if we keep them at a distance. To me, segregation is not simply a demographic dilemma or some kind of a bureaucratic mistake -- it is a conscious, deliberate and morally intolerable form of social policy."

Check out the rest of this excellent interview at Salon: "Apartheid America."