In her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Ariel Levy addresses what anyone with two eyes has noticed – American culture celebrates a raunchy version of female sexuality with gusto and flair. This isn’t new information to anyone. But what Levy does highlight in a new way is the more than willing participation (and even leadership) of American women in creating and developing an environment where prostitutes, strippers, and three-somes are considered the ideals of thrillingly liberated womanhood.
But again, this is nothing new to anyone who turns on the television or picks up a magazine once in a while. Phenomena such as Girls Gone Wild, Paris Hilton, reality tv, and pole dancing have become so integrated with pop culture that one no longer needs to read an entire book (nonetheless a review!) about the trend to notice it. So what is this review about?
What kept me reading Levy’s book and caused me to furiously underline almost every paragraph was her own response as an avowed feminist to the problem. The reader senses Levy’s natural outrage at what she investigates, particularly in her chapter concerning the effects raunch culture (female exhibitionism) has on teenage sexuality, but she cannot bring herself to give moral weight or significance to the cultural trend. Levy’s worldview does not provide her with a strong enough reason to reject what bothers her so intensely. She feels something is wrong, but has only shallow arguments with which to try and persuade a self-indulgent culture that porn stars really are not the ideal images of female liberation.
Levy’s one and only argument against raunch culture is interestingly post-modern. The stereotypical post-modern argument for female liberation starts with the individual creating her own truth and happiness. Because Levy agrees, she carefully repeats throughout her book that raunch culture does not bother her in and of itself. According to Levy, what bothers her, and deeply so, is the way in which she feels all women are pressured into such trends, often by other women. In other words, Levy wants to say some women do naturally desire to be porn stars and flaunt certain kinds of sexuality, but she personally does not want to, so it should not be a cultural standard for women. Levy views sex as a mysterious thing that every person should experiment with in order to discover her personal preferences. Therefore, society should have no culturally prescribed expressions of it. The only criticism Levy makes of raunch culture is that all women are expected to participate in it as a collective standard for female sexual liberation.
Female Chauvinist Pigs displays Levy’s passion concerning female sexual trends, but it is exactly that passion which weakens Levy’s actual argument against raunch culture. Almost every page of her book belies an outrage and disgust at something Levy cannot seem to fully accept even despite her stated qualifications. The book’s central argument at times seems completely lost as Levy first works to document trends and occurrences she finds outrageous and then quickly inserts her relativist objections. She repeatedly shows the unhappiness, dishonesty, and lack of sexual pleasure the women she interviews experience, and yet she is constantly stating that she is sure some woman somewhere actually enjoys such sexual exhibitionism. Additionally, she dedicates a significant portion of her text to arguing that most people, male and female, do not like the current trend. In a book where the philosophical stance is that there should be no overarching standards or sexual ideals, her arguments against the trend because “most” people do not like it does not fit. Levy waffles between her passionate dislike of raunch culture and a highly intellectual and relativistic criticism of it.
But even Levy’s philosophical objections to the current trend do not deal with the real problem: the communal nature of humanity. Her argument is based solely on the individual. What the individual wants and likes, she should get. There is no consideration made for the fact that very few women, let alone people, make decisions based solely on what they want or like without any influence from peers. There is no realm of life where this is more true for a woman than in the realm of sex.
Female sexuality is grounded on being delighted in and admired by the partner. When the number of sexual partners is limitless, though, so are the number sexual competitors. Life does not give women a relational vacuum in which to decide what they want and like in order to then just go out and get it. The things we learn about ourselves and the things that define us exist against the backdrop of every person, male and female, we are connected to and engage with throughout our lives. And as our world gets smaller and smaller, the number of people we interact with increases. For a woman desiring to be sexually admired and valued in a world where there are no expectations for the responsibility of doing so belonging to one person, the push towards exhibitionism is only natural. The larger the pool for competition, the more a woman must do and display to single herself out as desirable.
Oddly enough, Levy adds an afterword in which she argues that the thing to combat the tide of raunch culture is a new generation of idealists. I assume she means to promote the ideal of each woman’s prerogative to define sex for herself. As I just argued, though, it does not work. Levy is right that what we need is a new idealism. But instead, I propose the old fashioned ideal of one woman and one man, for life. Women do want to be admired and delighted in sexually, but if we make sex a limitlessly individualistic endeavor, we also make it a limitlessly competitive endeavor. People do vicious things when in boundary-less competition with one another; on the other hand, rules provide safety and promote consideration within a community. I even venture to say that rules are what create community. The difference between a society of individuals competing endlessly for attention and a community living in harmonious respect for each other is often the rules and agreements by which the community lives. Concerning female expression of sexuality, the only thing that will halt the current trend will be a rise of communities committed to following shared rules for the benefit each individual.
A few weekends ago, my brother married his longtime sweetheart and our close family friend. These two are some of the most beautiful people I know, inside and out, and they put a lot of careful thought into the details of their wedding. Aesthetically, they have an eye for beauty, and spiritually, they have a heart for justice.
This was particularly evident in their choice of engagement ring. I interviewed my new sister-in-law recently and thought you would be interested in hearing her answers concerning the issues surrounding diamonds. And make sure you check out the Marlene Harris website...
1) Dish about the ring! What do you like about it?
"Exquisite" is the word I think of when I think of my engagement ring. It is a new ring designed in an antique style. The thing I like the most about this ring is that I have never seen another quite like it and there is a lot of beautiful detail work. I also like the effect of having many small diamonds surrounding the larger diamond; making it extra sparkly.
2) Did you choose it or did your fiance choose it?
My husband (then fiancé) chose the ring with the help of two very tasteful sisters who both knew me well.
3) Where was the ring bought? And why?
The ring was purchased from Marlene Harris who is a small business jeweler in Blawnox, PA (right outside of Pittsburgh). I believe Daniel chose to go there because a number of our friends had bought their engagement and wedding bands from Marlene and he had heard good things about her collection.
4) Are you happy with the ring?
I am happy with the ring. I do not know if I would have picked it because I had something much more simple in mind but I am very happy with it.
5) Why did you want a conflict free diamond?
A conflict free diamond was very important to me because, particularly in Africa, diamond sales have been known to support slavery, violence, and in general the exploitation of communities and peoples. I knew that this ring is likely the most expensive item that I will own and I did not want the money to support the suffering of individuals. I also did not want to feel guilty about something that so beautifully symbolizes the covenant that Daniel and I were to make to one another and to God.
6) How important was it to you to have a conflict free diamond?
I felt very strongly that I wanted a conflict free diamond. Daniel and I had a conversation about it so I was confidant that he would keep my concerns in mind. I definitely would have been disappointed if he had not gotten a conflict free diamond.
7) When did you first think about wanting a conflict free diamond? What caused you to consider it?
My family has a good friend from Sierra Leone and I remember him talking about how his country had very valuable resources, particularly in diamonds, and yet his people were living in severe poverty and devastation because of exploitation and oppressions that had taken place in that land. I believe that was the first time I was made aware of the issues surrounding the diamond industry.
8) Can you explain the issue of conflict free diamonds to us?
A conflict diamond is a diamond that has been illegally smuggled and sold on the open market. The proceeds of these sales have been known to financially support violence, slavery and manslaughter. In Sierra Leone the diamond industry supported a brutal civil war that devastated the country and destroyed the lives of many. The rebel forces that had control of many of the diamond mines would smuggle the gems to dealers who would then place them on the open market. The money from these sales went to support the rebels in their merciless campaigns. These forces were known to use amputation as a weapon against villagers and would also enslave their captives forcing them to dig, at gunpoint, in search for gems. Although the civil war is now over, the effects and devastation remain. In a 2007 National Geographic documentary called Diamonds of War: Africa's Blood Diamonds, it was estimated that 60% of Sierra Leone’s diamonds are sold illegally and placed onto the open market. In addition to supporting potentially dangerous organizations and groups, the profits from these diamonds are not shared with the people of Sierra Leone because there is no way to tax the profit sales or registration of the stone. This is just one example of the devastation that conflict diamonds can have on a country and its people. Other African countries have also experienced the effects of this illegal market. Here is a link to a page that has more information on this topic.
9) What advice do you have for couples thinking about buying a diamond?
Do your research. This may be one of the biggest purchases that you make, so just think about it and make sure you are on the same page.
10) What thoughts do you have for someone who does not have a conflict free diamond and starts to feel concerned about the issue? How should they feel about their ring?
Well if you really want to find out what the origin of your diamond is then talk to your jeweler. No matter its origin, the diamond that your husband/fiancé gave you has meaning because it symbolizes his commitment to you. That alone makes it special and the chances that your diamond was illegally sold onto the market is still relatively low.