Review: Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture – Ariel Levy

female chauvinist pigsMeet the “Female Chauvinist Pigs” the new brand of “empowered woman” who wears the Playboy bunny as a talisman, bares all for Girls Gone Wild, pursues casual sex as if it were a sport, and embraces raunch culture wherever she finds it. 

If male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women–and of themselves. They think they’re being brave, they think they’re being funny, but in Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy asks if the joke is on them. 

In her quest to uncover why this is happening, Levy interviews college women who flash for the cameras on spring break and teens raised on Paris Hilton and breast implants. She examines a culture in which every music video seems to feature a stripper on a pole, the memoirs of porn stars are climbing the bestseller lists, Olympic athletes parade their Brazilian bikini waxes in the pages of Playboy, and thongs are marketed to prepubescent girls. Levy meets the high-powered women who create raunch culture–the new oinking women warriors of the corporate and entertainment worlds who eagerly defend their efforts to be “one of the guys.” And she traces the history of this trend back to conflicts between the women’s movement and the sexual revolution long left unresolved. 

Levy pulls apart the myth of the Female Chauvinist Pig and argues that what has come to pass for liberating rebellion is actually a kind of limiting conformity. Irresistibly witty and wickedly intelligent, Female Chauvinist Pigs makes the case that the rise of raunch does not represent how far women have come, it only proves how far they have left to go.

Rating: 3/5

Mmm. This book has left me conflicted between the points I agreed with, the ones I didn’t, and the ones that didn’t quite sit right with me but which I don’t have the knowledge or background to debate.

What I liked:

The author isn’t against women being agents of their own sexuality, but she has a problem with the fact that this kind of overt, raunchy, commercial, over-the-top female objectification is presented as the only way to be female/sexy in our society. Furthermore, women have now become complicit in making sex objects of themselves and other women in becoming more like men – i.e. the female chauvinist pigs referred to in the title. (I.e. women have made sex objects of other women not because it pleases them, but to be one of the guys/fit in/be a ‘cool girl’.)

Raunch culture isn’t about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality. It’s about endlessly reiterating one particular – and commercial – shorthand for sexiness…But when it pertains to women, hot means two things in particular: faceable and saleable.


Why is this the ‘new feminism’ and not what it looks like: the old objectification?

I also liked the fact that Hugh Hefner’s daughter herself points out that the reason that Playgirl, for instance, doesn’t have the popularity of Playboy, is because men are uncomfortable being the objects of women’s fantasies and gaze. Not so great when the tables are turned, is it?

She also takes on the mentality of ‘think like a man’ when it comes to advancing in the workplace.

Even if you are a women who achieves the ultimate and becomes like a man, you will still always be like a woman. And as long as womanhood is thought of as something to escape from, something less than manhood, you will be thought less of too. 

What I didn’t like:

The author says it no longer makes sense to blame men – that women are now perpetrators of this overly sexualised culture. While I agree both women and men participate and perpetuate it, I believe the blame likes solely at the foot of the patriarchy, and not women themselves. It’s the male-dominated, male-gaze culture that has facilitated this, not individual men and women themselves.

I also feel uncomfortable with the fact that the author assumes that no women enter sex work/stripping to exercise their own agency/because they want to, but because they have clearly had traumatic sexual pasts. While this may be true in some instances, it definitely isn’t true for every woman in this industry.

Finally, the chapter on trans people, specifically those transitioning to men, or those who act like men, didn’t sit well with me. Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the expertise to analyse this properly, but it smacked of ‘they’re colluding with the patriarchy by becoming more like men’ – which, just no.


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