After graduating from Wesleyan University, I worked for Planned Parenthood, but they fired me after just one week because I am an extremely poor typist. Almost immediately thereafter, I was hired at New York magazine. As a typist. I kept typing there for twelve years. In 2008, I became a staff writer at The New Yorker.

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National Review

A conservative's take on Female Chauvinist Pigs, by Myrna Blyth, October 10, 2005

I used hot-pink post-it notes to mark the pages of this book; it seemed appropriate, since they matched so perfectly the book's hot-pink cover. The cover, in turn, is highly appropriate for the book's contents. Its author, New York magazine contributing editor Ariel Levy, has spent several years looking at today's young women -- how they dress and behave, what they watch and whom they admire -- and she is very, very perplexed.

It's not just that when she turns on the TV, she finds strippers in pasties giving advice on " how best to lap dance a man to orgasm"; or that when she walks down the street, she sees young women in jeans that expose their "butt-cleavage" topped with minuscule T-shirts emblazoned with Playboy-bunny logos. Of even more concern to Levy was her discovery that "people I know (female people) liked going to strip clubs (female strippers). It was sexy and fun, they explained. It was liberating and rebellious. My best friend at college, who used to go to Take Back the Night marches on campus, had become captivated by porn stars."


Yikes! Yes, the daughters of mothers who burned their bras and picketed Playboy and staged a sit-in at Ladies' Home Journal to force the magazine to promote feminism have decided that they are now empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes, adopt Pamela Anderson's dress sense, and indulge -- wholeheartedly -- in the frat party of popular culture.

Understandably, Levy has trouble making this all add up. What happened to second-wave pornography-hating feminism, in this post-feminist pornography-proliferating world? To find out, she explores the many byways of "raunch culture," including the making of Girls Gone Wild videos, in which young women on spring break appear eager to flash for the camera. These particular videos are now a huge business, allegedly worth $100 million dollars to Joe Francis, its creator. She also attends an evening organized by CAKE, "a hypersexed sorority" that deftly mixes political action -- they arranged for a bus to take women to Washington for the April 2004 pro-abortion march -- with sex-toy parties.
Part of Levy's thesis is that young women today basically want to act about sex the way young men always have. Some of the women want to take this idea to its literal extreme. Levy spends a very long, distasteful chapter -- which, like a number of other chapters, began its life as a New York magazine article -- describing lesbians who are trying to turn themselves, through testosterone shots and double mastectomies, into young men.
The author does a very good takedown job on the women who are profiting from raunch culture. Notable among them are Christie Hefner, who has spent years defending her father's dozy Playboy, and trying to revive it; and the much-lauded Sheila Nevins, head of documentaries at HBO, known for her risky, cutting-edge taste. Levy describes how Nevins, who has won numerous honors, rips apart a woman who dares to question why she is producing G-String Divas, a late night soft-core docu-soap. "Everyone has to bump and grind for what they want," Nevins, the Jewish Woman of Inspiration award-winner, replies with a snarl; she goes on to defend the strippers who star in her program by saying, "Their bodies are their instruments, and if I had a body like that I would play it like a Stradivarius." Nevins is using here a typical Female Chauvinist Pig strategy: Make anyone who questions or disagrees with you seem prudish and uncool.
Levy's heroines remain the feminists of the 1960s: women like Susan Brownmiller, Erica Jong, and Andrea Dworkin (indeed, Levy wrote very sympathetically about Dworkin after her recent death). She believes that the raunch trend has arisen because conflicts between the women's movement and the sexual revolution were left unresolved 30 years ago. She also thinks it's a way young women can thumb their noses at the grimly intense fervor of old-style feminists. "After all," she writes, "nobody wants to turn into their mothers."
Yet Levy touches only lightly on how the media and the marketing industry have also combined to turn feminism into a type of Sex and the City narcissism in which women feel most empowered when they are shopping. And she dwells too briefly on the effect of the media's fascination with the outrageous behavior of celebrities. (Think Paris Hilton.)
Most important of all, she leaves unexplored the idea that young women might benefit greatly from a societal endorsement of a sense of morality -- and that acting as crudely as a very crude guy not only diminishes a woman's potential for real "feminist power," but also wreaks havoc on her self-respect. In her chapter on teenagers (titled "Pigs in Training"), Levy reports on the shocking behavior of a number of girls -- including an eighth-grader at Horace Mann, an elite New York private school, who made a digital recording of herself masturbating and simulating fellatio on a Swiffer mop. Soon everyone at school had seen her performance. But did it shame her? Not at all. Allegedly, she was walking around the school, giving out autographs. Levy also points out that today's young girls often compete to dress the "skankiest"; one girl says that "since seventh grade [when she was twelve], the skankier, the smaller, the most cleavage, the better . . . I wanted guys to want me, to want to hook up with me . . . I always wanted guys to think I was the hottest one."Reading this, I wondered: Since twelve-year-olds are not able to purchase skanky Abercrombie & Fitch skirts, no wider than a belt, without the family credit card, what was her mother thinking? Why did she allow a twelve-year-old even to try to look "hot"? But Levy never even comments on -- never mind criticizes -- such a lack of involved parenting. She decides instead, in this very chapter, to let loose on the Bush administration's increase in funding for abstinence education. She ignores the fact that such education has, in recent years, seemed effective in reducing the rate of teenage pregnancy, and takes refuge in snide mockery. She recounts that she spent a day at a meeting of the New Jersey Coalition for Abstinence Education: "That night, I dreamed I got a rare form of lethal mouth cancer from a particularly passionate French kiss. I woke up anxious and aroused." This is exactly the kind of Female Chauvinist Pig sneer she complains about when other women engage in it: a cheap way of dismissing attitudes with which one disagrees.Levy's book offers very limited answers, but it asks some very interesting questions. And we can all be comforted to know that just as most women were not the angry rip-snorting feminists of the 1960s, most young women today -- no matter how hard the media try to sell them on the notion -- are not post-feminist bimbos. That's because for many young women today, sex and moral beliefs remain intertwined, a proposition Ariel Levy, unfortunately, does not seem to want to consider.Myrna Blyth, former editor of Ladies' Home Journal and founding editor of More, is the author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness -- and Liberalism -- to the Women of America.

Yikes! Yes, the daughters of mothers who burned their bras and picketed Playboy and staged a sit-in at Ladies' Home Journal to force the magazine to promote feminism have decided that they are now empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes, adopt Pamela Anderson's dress sense, and indulge -- wholeheartedly -- in the frat party of popular culture.Understandably, Levy has trouble making this all add up. What happened to second-wave pornography-hating feminism, in this post-feminist pornography-proliferating world? To find out, she explores the many byways of "raunch culture," including the making of Girls Gone Wild videos, in which young women on spring break appear eager to flash for the camera. These particular videos are now a huge business, allegedly worth $100 million dollars to Joe Francis, its creator. She also attends an evening organized by CAKE, "a hypersexed sorority" that deftly mixes political action -- they arranged for a bus to take women to Washington for the April 2004 pro-abortion march -- with sex-toy parties.Part of Levy's thesis is that young women today basically want to act about sex the way young men always have. Some of the women want to take this idea to its literal extreme. Levy spends a very long, distasteful chapter -- which, like a number of other chapters, began its life as a New York magazine article -- describing lesbians who are trying to turn themselves, through testosterone shots and double mastectomies, into young men.The author does a very good takedown job on the women who are profiting from raunch culture. Notable among them are Christie Hefner, who has spent years defending her father's dozy Playboy, and trying to revive it; and the much-lauded Sheila Nevins, head of documentaries at HBO, known for her risky, cutting-edge taste. Levy describes how Nevins, who has won numerous honors, rips apart a woman who dares to question why she is producing G-String Divas, a late night soft-core docu-soap. "Everyone has to bump and grind for what they want," Nevins, the Jewish Woman of Inspiration award-winner, replies with a snarl; she goes on to defend the strippers who star in her program by saying, "Their bodies are their instruments, and if I had a body like that I would play it like a Stradivarius." Nevins is using here a typical Female Chauvinist Pig strategy: Make anyone who questions or disagrees with you seem prudish and uncool.Levy's heroines remain the feminists of the 1960s: women like Susan Brownmiller, Erica Jong, and Andrea Dworkin (indeed, Levy wrote very sympathetically about Dworkin after her recent death). She believes that the raunch trend has arisen because conflicts between the women's movement and the sexual revolution were left unresolved 30 years ago. She also thinks it's a way young women can thumb their noses at the grimly intense fervor of old-style feminists. "After all," she writes, "nobody wants to turn into their mothers."Yet Levy touches only lightly on how the media and the marketing industry have also combined to turn feminism into a type of Sex and the City narcissism in which women feel most empowered when they are shopping. And she dwells too briefly on the effect of the media's fascination with the outrageous behavior of celebrities. (Think Paris Hilton.)Most important of all, she leaves unexplored the idea that young women might benefit greatly from a societal endorsement of a sense of morality -- and that acting as crudely as a very crude guy not only diminishes a woman's potential for real "feminist power," but also wreaks havoc on her self-respect. In her chapter on teenagers (titled "Pigs in Training"), Levy reports on the shocking behavior of a number of girls -- including an eighth-grader at Horace Mann, an elite New York private school, who made a digital recording of herself masturbating and simulating fellatio on a Swiffer mop. Soon everyone at school had seen her performance. But did it shame her? Not at all. Allegedly, she was walking around the school, giving out autographs. Levy also points out that today's young girls often compete to dress the "skankiest"; one girl says that "since seventh grade [when she was twelve], the skankier, the smaller, the most cleavage, the better . . . I wanted guys to want me, to want to hook up with me . . . I always wanted guys to think I was the hottest one."Reading this, I wondered: Since twelve-year-olds are not able to purchase skanky Abercrombie & Fitch skirts, no wider than a belt, without the family credit card, what was her mother thinking? Why did she allow a twelve-year-old even to try to look "hot"? But Levy never even comments on -- never mind criticizes -- such a lack of involved parenting. She decides instead, in this very chapter, to let loose on the Bush administration's increase in funding for abstinence education. She ignores the fact that such education has, in recent years, seemed effective in reducing the rate of teenage pregnancy, and takes refuge in snide mockery. She recounts that she spent a day at a meeting of the New Jersey Coalition for Abstinence Education: "That night, I dreamed I got a rare form of lethal mouth cancer from a particularly passionate French kiss. I woke up anxious and aroused." This is exactly the kind of Female Chauvinist Pig sneer she complains about when other women engage in it: a cheap way of dismissing attitudes with which one disagrees.Levy's book offers very limited answers, but it asks some very interesting questions. And we can all be comforted to know that just as most women were not the angry rip-snorting feminists of the 1960s, most young women today -- no matter how hard the media try to sell them on the notion -- are not post-feminist bimbos. That's because for many young women today, sex and moral beliefs remain intertwined, a proposition Ariel Levy, unfortunately, does not seem to want to consider.Myrna Blyth, former editor of Ladies' Home Journal and founding editor of More, is the author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness -- and Liberalism -- to the Women of America.