Levy weighs in on feminism

Describing a society where cardio-striptease classes have become the norm and the number of breast implants performed annually has increased 700 percent over the past 15 years, journalist Ariel Levy discussed the emergence of “raunch culture” and its impact on feminism at a Saybrook Master’s Tea on Monday afternoon.

Levy spoke to a predominantly female crowd about her experiences as a liberal college graduate from Wesleyan University and her foray into journalism. Levy, the author of the 2005 book “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture,” said she seeks to reach a wide audience with her writing, rather than simply “preach[ing] to the converted.”

Journalist Ariel Levy speaks about modern feminism, her experiences in journalism and the emergence of “raunch culture” at a Saybrook Master’s Tea on Monday afternoon.
Ryan Galisewski
Journalist Ariel Levy speaks about modern feminism, her experiences in journalism and the emergence of “raunch culture” at a Saybrook Master’s Tea on Monday afternoon.

Levy said she was inspired to write the book by a number of different factors: an earlier article she wrote on the trend, her politically conscious upbringing, her friend’s captivation with porn stars and the popularity of music videos such as Sisqo’s “The Thong Song.”

“As what was popularly understood to be feminism had shifted, new feminists saw the sex industry as female empowerment and others, like Gloria Steinem, remained anti-pornography,” Levy said. “I noticed the residue of that collision.”

While Levy spoke of her concern with the objectification of women — finding little reconciliation between real and false empowerment of female sexuality — she did mention a few exceptions.

“I liked ‘Sex and the City,’” she said. “It really demonstrated the fetishization of consumption. A show about shopping — whether it be for men, shoes or drinks — it lets women be funny while talking about sexuality.”

A number of audience members asked questions about the role of sexuality in American politics, particularly in light of the current focus on the possibility of a female president. Women in politics are subject to intense scrutiny, Levy said, which has resulted in Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice’s stiff public personas.

In response to criticism from one audience member that her work merely broaches profound issues without delving into a deep analysis of the culture, Levy stressed the importance of reaching out to the uninformed.

“My goal is to speak to the people who don’t know,” she said. “I want to talk to the people wearing Playboy T-shirts, not women sitting in a room who already know all of this.”

Levy’s first job after graduating from Wesleyan was with Planned Parenthood, from which she was fired her after a week for her poor typing skills, she said. Shortly thereafter, she became a typist for “New York” magazine, where she said she seized opportunities to write.

“Do a story, show the editors, and if it’s good they run it,” she said. “Then you make the transition from slave to writer.”

Morgan Marshall ’07 said she was struck by Levy’s presentation and is now anxious to read the book.

“She was just raw with no pretensions, and she told it how it was, which was very persuasive,” Marshall said.

Others agreed and also commended Levy’s ability to acknowledge opposing views.

“It was interesting to hear what smart, empowered women are doing and to hear someone talk about this issue, expressing her viewpoint but knowing that there are exceptions,” Brynne Lieb ’07 said.

Levy recently appeared on “The Colbert Report,” which she said was an exciting experience.

“Nothing’s as hard as writing a book, except for planning a wedding,” she said. “And nothing’s as good as going to your own wedding, except for meeting Stephen Colbert.”

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