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Raunch feminism - click opera
February 2010
 
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Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 10:05 am
Raunch feminism

I love sex and eroticism. But I don't love the lewd choreography of raunch, and I particularly don't like the current Western ideology that raunch is a form of empowerment. Ariel Levy, in her interesting new book Female Chauvinist Pigs, calls this ideology "raunch feminism":

"Our popular culture," says the New York Times, paraphrasing Levy, "has embraced a model of female sexuality that comes straight from pornography and strip clubs, in which the woman's job is to excite and titillate — to perform for men. According to Levy, women have bought into this by altering their bodies surgically and cosmetically, and—more insidiously—by confusing sexual power with power, so that embracing this caricaturish form of sexuality becomes, in their minds, a perverse kind of feminism."

When I think about the reasons I reject both raunch and the idea that raunch is a form of feminism, I have to admit that they relate to class. Raunch as choreography emerges from working class strip bars, cheap Western porn tapes, sexist rap videos. It confuses sex with the sex industry, and sexiness with pimping and whoring. It also confuses all sex with dick sex: its main move is the thrust, and its main facial expression the rock-guitar-solo "gurn". There's a whole other thesis in which I accuse raunch of being the rockism of sexuality, and rail once more against the cabaret of empowerment unleashed on the world by the "Chicks with Dicks", Peaches and her ilk. And there's the "moronic irony" line, in which I accuse raunch feminism of being a performance inside quotation marks in which ambivalence about the choreography of raunch is acted out, underwritten by the insurance policy of "oh, we're just being ironic". Moronic irony lets the other side win by allowing us to ape its moves without reaping its profits (which, in the case of the porn industry, are considerable).

My main objection (apart from the visceral aesthetic objection) to raunch feminism is this. Feminism as a project has two sides: the dismantling of patriarchy, and the empowerment of women. Raunch feminism proposes that women can be "empowered" without dismantling patriarchy... in fact, by embracing "the male gaze" entirely.

In an interview with Salon, Ariel Levy says: "In this new formulation of raunch feminism, stripping is as valuable to elevating womankind as gaining an education or supporting rape victims. Throwing a party where women grind against each other in their underwear while fully clothed men watch them is suddenly part of the same project as marching on Washington for reproductive rights."

If you want to see the ideology of raunch feminism—the idea that women can achieve empowerment without bothering to dismantle the male-centric values of patriarchy— in action, you just have to turn to an article in last week's Sunday Times. The article ran in the Style section which, from the URL, you'll notice the Sunday Times groups as a "women's interest" (presumably on the assumption that only men are reading the politics and economics sections of the paper). "Tokyo is still the most mind-melting city on the planet, but, as Jessica Brinton reports, its radical fashion, sexual bravura and cultural weirdness are finally beginning to liberate its women". And there we have it, the usual idiotic, cliched Western take on Japanese women. They are "behind" Western women, diminutive, cute, squeaky-voiced and "submissive" creatures who are only now beginning to catch up thanks to... well, thanks to raunch.

"Japan may be one of the most patriarchal, male-dominated countries in the world," says Brinton, "yet top of last year’s Japanese bestseller list was a novel by the young Japanese female writer Hitomi Kanehara, called Snakes and Earrings. The story was about a young girl obsessed with extreme body piercing, tattoos and violent S&M." The implication here is that being obsessed with self-injury is a radical blow against patriarchy rather than its internalisation, its utter penetration of a woman's mind and body.

Japan is conservative, says Brinton, "a country where females are still not allowed to ascend to the throne. The 1960s and its feminist revolution never happened there." Wow, so feminism was all about allowing every country to have its own Queen Elizabeth II! Who knew? Brinton continues with her catalogue of "feminist" developments in Japan: male hairdressers are now trained to flirt with their female customers! And there's something we might call 'equal-opportunity objectification' going on: "We all know about hostess bars, the men’s pleasure domes that hit the big time during the 1980s economic boom. Now there are host bars too, for Japan’s rich and independent-minded women."

Inevitably, the Sunday Times gets around to the old prostitution-as-empowerment line: "The Japanese are the mad professors of consumer desire, and Shibuya girls — female teenagers who treat this place like their playground — are the most brand-savvy of all. They congregate inside the auditory bedlam of the Shibuya department store 109. Or outside McDonald’s, where they occasionally pick up older men for a few hundred yen (the extra cash goes towards the latest Chanel handbag). Aggressive, self-empowered and sexy, they dress as they want — from orange tans, razor-sharp stilettoes and microskirts, through Victoriana to extreme punk with pink nail varnish — shop as they want, and behave exactly as they want."

Woooh! Yeaaaaaah! How much for thirty minutes? Raunch feminism, you rock!

88CommentReply


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 08:32 am (UTC)

I don't know at what point, by your argument, the acts of sex and the ideas of sexuality and gender (not to mention beauty) are capable of being liberated from the patriarchy.

Well, I think we have to start with the idea that men's way of running the world is not the ideal one, and that women might make a better job of it. That they might fight fewer wars, for instance.


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nickdoro
nickdoro
donnie dunzo
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 08:27 am (UTC)

yes, feminism seems to be quite confused now. there appears to be a re-assertion of more traditional gender roles: lad mags, paris hilton, and a general "raunchiness" in pop culture. this is not how men or women should be. it all seems terribly immature.


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theantisuck
theantisuck
Rachel!
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 05:38 pm (UTC)

youre mistaking pop culture for feminism. there is no one "feminism" and we're not "confused". its actually a huge debate among feminists; raunch vs. antiraunch, porn vs. antiporn. hop in we need men like you.


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deerscare
deerscare
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 08:37 am (UTC)

hey i agree with you here... when "raunch feminism" gets political (ie. highly sexed political slogans during election times such as "lick bush in 2004" etc.) my friend apropos refers to it as "Vagina Feminism". ive been noticing it as a gradually increasing trend since riot grrl times (like when kathleen hannah was into writing SLUT across her stotmach - it was much more aggressive and less male-gaze oriented but still highly centered around "reclaiming" sexuality in a way that glossed over or completely ignored certain problems with sex/the sex industry).

anyway, though i consider myself a feminist i've had difficulty relating to any specific movements, especially 3rd wave and onward (mainly because of this kind of thing).


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 08:49 am (UTC)

I think a lot comes down to this word "empowerment". It's a word which, like "reform" or "liberalisation", has come to mean precisely the opposite of what it originally meant.

Does empowerment mean tapping into a power that already exists, or devising a new form of power? In other words, does it involve conforming to the way things are, or preparing a future in which different values come to power?


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33mhz
33mhz
The Queen of Overdub Kisses
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 08:54 am (UTC)

Though Peaches is raunchy, it's not the safely and purely feminine sleaze of something like the suicide girls or Lil Kim. She strikes me as always having been much more about genderfucking than just plain fucking.

In her "Fuck the Pain Away" video, she's slowly overtaken by her own bodyhair, and she follows up on this by appearing on the cover of her second album wearing a black singlet and a shaggy beard. Though she still might be a sex object, she's certainly not the object of normative sexual desire.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 09:07 am (UTC)

No, she's taken raunch feminism to its logical conclusion, which is that women become men without dicks.


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dixie_flatline
dixie_flatline
Konstantin Anikin
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 08:55 am (UTC)
:)))


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 09:25 am (UTC)

I particularly love this bit of the Sunday Times article:

outside McDonald’s... they occasionally pick up older men for a few hundred yen (the extra cash goes towards the latest Chanel handbag)

A few hundred yen? You mean, up to a thousand? As much as ten dollars? And a Chanel handbag costs... well, you're the Sunday Times, you tell me.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 09:51 am (UTC)

I honestly don't think that parenting can do much about media memes that will infect your child. Unless you live in a Shaker village, you'll tend to pay more attention to the media than your parents from the age of... ooh, 4?


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ghostinthephoto
ghostinthephoto
Jimmy Jazz
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 09:55 am (UTC)

I feel sick when I hear people call things like suicide girls feminism. Feminism can only be achieved when females become more powerful in intellectual fields and not just the arts but in the sciences as well, if you want to see feminism rise look to the schools not pop culture. Although you could very well dived the social structure into two clear classes the educated and the non educated. Feminism could grow very powerful in one and be void in the other. As well as the economic class divide. Like most social movements feminism may gain respect in some classes and be perverted in others.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 10:27 am (UTC)
Re: Moronic Irony = Morony

Here's a nice article about poledancing as excercise trend in the UK.


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33mhz
33mhz
The Queen of Overdub Kisses
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 11:01 am (UTC)

It's hard for me to hate on "raunch feminism" too much, because it strikes me as a symptom of transitioning from a cultural state in which female sexuality was strictly and externally regulated to a state of full sexual autonomy. Although this move is not guaranteed or irreversable, I hope that some day women can go about being sluts or mothers, both or neither, without having to assure anyone that they aren't going to destroy society with their sexual expression or lack of it.


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Fri, Oct. 28th, 2005 03:16 am (UTC)

Yes, but your thinking seems less dominated by the things you find ugly.


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d_g_m
Insert
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 11:54 am (UTC)

Don't the Japanese support institutions for sexuality that are seperate from an individuals role in society which make it incomparable to the Western construct because the cause of oppression isn't apparent?


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jina___
jina
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 12:12 pm (UTC)

This is a very interesting but really difficult to discuss subject.
Let's just say that humanity goes through a phase, where sex and women are in a really weird and complicated thesis.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Nov. 4th, 2005 08:19 am (UTC)

How long should we wait?


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cheapopulance
cheapopulance
cheapopulence
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 12:40 pm (UTC)
sounds familiar

this discussion reminded me of an article on lads magazines in the guardian weekend magazine. http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,1596384,00.html
i'm not much of a feminist. i thought it was a historic or acedemic term that is confused with sexual revolution. i thought humanism was a better declaration of intent for myself. this raunch stuff seems awfully convienient for peddlers of smut.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 01:49 pm (UTC)
Ironic Machismo

I'll wait till Ironic Machismo is in vogue, so I can abuse my wife and neglect my children with a wink in my eye (see? I'm being ironic!)

Oh wait, that already happens right?


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a_silence_song
a_silence_song
A Silence Song
Wed, Oct. 26th, 2005 02:36 pm (UTC)

You've put in words what I have been thinking for years. amazing . thanks! :)


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