Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Female Chauvinist Pigs Verses One Very Smart Cookie

Eleven days ago I finished an interesting and entertaining book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, by Ariel Levy.  I enjoyed the book.  Levy is an excellent writer and I thought she brought up some good points.  But I found Levy’s pessimistic assessment of the state of modern feminism to be rather heartbreaking. 

Then I read an article in the New Yorker about Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and I found an element of optimism from a woman who I consider to be one very smart cookie. You can read the article on Sandberg here on The New Yorker’s open website: 

The New Yorker, July 11, 2011. A Woman’s Place, Ken Auletta.

 Frankly, I am confused.  For the past week or so this book and article have been flying around in my mind.  My fingers are itching to write a post.  They want to fly effortlessly over the keyboard while my mind expounds one profound thought after another—pull away the veil and record a glorious truth on this issue.  This is the way it is!   But the task evades me.  I have tried to sit down several times and write a sensible post.  I am blocked.  Part is fear...writing about feminism is not for the feint hearted especially when you are a male.  Some of it is the feeling that I am totally removed from what the rest of humanity believes…if men are from Mars and women from Venus...I must be from Neptune because my beliefs don’t seem to fit into the cacophony of screeching about truths that I have read recently.  Some of it is because I am a blue collar slob who does not have a fancy liberal education.  But most of it is just plain confusion.  What is a reasonable stand on feminism today?  This question is at the heart of this swirling maelstrom of ideas, facts, and truths that are flying around in my head. 

So let’s take a quick look at what Ariel Levy finds troubling with modern feminism.  Levy became concerned that modern women are embracing what she calls an excessive “raunch culture”.  Women today are often enamored with facets of western culture that were at one time considered sexist: strippers, porn stars, Playboy culture, excessively revealing clothing, and the jiggling T&A culture of television.  She also expresses dismay that so many women are involved in the promotion of this “raunch culture”.   So what exactly is a Female Chauvinist Pig?  Well according to Levy:

"What was almost more surprising than the change itself were the responses I got when I started interviewing the men and — often — women who edit magazines like Maxim and make programs like The Man Show and Girls Gone Wild. This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We’d earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture, where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves."
 Levy, Ariel (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs (pp. 3-4). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
Levy travels with the filming crew of Girls Gone Wild and watches main stream college girls bare it all for essentially a baseball cap. She interviews various women who are involved with the promotion of the raunch culture.  She explores the “bois” lesbian culture.  She mentions the one way oral sex craze.  She mentions that breast augmentations increased by 700% from 1992 to 2004.  She mentions cosmetic vaginoplasty. She also provides a short history of feminism since the mid 60s.   There were a number of fascinating subjects in the book but here are a few that resonated with me. 

Levy has a chat with Erica Jong, the grand dame of the "zipless f---"

I had occasion to talk to Erica Jong, one of the most famous sex-positive feminists — “one of the most interviewed people in the world,” as she’s put it — on the thirtieth anniversary of her novel Fear of Flying. “I was standing in the shower the other day, picking up my shampoo,” she said. “It’s called ‘Dumb Blonde.’ I thought, Thirty years ago you could not have sold this. I think we have lost consciousness of the way our culture demeans women.” She was quick to tell me that she “wouldn’t pass a law against the product or call the PC police.” But, she said, “let’s not kid ourselves that this is liberation. The women who buy the idea that flaunting your breasts in sequins is power — I mean, I’m for all that stuff — but let’s not get so into the tits and ass that we don’t notice how far we haven’t come. Let’s not confuse that with real power. I don’t like to see women fooled.”
Levy, Ariel (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs (pp. 75-76). Free Press. Kindle Edition. 

In her history of feminism she speaks of Susan Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will, Men, Women and Rape.

“Brownmiller argued that rape was not just an isolated crime like robbery or murder, but a systematic process of demoralization. Of course, we now accept as fact that rape is a grim tactic used in war, or by repressive regimes bent on breaking and subjugating their own people. But Brownmiller went much further. As always, she was working from an emphatic, unwavering conviction: Rape was “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Rapists were merely the “front-line masculine shock troops” in the war against women, the “terrorist guerrillas in the longest sustained battle the world has ever known.” And pornography was the “undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda” that fed them. “
 Levy, Ariel (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs (pp. 61-62). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

This is a rather unfortunate assessment that I believe is half true. Women fear rape, and rightfully so. But to suggest that rape is a “conscious process” by which half of humanity intimidates the other half I believe is demeaning to our species. Yeah that’s right our species—our humanity both men and women. Women and men are the same species, we are not from Venus and Mars. We are all from Earth.  If men are nothing than a vast collection of rapists, then women are knowingly mating with and raising rapists. Perhaps some kind alien super intelligence should wipe us out for our own good. I am sorry, but I don’t believe that statements like this have served feminism well.

An interesting topic to me because I have never heard of it was the “bois” lesbian culture.  Apparently there is a segment of lesbians which embrace the sexual tastes and methods of predatory young men.  Screw em and leave em.  The bois talk and handle themselves like cads who regard women as simply a plaything to be used for your momentary pleasure and then discarded for the next conquest.  In another instance of what seems to me to be an unhealthy acceptance of scalpels, some of these bois are getting double mastectomies to enhance their maleness!  They believe themselves to be transgendered. 

I believe that there are a small percentage of people who genuinely are born with the wrong body, a man trapped in woman’s body, or vice versa.  But, I believe this to be a small percentage, and I believe that such people have been aware of this situation since they were very small children.  I have read that some women are extremely fluid in their sexual preference over different periods of their life.  They can flow from being predominately heterosexual to bi-sexuality to lesbian and back.  Being a genuine transgender is not something that one is going to pick up hanging around a lesbian bar for a couple of years.  Yet some of these bois seem hell bent on surgically removing their breasts.  I can’t help but wonder what happens in five years when one decides that they are tired of the bois scene and the pendulum of sexual preference swings back to where this individual may want to express herself as woman.  I find this disregard for one's natural body to be incredible.

Another thing that I found interesting was the notion of sexual preference within lesbianism.  The bois are “heterosexual lesbians.”  They are male like and pursue feminine women called fems.  Some lesbians are like gay males, dykes preferring dykes, and some are fems that pursue fems.  I wonder if there are similar demarcations in gay males? You can find out more about the bois culture in an article that Levi wrote for New York magazine. This article is very similar to the chapter on bois culture:

I think the aspect of Female Chauvinist Pigs that I found discouraging and heartbreaking is that many of these women want to work like man and screw like a man, rather than embracing an ethic that promotes true feminine power.  Levy also found that many of the women who embraced the bimbo chic did so for acceptance, not because the genuinely felt way.  Many women seem to believe that they only way they can be beautiful is to look and behave like a porn star.  I find this to be heart breaking.  To me a naturally proportioned woman is very beautiful and quite enticing without any help from breast augmentations, vaginoplasties, or skanky clothes.  Sorry but I like women to look like women, not huge busted cartoons...then again, remember I am from Neptune.

So what of the article in The New Yorker, The New Yorker, July 11, 2011. A Woman’s Place, Ken Auletta.
Sheryl Sandburg

What did I find a cause for optimism? 

The article is a profile of Sheryl Sandberg’s rise through government, then Google, and then on to Facebook.  There is nothing incredibly unusual about Sandberg’s success.  She is obviously talented and a very competent manager.  But what I find encouraging about her is that she accomplished her career as a woman, not as a woman playing a man’s role with men's rules.  She also has a burning desire to see other women to succeed as women. 

The article does present some criticisms of Sandberg.  She is not on Facebook’s board of directors and does not seem to demand that she been given a place.  She has been criticized for underestimating the power of the power of the good old boys network, that she believes that corporate America is more of a meritocracy than is actually the case. The article also brings up a disturbing facet that I have not thought about.  Sandberg was very fortunate to have been sponsored.  Sponsoring is where a senior executive takes an interest in a person, takes them under their wing, mentors them, and then opens doors and whispers in the ears of the leaders “here is a mover and a shaker”.  The article points out that two thirds of the male senior executives and one half of the junior women feel uncomfortable with a male senior executive sponsoring a female junior executive. 

“Sponsorship, which often involves an older, married male spending one-on-one time, often off site and after hours, with a younger, unmarried female, can look like an affair; and the greater the power disparity between the male and the female, the more intense the speculation becomes that the relationship is more than professional. If the woman is subsequently promoted, her achievement will be undermined by office gossip that she earned it illicitly."

What a terribly unfair situation, and yet when you think about it,  how very predictable and understandable the situation is.  How many times have you heard the phrase "Well she slept her way to the top."         

So what is it that I find optimistic about Sandberg?  I believe that she has a clear eyed understanding of what it takes for women to rise to the top of the corporate world and she is doing something about it. She is concerned with the women that report to her.  She runs mentoring groups in her home for Facebook executives.  She give speeches that encourage women to succeed.  You can hear her TED speech and the 2011 Barnard College commencement speech at the links below. 

In those speeches, Sandburg recommends to women to “sit at the table” and to “lean in” to their careers.  Do not hang back and let others dictate the progression of one's career.  She tells women to take credit for their accomplishments.  Men consider their success attributal to the fact that they are awesome..  Women too often attribute their success to lucky breaks, or considerable help from others, or that they worked real hard.  Sandberg advises women to consider themselves equally awesome.  Another Sandberg saying is "to not leave before you leave".  She states that many women put a damper on their own careers by worrying about having children long before the event.  Sandberg recommends keeping one’s foot on the gas until you leave not before.  Take the promotions, the added responsibility, do what you can do to advance your career.  Don't hold back because you may have a child one day.  When you leave to have a child then consider whether you want to return to work or not.   She also advised women to choose carefully their life partner.  Women should choose a person who will share both the home responsibilities and the work responsibilities.   To often the burden of child care and house work falls exclusively on the woman and it makes pursuing a career more difficult. 

Being a man I found the world of feminism that Levy described to be very confusing...feminism, post feminism, sex positive feminism.  So what would I want for my daughter?

I would very much want my daughter to inherit a world where women matter.  Where their minds are more valuable than their bodies but they can accept their bodies as they are, revel in their natural beauty and not have to pursue the physical attributes of a bimbo.  In short,  I would much rather that my daughter listen to Sheryl Sandberg’s version of feminism than Paris Hilton’s.  

Here are videos of Sheryl Sandbergs, speeches.  Both are similar in content.  The Barnard speech is about 20 minutes long, and the TED speech is about 15 minute long.  Both speeches are nothing short of excellent in my opinion.    


  1. Donna said...

    A blue collar slob? I think not, Henry.

    As for feminism, I think all the confusion, hand-wringing and conflicting views are to be expected. After all, feminism is a very new concept, relatively speaking. For eons, women have been subjugated by men, and all of the institutions created by men-- most notably organized religion. It's been a matter of faith, from Old Testament times to the present (see Islam, orthodox Judaism and certain branches of fundamentalist Christianity) that women are inferior physically, spiritually, and intellectually to men. Science, until recently, has backed this up.

    So what are we newly liberated women to do as we test the waters of our newfound freedom? Lots of strange, nonsensical stuff, I guess. After all, we're as diverse a group as men and probably just as goofy, taken as a whole.

    Change, of course, is serious business. And early feminists, out of necessity, had to be very serious about their cause. Many, unfortunately, may have lacked a sense of humor-- and a sense of fun. The same can probably be said about some of the movement's modern day successors.

    But I say give this newfangled concept of equality a hundred years-- or maybe a thousand-- and we'll have the whole thing figured out. In the meantime, I vote for tolerance.

  2. Donna,

    Excellent comment! You are absolutely correct in your analysis of the relative time period that feminism has had to effect a change. So indeed, one could expect some bumps in the road. Also when you consider the magnitude of change that has had to occur, in some ways it is remarkable that we have come as far as we have. The layers of time graphic from the Long comes to mind.

    Where does feminism fall on that graphic? If you think about it nature certainly hasn't been fair to women. Women pay a huge price for our intelligence. Nine months of pregnancy, extremely difficult births, four years of rearing a helpless child, another six years of raising a very needy and demanding child, and another decade of the teens which makes those helpless years look grand in comparison. It would be wonderful to have a helper in that situation, but nature hasn't been very kind to women in that regard. Fathers can and do walk away. Women can't.

    When you look at each of those layers of time, there is a element of sexism built into each and everyone that will take some time to show progress.

    You mention religion, one of my other followers, the Old Baguette, is locked into a battle with the Catholic Church over issues of feminism, gay tolerance, and the old boys pointy hat club. We have discusses several times on her blog how the church would benefit from ordination of women and the removal of celibacy requirements. You might enjoy some of her blog entries:

    She has been absent with an injured finger. I should email her and shame her back to her blog. In any event, I believe you two would get along rather splendidly.

    Looking into the future, hopefully we can see real additional progress well before 100 years, (a figure the Old Baguette thinks that it take for the Catholic Church to get their nose out of the marital bedroom). I am hoping that the generation that is moving into the world right now, my son's generation will complete the work that yet needs to be done for full gender equality, not just for the upper echelon of the worlds of business and government leaders such as Sandberg's world, but for the regular folks like us--what I think of as the dung encrusted masses. I find it just as important that women engineers and women in the skilled and unskilled labor force are being afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts, as the likes of Sheryl Sandberg breaking through the glass ceiling. Yes it will be a good thing when there is equal opportunity at the top, but there are so many more of us in the lower rungs of the world.

    Well as I said above I found Sandberg's speeches to be the cause for optimism...but I hope that it is an optimism that flows down to the graduates of the local community college as well as for the graduates of Barnard.

    Thank you for your insightful comment. It certainly gives me something to think about and raises my hopes that some day humanity will benefit from the intellectual power of the full species rather than just the testosterone soaked half. (But as a man, I also hope that the GPS systems break down often enough, that you women will keep us around to read a map...sorry I couldn't resist).

    Thanks again for your comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide a good comment.

  3. Ah, yes. As a directionally impaired person of the feminine persuasion, I do appreciate a good pathfinder-- although, I must admit that my husband can get lost as easily as me, and he doesn't like to ask for directions. But he does come in very handy for other things. Like killing bugs.

    I think it's a very good thing that men and women, generally speaking, are different in so many ways.

    Equality, to me, means have equal opportunities to do or try whatever we're capable of doing or trying as individuals.

    I love your blog, Henry. Very thought-provoking.

  4. Donna,

    Thank you for the kind comment.

    We do have a problem with that question thing. I would much rather drive 40 miles out of my way, than to stop and ask directions!

    I have a standard story I use about the capabilities of the sexes.

    If I am laying on the 5th floor of burning building unconscious from smoke inhalation, I hope there is a burly man with broad shoulders on the extension ladder outside the window. If, however, I need brain surgery, I would prefer a woman surgeon for two reasons 1) the better fine motor control of the hand yielding the scalpel. 2) nothing clanging around in between her legs urging her on to a more macho slice with that scalpel. Big and macho is great for fires. Slow, deliberate, and patient is lovely for brain surgeries.

    Again thanks for your comments, and double thanks for the kindness of your comments.

  5. Donna,

    Speaking of testosterone, you may enjoy my post of the same name:

    Three women whip my ass, and don't even know it.