Smart Girls in a Sexy World

Ariel Levy might argue that the scariest sight this Halloween isn't to be seen in a haunted house or a horror movie.

Rather, it's to be found in costume stores across the country, where normally modest women shop for Halloween outfits with the philosophy "the smaller, the tighter, the better."

Levy's 2005 book, "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture," explores the social trend exemplified by all those Playboy Bunnies, sexy stewardesses and hot nurses you'll see on Halloween -- women who embrace the idea that sex equals power and who thrive in a society that continually encourages them to exploit their sexuality for fun and profit.

"Female Chauvinist Pigs," just out in paperback, is only a year old but it already reads a little like ancient history.

Sure, some girls just want to have fun. But more and more, younger women realize that exposing cleavage and flaunting booty is not mandatory -- it's a choice. They're comfortable with not conforming to the cookie-cutter concept of beauty. Women have learned that they can use brains, beauty or a combination of both to thrive in this culture of sex.

Get a Push-Up Bra or Get Out

Levy argues that pornography and plastic surgery have so invaded pop culture that Americans expect women to ramp up their sexuality at all times.

"Because we have determined that all empowered women must be overtly and publicly sexual, and because the only sign of sexuality we seem to be able to recognize is a direct allusion to red-light entertainment, we have laced the sleazy energy and aesthetic of a topless club or a Penthouse shoot throughout our entire culture," she writes.

Flashing for the cameras of "Girls Gone Wild," sleeping with dozens of men, wearing thong underwear, idolizing "Sex and the City," refuting the "girly-girl" stereotype: according to Levy, these are ways in which women have fooled themselves into thinking sex equals empowerment.

In reality, she says, this breed of feminists are just female chauvinist pigs, or FCPs.

Explaining the FCP mind-set, Levy writes, "The FCP asks: Why throw your boyfriend's Playboy in a ... trash can when you could be partying at the Mansion? Why worry about disgusting or degrading when you could be giving -- or getting -- a lap dance yourself? Why try to beat them when you can join them?"

According to Levy, the more women buy into pop culture's objectification of them, the more they morph into living, breathing equivalents of a blow-up doll. Like strippers twirling endlessly around a pole, it's a vicious cycle. And if women refuse to spin, they may as well opt out of sex altogether.

She writes, "The only alternative to enjoying Playboy (or flashing for "Girls Gone Wild" or getting implants or reading [porn star] Jenna Jameson's memoir) is being 'uncomfortable' with and 'embarrassed' about your sexuality."

Focusing on the Extreme

Some critics say that the many depictions of overtly sexual women make "Female Chauvinist Pigs" unbalanced. Take Levy's "expose" of spring break, which stars topless girls and the friends who spank them for the benefit of "Girls Gone Wild" and hoards of onlookers.

The author admits she was shocked by how college coeds spent their time on spring break in Miami. Although she graduated from college not long ago, Levy had never been on a raucous college getaway before she started researching "Female Chauvinist Pigs."

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