Smart Girls in a Sexy World

No wonder, then, that Levy was so startled to see the hedonism happening on Florida's beaches that she neglected to look to at the big picture.

It's true that some women on spring break will flash the entire Western world at the drop of a hat -- as in the case of "Girls Gone Wild, which gives its amateur stars hats or T-shirts after they've bared all. But it's also true that they're often ridiculed by peers who keep their tops down and their bikini bottoms up.

California native Stephanie Kwai has gone to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and the Bahamas for spring break.

"If your motive is to find girls who'll flash everybody, you can find them," she said.

At the same time, she explains, these women do not represent all coeds.

"I don't believe that everybody is going to go out there and flash people and have sex with the next person they see," she said. "A huge majority of people just go to have fun."

As for wet T-shirt contests and other woman versus woman spectacles, Kwai's not impressed.

"It's kind of amusing, but it's also kind of gross," she said.

Cultural Calamity or Variety?

Levy suggests no alternative to the reign of raunch culture. She leaves readers with the impression that if women don't wake up, put on some real panties and cover up their cleavage, the advances of the feminist movement will go to pieces.

Is the situation really so dire?

Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union and a prominent feminist advocate, said it's not. According to Strossen, the proliferation of pornography and pornolike images isn't necessarily bad.

"What someone sees as a disgusting, demeaning image, someone else might see as an empowering image," she said. "There's even pornography that's made for women by women, or at least that's the intent."

Strossen points out that numerous attempts by social scientists to find a connection between porn and damaging attitudes toward women have fallen flat. "Using empirical measures, nobody has been able to demonstrate even a correlation between pornography and negative effects," she said.

As for the argument that women who see porn could become more sexually overt themselves, Strossen said, "That kind of 'monkey-see-monkey-do' world view completely denies human autonomy."

Bob Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, said overtly sexual depictions of women are only dangerous when nothing exists to counter them.

"These images are only a real problem when they're not diluted by other images. ... You've got a whole bunch of different representations of women right now that are all over the board," Thompson said.

While pop culture provides plenty of wet, writhing women with come-hither stares, it also offers alternatives.

"I think Daria was one of the more interesting mainstream television characters to come along in a long time," Thompson said.

"Daria," MTV's 1990s animated series about a smart, sarcastic, drably dressed girl with an aversion to the popular clique, proved that blond cheerleaders weren't the only girls on TV worth watching.

More recently, some women's magazines have shown they're above surgically enhanced cover girls and the how-to-please-your-man-in-100 ways genre of advice.

This past summer, Marie Claire magazine chided recent cover girl Ashlee Simpson for getting a nose job after she told the magazine how much she appreciated the looks God gave her.

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