Sex and the stupid girl
Liz Funk on the explosion of Americas raunch culture
It is one o'clock in Times Square, New York city. Magazine publishers, returning from business lunches, are hustling back to their skyscraper offices. Street vendors are selling everything from knock-off handbags to hot dogs. Tourists stroll down the sidewalks, snapping pictures of the taxis, the occasional passing celebrity, and the Broadway marquees. There is sex everywhere. Billboards lining the sky tout bare-chested models lackadaisically crossing their arms and young teens in barely-there dresses. There are sultry ads of thick-lipped and sparsely clothed models on buses. Famous singers like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilara, and Pussycat Dolls gyrate to provocative music on a giant TV across a building. Pornography is sold at the corner newsstands; ads for strip clubs litter the sidewalks.
Sadly, this goes on in virtually every American city with a sizable population. Despite the fact that hyper-conservative religious zealots dominate the American image abroad, American society is saturated with sex. A new genre of young adult fiction has emerged: erotica for young teens. Most of these books are series with many risqué installments, with titles like Gossip Girls, A-List, and Clique (they depict young teens having sex in department store dressing rooms, in hot tubs, in movie theatres, and behind statues in New York's Museum of Modern Art). Increasingly TV shows like Summerland, The OC, and the Real World broadcast images of young people engaging in sexual activities. This sexual content prompted a University of North Carolina study that found that teens who watch sexual content on TV are 2.2 times more likely to lose their virginity between the ages of 14 and 16. The Internet makes pornography available within seconds especially to those not old enough to buy it in the store and prostitutes and strippers have the ease of using the Internet to more discreetly promote their services.
Ariel Levy, a prominent journalist and feminist author, coined the term 'raunch culture', when she revealed the deleterious effects that the hyper-sexualisation of American society has on women's progress in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (The Free Press, 2005).
This raunch culture has the greatest effect on young women. The most visible consequence is the narrowing of standards of beauty for young women. Rates of eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, and body image issues are on the rise among young women, given that the glitzy sexual images projected by the mainstream media depict very uniform images of women as thin, large-breasted, and 'perfect'.
The presence of this raunch is also making it very difficult for women to forge equality-based relationships with men. Some young women report that they are experiencing difficulty finding a boyfriend who respects them. American young men are developing demeaning ideas about real women from 'fantasy women' in the media. Coupled with the strangling of women's legal rights by the right wing, it's feminists' worst nightmare. When Barbie meets Pat Robertson, the result is bound to be ugly.
Another effect of hyper-sexualised America is the rise of the 'stupid girl'. Feigning stupidity has been the latest trend for teen girls to gain acceptance in popular culture. The most famous celebrities in the American media are the company heiresses, actresses, and models who grace the covers of tabloids for their drunken antics, sex scandals, and grammatically-incorrect catch phrases.
However, it's not all dumb girls. There has been a push for girls to be intellectually sound, and also participate in these gaudy showings of sexual prowess. Yale , one of the nation's top universities, hosts a biennial 'Sex Week', where students are taught how to lap dance and learn about sex work from porn stars. The University of California at Los Angeles, another competitive school, has a campus chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), an organization of sex workers working to destigmatise and decriminalise prostitution. Duke University is now one of the most infamous schools in the country, after members of their raucous men's lacrosse team were accused of raping a stripper at a party. When Rolling Stone ran an article on the school's hyper-intellectual, but casual sex and stripper-obsessed student body this June, Duke became the paradigm of the effect of raunch culture on Generation Y.
Although the majority of objectification is of women, emerging trends promote the commodification of men. A popular tee shirt worn by girls reads 'Boys Will Be Toys'; rates of the sexual harassment of men by women are rising; and violent pornography featuring women exercising dominance over men is being pegged as an integral piece of 'women's empowerment'. Unfortunately, this reversal of sexism is not the solution; it is an arguably lazy, 'if you can't beat them, join them' counter to misogyny with misandry. One could argue that raunch finally makes the sexes equal but 'equally exploited' is not something for which members of a functional society should strive.
Few national women's interest groups have taken action against raunch culture; the U.S. war on reproductive rights requires virtually all the energy of progressive organizations. Thus, feminists have been taking a 'grassroots' approach: protesting MTV, a teen television network that often depicts women as sexual objects; organizing boycotts of companies that demean women in their advertising; and writing to magazine editors to express distaste at editorial content that perpetuates 'sexploitation'.
Ending raunch culture will take more than protests, petitions, and boycotts. Ending raunch culture will require citizens to scrutinise the way they regard gender. Objectification is rooted in disrespect, condescending views of the opposite gender, and power struggles. When men realise that they have the capability to fundamentally respect women, and women realise that they have the power to present themselves as empowered, fully capable people, raunch culture may moan its last and final faked orgasm.