Review: Female Chauvinist Pig – Ariel Levy (Free Press, 2005)

I was going to write a long, formal magazine review Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvist Pigs” for it’s nearly decade anniversary.  After reading the book, I decided against it because my critique will be that Levy didn’t write the book I wanted her to write and this is a lame critique for a long form review.  The book begins lays out an argument in the first three chapters about the inversion of radical feminism in the 1980s, but doesn’t fully articulate it because it shies away from using too much radical feminist or Marxist language or analysis–instead it insists on a liberal journalism style of half-anecdote and half-interview.  Particularly, in the second chapter, Levy seems to want to lay out an argument for what when wrong in the 70s, and the Marxian and radical feminist language keeps being left in the text like lipstick traces on a collar: the normal liberal complain about the insights that Dworkin made and how she went too far is laid out, but not why Dworkin went too far. Levy doesn’t seem to know the problems of the larger left-wing movement of the period and how those feminists of the second-wave went from being key-theorists within the left to flailing around for allies even in the far right to fight pornography apologetic   This historical context would be an entire book on its own, and a bit of cultural pathology of the 1970s radical mileau that would have to be explored in more material history than reporting originally done for New York magazine in the highly readable style of “new” journalism would can allow. Levy’s impact is to put that debate back into the liberal consciousness, but her implied critique of the situation in the 1970s that led to the kind “empowerment” dialogue of the 1980s and 1990s remains just implied while the reaction against feminism by many involved is explored.  This seems to be treating the symptoms rather than the disease.

The last three chapters seem to be only tangentially related–one on the misogyny of San Fransisco Boi’s in the 2000’s, and another on high school sexuality and the failure of abstinence education during the Bush years that could have been written by anyone at the Atlantic.   So these parts  read like a book with magazine pieces sutured in, and when I read the notes they were.   There was nothing particularly objectionable to these sections but instead of going deeper into the roots of the problem, just more  symptoms are pointed out.  While the “raunch culture” Levy describes may have died-down a bit, the aping of stereotypes of male and female values have not and the neo-liberalization of feminist rhetoric continues.  This book seems to indicate that Levy would have a lot to say on that, but more pathological work is needed.  This book isn’t in the genre for that to possible within its pages.

For what the book actually does,  popularizing a problem that seemed be treated as a dinosaur’s debate in the late 90s and early 2000s, Levy’s book is excellent. The events are real and implied, although even though it is only eight years old, actually feels surprisingly dated now.  I just saw a pathological critique implied about how the problem emerged hidden in the pages of Levy’s book, but the structure and format of popular non-fiction long-form journalism didn’t enable it to come out.

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