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Feminism and raunch culture

By Darlene Taylor - posted Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Three teenagers stood near a bus stop in suburban Brisbane with youthful awkwardness combined with clothes and make-up more suitable for women with loads of life experience. A car stopped at the red light and the eyes of the men inside turned to the youngsters and their tight pants, lipstick and hands-on-hips attempts at sexiness.

The girls waiting for the bus were confronted by sexual attention at a time when they should be coping with more innocent concerns such as getting good grades, playing sport and making friends.

While the men’s leering was rank enough, the fact that some parents let their daughters go out dressed provocatively and that some sections of society seem to feel children should be able to wear whatever they want is even more awful.


Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, a book released last year to varying responses from feminist commentators, argues women are so busy buying into commercialised ideas of what is alluring that they are disconnected from their own desires. When it comes to youngsters, it seems some of them are trying to present an image of sexiness before sex is on their minds.

One of Levy’s adolescent subjects came out with the following comment about her mother’s attitude to her choice of attire:

(She) doesn’t really care how sexy we are. She was really involved in the women’s movement, so she thinks whatever you do to feel secure and confident is fine.

Levy discusses a variety of factors promoting the rise of “raunch culture” including the advertising industry, clothing manufacturers and the misogynists who dominate the fashion industry. How unsurprising it was to read that a major children’s label manufactures thong knickers for girls, complete with suggestive comments on them.

The current obsession with celebrities such as that constant staple of women’s magazines, and role model for vacuous adults and the insecure, Paris Hilton, also come in for a bucketing in Levy’s work.

At a forum that was held in Melbourne about Levy’s book in late 2005, scant reference was made to the role feminism and post-modernism have played in girl’s certainty that dressing in overly sexual ways is unproblematic.


When readers think of the women’s rights movement, activists like University of Melbourne lecturer, Sheila Jeffreys, might come to mind or the late anti-pornography activist, Andrea Dworkin.

Jeffreys and other radicals can hardly be accused of promoting a style of presentation that would entice blokes, but they are guilty of assuming women bear no responsibility for unwanted advances made due to the donning of revealing garb. After all, feminism should be about equal rights and equal responsibilities.

For the vast majority of women who want to be attractive to the opposite sex without resorting to sleaze, listening to extremists like Jeffreys claim all heterosexual sex is rape is probably excuse enough to put on a miniskirt and a pair of stilettos in defiance. Despite the fact that rebelling against ideological dinosaurs like Jeffreys is understandable, women who do so should be aware of the messages they are sending to teens.

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About the Author

Darlene Taylor writes for the popular group blog, Larvatus Prodeo.

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