Friday, August 04, 2006
FCPS: A fixation of Neo Puritans?
Recently the Guardian chaired a debate over the publication of a work entitled ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ by Ariel Levy. The book’s topic is a phenomenon known as ‘raunch culture’. Its main premise seems to be that women are complicit in their own oppression by dressing in a sexually provocative manner, taking part in lap dancing or joining men in the viewing of strippers. It also bemoans ‘raunch’ as being the only model of sexuality promoted by mass culture.
There is no consensus on what actually constitutes ‘raunch’, so in many ways it is a bit of a straw man (or woman). But going by the rhetoric it may be fair to say that the sexuality displayed by Paris Hilton, or Katie Price (aka glamour model Jordan) are both representations.
‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’, as is implied by its very title, asks very little of men but focusing it’s ire on women for buying into what it deems to be a male defined form of sexuality. So do it’s sympathisers in Britain.
Fighting a straw man is a convenient way to avoid confrontation with the establishment. As with the anti porn campaign of the 1980s by Catherine Mackinnon, Levy’s work has been praised by Christian Conservatives, whose other values would not sit well with the liberal audience Levy hopes to address.
‘Guardian’ columnists have taken up this banner and often berate women who don’t fit into this new code of conduct of sexual purity. It is the moralism of the Daily Telegraph or Mail with a liberal veneer.
For example, Katie Price has been sneered at for ‘making a career out of men’s masturbatory habits’ in Jenny Colgan’s ‘View from a Broad’ Column. Even the women from the comedy show ‘Smack the Pony’ received the ire of Arabella Weir for daring to expose their breasts on television. Bare breasts simply should not be shown, as the sight of naked flesh constitutes ‘porn’ and inherently ‘objectifies’ women. So it seems the comedians were either too stupid to understand this or were knowingly betraying their own sex to the evils of the male gaze.
If it was to come out that Price/Jordan suffered from an addiction then no doubt the Guardian would cry tears of pity for her and outrage at those evil men who had exploited her. But women who take their clothes off for money with no shame incite the wrath of their self proclaimed redeemers. Human empathy can only be directed their way if they accept the victim label – ‘know their place’ by old fashioned standards. It is an item of dogma that women cannot engage in this kind of work unless they are under severe duress. The nuances of human behaviour are not important to those who buy into the black and white view that sex work is always forced. To admit it may just sometimes be a genuine career choice would both outrage their morality and blow their liberal cover. It would prove they really are more concerned with public morality rather than ‘exploitation’ or the vaguer buzzword of ‘objectification’. The underlying idea is that no decent human being would do such a thing voluntarily.
Katherine Viner, the playwright and editor of the Guardian ‘Weekend’ magazine, cheered on the government’s clampdown on prostitution early this year in the broadsheet while simultaneously ranting against prostitution’s alleged infiltration into the mainstream and its supposed loss of stigma. The law was not enough :
'We need a zero-tolerance approach - protests, complaints, refusals - to the use of prostitution in media, fashion and advertising, and to the promoters of the sex industry who pervade our public life.’
What Viner and her ilk are really concerned with is the indignity felt by ‘respectable’ women like herself at such brazen displays. The sentence could be an excerpt from Mary Whitehouse, the 1980s Christian campaigner against ‘immorality’ in the media. Viner’s sexual politics are a renewed hash of the good woman/bad woman myth promoted and sustained by a male elite.
Women are not oppressed by unequal pay, lack of access to childcare, flexible working and the devaluation of caring. It is porn that is the monster – and by implication sex workers themselves. The idea that prostitution has lost its stigma is pure fantasy on Viner’s part. Despite the pornographic symbolism in ‘raunch culture’ prostitution or for that matter prostitutes are not acceptable in polite society. Viner and her colleagues from the Mail will ensure this continues to be so.
There is little, if anything, progressive in this brand of sexual politics. Yet it is what dominates the mainstream. It is a reinvigoration of the censorious anti porn campaigns of the 1980s. Women who dress in a flamboyant manner, dye their hair etc are demonised by association as either being oppressed without their knowledge or actively betraying the female sex. On discussion forums regarding the issue they are often spoken of on the assumption they are absent – which implicitly shows the snobbery of their self proclaimed rescuers.
The promoters of this ideology rarely question their implicit snobbery and elitism. They write from a privileged background, showing no actual understanding towards working class cultures or people whose choices in life may not be as broad as their own. It is not a coincidence that women are patronised, infantilised and berated far more than men in the parallel fixation with binge drinking. Male sexuality is by this standard aggressive while females are passive. The masses, unless kept in line, will get uncontrollably intoxicated and unleash their untamed sexuality and offend the public morality of the middle classes. It is a conservative mentality that can be traced back to the Victorians.
People who focus their angst on sexuality rarely talk about economic issues. A connection between the pervasiveness of popular culture and the use of mass communication by the capitalist system as whole is rarely, if ever, discussed. They hope that sex can be the one area of sanctity uncontaminated by the market, a naïve view at best and a dangerous and reactionary one at worst.
There is an argument to be had that there is more to life than looking like Paris Hilton, and that females do sometimes collude in their own exploitation. Perhaps the selling of stationary with Playboy Bunny logos to children does show a disturbing trend in the marketplace. But this will not be remedied by creating a new code of conduct, one that will prove to be just as constricting. Part of it is the age old battle between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture – the former inevitably being of more worth and value. Women who do choose to flaunt their sexuality in the way the mainstream promotes are written off as being brainwashed – it does not seem to enter anyone’s mind that some may actually enjoy flaunting it.
The ‘liberal’ sexual morality police are far more insidious than their counterparts in the Mail who openly speak in terms of indecency or decadence.