Monday, August 20, 2007

Close Reading: Shameful Sex Edition

I have to admit, Laura Kipnis' review in Harper's (which sadly, isn't available online yet) of Intercourse, Girls Gone Mild, and Unhooked made me laugh out loud a couple of times. She says,
The literature of bad sex is rather extensive, (as is bad writing about sex, though these aren't necessarily the same thing) ...

Not hooking up these days sounds like trying to unionize in a right-to-work state -- if everyone else is selling it cheaper, how's a higher-priced girl going to stay in the market? ...

But if feminism is the problem, obviously some other solution is required, and the solution is -- drumroll, please -- men: finding a man to love and marry you. This is presented as a new idea.
She spent a majority of the review talking about Andrea Dworkin's radical work, Intercourse, which she describes as hateful of both men and sex. But I have to agree with Kipnis, given a choice of the three works, at least Dworkin's is founded in a genuine actualization of male domination, even if it's extremely unlikely that the female population will just give up sex as a whole altogether. Laura Sessions Stepp and Wendy Shalit in the their works, Unhooked and Girls Gone Mild, respectively, find the grand prize for rejecting "raunch culture" as Ariel Levy dubbed it in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, marriage. I find this argument hard to swallow. Although Linda Hirshman's work can sometimes be viewed as an extreme, I think she has a lot of good points about the kinds of sacrifices that women are expected to make within the context of marriage. Even if women are being encouraged to "be good" I have high doubts that they will find fulfillment through the institution of marriage alone.

What Kipnis doesn't address is the double standard that these books advocate. I often tire of books that shame women for buying into the culture of FHM and Girls Gone Wild but fail to shame men for the same behavior. It's as if they think that men are beyond the capability of holding themselves to anything other than such lust-driven cultural products. Women, apparently, are only buying into it for men and really just want to be cuddled. I'm uncomfortable with making such proclamations, as I think most other feminists are.

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