I had stuck the new Yo La Tengo CD in my sweatshirt pocket, or at least I thought I had, until I opened it at the end of the block and learned the actual CD, the part with the music on it, was back on the turntable at home. So I switched on NPR in time for Terry Gross to tell me her guest would be our old friend Ariel Levy, the author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, now in paperback. For someone whose ideas are so ill-formed, Levy is remarkably poorly-spoken. That may be unfair; she was extemporizing on radio, after all, and it's not her medium. Still, as if the early holiday shopping traffic wasn't maddening enough (following two rush-hour-esque trips downtown and back) Levy has her lubricated and latex-safe finger poised just close enough to the rim of truth to be excruciating without any promise of a payoff. People's Exhibit A:
When I was doing this research I was constantly struck by all (the accomplishments of feminism) that I take for granted.
We've sort of reduced [sex] down to implants, polyester underpants*, and Brazilian bikini waxes, all these things that can be bought and sold. And it strikes me that once you make sex not about weird complicated things and you make it about that...stuff...then it's just another thing to buy and sell.
Well, yes, if I can put it so simply. Is there any possibility we can start connecting the dots sometime in the near future?
Let us take the first comment first. I do not and cannot understand this. Levy is in her early 30s. She buttressed that comment with a note that pre-feminism women could not get checking accounts without a husband or father co-signing, let alone access to safe and legal contraception or abortions. She says this as though we are to accept it as the most natural thing in the world that any thirty-year-old would be completely ignorant of the world as it existed fifteen years before her birth without a specialized course of study. Someone my height and coloring might suggest that this is, instead, a measure of the sheer lack of intellectual curiosity in American life, and if we need some way to understand Wildness and the Girls Who Go There it would be a more fruitful place to start.
Let us pause for a couple pieces of salient information. Levy describes her parents as 60s vintage boho feminists, which makes her former cluelessness about the entire history of her own gender in her own country prior to her own giving a shit that much more mysterious. The second is her admission that she sees "raunch culture" as a reaction to the "PC tightness that was big in the 80s and early 90s".
So I'm listening to this, and it's really difficult to decide what qualifies as Thought and what is simply rearranging scraps of newspaper found on the floor of your cage. "PC tightness"? I don't understand how a label convinces you to stop thinking about something, and I'm fairly convinced, having lived through it, that the war on so-called political correctness was in full swing by that time, as evinced by the very existence of the term. In other words, even had one found oneself in a college hotbed of PC in the 80s or early 90s one needn't have felt windlashed and helpless. (Levy, by the way, reports the opposite: she was even tempted to throw away her leg razor for a time.)
So we wind up with the same old conundrum. If you were delusional to some extent in those days, why should your testimony be trusted now?
Which brings us to implants and underpants and bikini waxing, and the real puzzlement to me: what is it that's so difficult to understand here? Yes, indeedy, the reduction of sex to a plastic commodity costs us a great deal, and it saddles a following generation with Paris and Brittany disease one can only hope they'll be able to climb up out of right side up. But it is the abiding faith in Consumerism which is the problem, not some generational response to torments of PC humorlessness. If a 32-year-old who's published a book on the subject is only recently aware of the accomplishments of mid-20th century Feminism, I have my doubts that drunken nubiles are flashing their tits at the camera as an act of political defiance.
* This one is news to me. Sic transit.