By Ariel Levy
As an undergrad and unpaid writer for BBC Nottingham back in 2005, I penned a crappy puff piece about the rise in pole dancing classes. One reason why this was crappy was because it included no alternative viewpoint; it neither questioned nor challenged, nor was it balanced. Those were my early days as a wannabe journalist, before I knew much about how the profession worked. And they were also my early days as a feminist, frankly before I knew anything.
Between writing that article and reading Ariel Levy’s polemic, I had learnt a lot. I’d learnt that the ‘rise of raunch’ was not as empowering as it may seem. As a man, it looks to me that it’s just another way for us to make sexiness a key goal for women, which is not necessarily liberating. But you don’t have to believe me; you can read Levy’s book, which provides a brief but cogent argument backed up with real experiences on this point. I didn’t learn much from Levy’s book that I haven’t leant from, say, Natasha Walter, but it was still very useful.
One problem I have with Levy’s polemic is that, well, it’s a polemic. It’s a very ideological argument. It may be compelling, but it is almost entirely her opinion nevertheless. I saw no rigorous research quoted (maybe there is none) that supported some of her claims about the rise of raunch. But I won’t ignore the experiences of the people she interviewed and have no doubt that profitable phenomena like Girls Gone Wild and Playboy do harm things like self-esteem and self-worth. Ideologically, I feel this. And Levy does a good job of interviewing the right people to convince me that it is a genuine experience. But on how common and how prevalent, she does not touch. And that’s annoying.