“A Piece of Cake” vs “Female Chauvinist Pigs”

Cake party girls and boys Last week For The Girls published my review of the book A Piece of Cake: Recipes for Female Sexual Pleasure. Written by Melinda Gallagher and Emily Scarlet Kramer, the book is essentially the manifesto of the five-year-old CAKE movement. It tells the real-life stories of women’s sexual experiences and fantasies.

A while ago I posted about CAKE in my old blog. CAKE parties feature porn viewings, male and female strippers, fantasy sharing and general socialising. Basically it’s all about women enjoying sex – in any way, shape or form that they desire, and to buggery with what anyone else thinks or says. I rather like that philosophy, so the CAKE ladies have me onside to begin with.

The other thing about CAKE is that I heard about them via negative comments from Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs. Levy argues that the rise of “raunch culture” and the elevation of porn stars into role models is bad for women, and that talk of “empowerment” in that context is a perversion of feminism.

I will admit – I still haven’t read Levy’s book. Reading it sounds unpleasant, to be honest. But I keep seeing hundreds of opinion pieces based on it, all of them nodding sagely along, fretting and beating their breasts about all these naughty women wearing Playboy T-shirts and going to pole dancing classes.

And I can kind of understand their concern. It’s really not a good thing that 10 year olds are wearing g-strings or that Paris Hilton gets in the news so much.


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At the same time, Levy’s basic argument has sat very uncomfortably with me for a long time and it’s not only because her definition of “female chauvinist pigs” is off the mark. I kept thinking there was a serious flaw in her logic, but didn’t give it enough consideration to put my finger on it.

Now, thanks to the CAKE book, I can nail the issues. Thus:

Levy’s paints a picture of modern female sexual expression as one that is completely influenced by men. No matter what we do, no matter how much we think we’re making our own choices, patriarchy is behind it. If a girl puts on a Playboy T-shirt, or enjoys porn, or goes to a strip club, it’s because she’s been duped. Poor silly women, huh?

This is THE BIG ONE in terms of “where feminism when wrong when it comes to sex.” It’s the pervading attitude of Mother Knows Best and it’s awfully, frustratingly insulting. Who is Ariel Levy to suggest that a woman who engages in these activities is confused or deceived? How does she know what motivates women to participate in “slutty activites”?

And that’s the other thing. Levy’s philosophy seems to echo a generally conservative viewpoint of what is acceptable when it comes to sex. Her criticism of CAKE parties, pole dancing, porn and “raunch culture” in general is made from a position wherein such things are inherently wrong. She doesn’t question the Dworkinite concept that “porn objectifies women”, and thus concludes that any acceptance of porn or overt sexual behaviour in the “male” way is against the ideals of feminism.

Which raises the questions: What is acceptable female sexual behaviour? Exactly what can a girl enjoy that’s sexy yet not influenced by the all-pervasive patriarchy? And how do you know when you escape from the “bad” mindset and start engaging in good feminist sexuality?

The CAKE book, and the philosophy behind it, refutes those aspects of Levy’s argument well.

To quote from my review:

“According to one kind of feminist sensibility, we must demand we be subjects and avoid identification as sexual objects. Fine. However, women are brought up with our sexuality tied to our experience as objects. Our ability to feel sexy in many ways is rooted in our ability to be desirable i.e. to play the object role.” – Erin, 22

Denying this kind of sexual sensibility is just another way to oppress women, the CAKE authors say. So, they introduce the idea of “the CAKE Gaze: women choosing to be subjects, objects, or both at the same time… The crucial point is that we knowingly choose this role as part of an equal sexual interaction.”

The CAKE girls know where it’s at. Being self aware means that a woman can choose any kind of sexual activity she likes, and that will be empowering for her.

Now, I will accept Levy’s argument insofar as it’s unfortunate for women to engage in sexual activities without being self-aware. Certainly this applies to teenage girls, who are less mature and more likely to be influenced by a sexualised pop culture. At the same time, such behaviour may be part of a journey to awareness – a learning experience, if you will – so who are we to say it’s a bad thing?

Incidentally, a reviewer at Amazon brings up the idea that maybe pop culture – in the Paris Hilton guise – would be better referred to as “moron culture” and raises the question of how much influence our media-heavy culture has on young people. If, as Levy suggests, women are being duped into aping sexist behaviour, where is this influence coming from? Why is it happening now?

If I accept Levy’s concept, then I would suggest the two main culprits for the sexualisation of pop culture are the easy availability of internet old-style mainstream porn, and the popularity of rap music – in which all women are skanks, hos and bitches. If this kind of media is out there, easy to obtain, and a lot of it is offering only one view of female sexuality, then yes, that’s going to have an influence. At least, it will have an effect on those confused people who think that mainstream men’s porn and rap are a real representation of sex and black culture respectively.

On the other hand, perhaps women are increasingly asserting their sexuality in overt ways because 35 years of feminism, complete with Cosmopolitan sex articles, Hitachi Magic Wands, increasing sex education and contraception have meant that sex is on the agenda, and women are ready to step out from under the missionary position.

If that’s the case, I think it’s extremely unfortunate that some feminists are denouncing what could well be a fine example of women’s liberation.

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