Welcome to my Research Blog!


Welcome to my Research Blog! My name is Jenny and in late 2012 I started a PhD programme at Liverpool John Moores University. I withdrew from the course in 2014 after struggling with imposter syndrome, the pressures of funding my study and balancing it with home and work life.

It’s been a while since I focused on anything academic but I am eager to get back into the swing of things and plan to publish a few new blog posts.

On my blog you will find posts relating to my research interests and my experience of undergraduate and postgraduate study. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me via the comments tool.

All opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.

Reliable, local plasterers in Liverpool

Hello 🏡🏠🏘

I just wanted to post a quick review and thanks to a great local plastering company Liverpool Plastering and Rendering, who recently plastered my hall, stairs and landing at short notice after I was let down by another firm.

The lads did a great job, they left no mess, were reliable and totally transformed how the house looks!

If you are looking for Plasterers Liverpool or rendering in Liverpool I would highly recommend Liverpool Plastering & Rendering.

Here are some links to their website liverpoolplasteringandrendering.co.uk, their Twitter and Facebook page.





Gender in Research Conference University of Liverpool (09/04/13)

A few days ago I attended a conference at the University of Liverpool which focused on ‘Gender in Research’. I was really pleased when I come across the event online because the majority of conferences I have attended have been a train journey away but this time it was on home ground.

ChathamHouse-1WEBThe aim of the conference was to provide a ‘safe’ and welcoming place for PGR students to share their research, whatever stage it is at. The day was organised by Charlotte Barlow and Dorota Opyd who are both PGR students at the university and there were around 30-40 delegates in attendance with some great sessions planned.

Below are brief summaries of some of the presentations I attended.

Lucy Bradshaw, who has a background in career development, discussed some interesting findings that came up while doing her PhD research on the career paths of young men in Hull. Lucy found that in the construction industry in particular, ‘banter’ is used as a means of policing masculinities and is a big part of the job. Young men are encouraged in training centres and colleges to partake in banter in preparation for the ‘real world’ and those who can’t take it are weeded out. This was described as ‘for the best’ by some members of the training staff. When exploring the impact the banter had on women in the training centres, Lucy found that the few women who worked or studied there would generally exclude themselves from banter which is characteristically misogynous and often homophobic, however this did not stop them from being on the receiving end of it at times.

Ramona Garland & Mark Carney presented a paper entitled ‘Porn as Simulacra; Porn as Social Malefactor’. This presentation was fuelled by passion as Ramona argued that porn is extremely harmful, not only to intimate relationships and those who work within the industry, but to all women. Claiming that pornography is worthless in society, Ramona and Mark aim to develop a theoretical framework utilising Baudrillard’s concept of simulacra. I think this is really interesting way of looking at porn and hope to see more people engaging with Baudrillard in this way (mainly because I love Baudrillard). However, I think it would have been beneficial if the paper had been more objective, perhaps touching on the other discourses which surround pornography.

Samantha Colling presented a really interesting paper on the music video aesthetics used in girl teen films. As I am currently researching representations of femininity in music videos, it was interesting to think about how the film industry adopts common music video aesthetics as a method of making the ordinary extraordinary in girl teen films. Samantha played a clip of a film to us which perfectly demonstrated the points made within her paper.

I spoke with Kirsten Smith throughout the day and I thought her research was really original as it focuses on espionage in popular culture and representations of gender. With some references to Bond, Kirsten presented a really interesting talk on the differences in how men and women spies are constructed. I learnt that espionage is a genre of equal readership by both men and women, although the majority of authors are male and representations of spies remain gendered.

Finally, and probably the highlight of the day, was Emily Nicholls’ talk on the nighttime economy in Newcastle and how females aged 18-25 (I think I have the sample right) conceptualise appropriate/inappropriate femininity within this context. Emily’s preliminary findings show that young women are concerned about fitting in with ‘others’ on a night out and that their dress and appearance is a way for them to communicate their femininity. Appropriate femininity is making an effort but not too much effort, drinking but not to excess and managing risk effectively, such as any unwanted attention. The young women interviewed spoke about ‘other’ women displaying inappropriate forms of femininity and differentiated themselves from this ‘other’. The concept of a ‘female gaze’ was discussed and Emily made reference to a number of theorists in her presentation. This was particularly helpful to me as her research overlaps with what I am looking at.

SchoolOfficesOverall the conference was very successful, set up by PGRs for PGRs, there was a welcoming atmosphere at the university and everyone was really friendly. I learned a lot about other people’s research interests throughout the day and because the conference was in Liverpool where I live, I was able to connect with other PGRs in the city. All in all, it was an extremely beneficial experience.


Everyday Sexism

One of the things that have been on my mind of late is the brilliant Everyday Sexism.

The Everyday Sexism project/website/twitter feed is one of the most interesting forms of feminist activism I have come across during the time I have identified as a feminist (almost a year). Highlighting the anecdotal experiences of women worldwide in an easily accessible way has the potential to impact the attitudes and opinions of those who read the stories and importantly raises awareness about the fact that sexism still exists. People who were not previously aware about how often women encounter sexism are able to realise the true scale of this problem by reading thousands of tweets and posts written by women.

Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism, spoke to Radio 4’s Women’s Hour in October 2012 about the interest the project has attracted. During the first 6 months of the website being live, they received over 7,000 stories from women. The sheer amount of stories shared online emphasizes the need for a change within our society. Many have been shocked by what they have read but it is still accepted to a certain degree. A lot of the sexism experienced on a daily basis is passed off as ‘banter’ and is brushed under the carpet like it shouldn’t have offended anyone anyway- like women are just being uptight. Many of the women who have tweeted @everydaysexism about sexism in the workplace, had reported what happened to them to management only to be told that they are ‘making a fuss over nothing’ or something along the lines of “oh that’s just what John is like, you just have to ignore him”. This happens too much.

The #followed hashtag set up by Everyday Sexism recently attracted an influx of posts. Women posted details about when they have been followed and for many it has happened more than once. Here are some of the posts: http://storify.com/EverydaySexism/followed

What is it about our society that makes vile comments and leering looks a common occurrence for the female population? And why is it that some men think it is okay to follow women?

I believe that every woman has a story. Unfortunately, I have a two. The one that sticks in my mind the most is when I was casually window shopping in town one day and a man who was nearby turned to me and said “I could rape you right now”. It was so unexpected, I was shocked and didn’t really know what to think but I was angry. I looked at him like ‘what the fuck!’ and then looked around thinking ‘did no one hear that!!?’ as quickly as I turned back around, he had vanished into the crowd. I felt helpless and violated; he came into my private space and made me feel really uncomfortable.

When I was recalling this memory earlier, I suddenly thought about something else that happened to me and now that I remember I can’t believe that I ever forgot because it was a really big deal to me at the time. I think I was about 13 or 14 and I used to get the bus every Friday and Saturday night. One night I was going to a party and when I got on the bus the driver made a comment about what I was wearing and said how nice I looked. I remember feeling really, really uncomfortable and every time I saw him after that he would give me this sly, creepy smile which made me feel weird. I continued to get the bus and saw him sporadically for a period of about 2 years. I hated him for a while for the way he made me feel and I spoke about him often to my boyfriend. I think his mum knew too but I didn’t tell anyone else, I just thought ‘what’s the point?’

I think the Everyday Sexism project shows people that there is a point and that it’s okay to speak out about what they have experienced and how it made them feel. There are thousands of women (millions around the world) who share the same experiences and as the project continues to grow I look forward to hearing the voices of women who have been silenced in the past, by people who have told them that “nothing happened” or “you brought it on yourself”. Through this outlet they are able to share their stories with other women around the world.

Talking Bodies Conference University of Chester (26/03/13)

Conference Summary

378320_talking-bodies‘Talking Bodies’ was held at the University of Chester and organised by Emma Rees (and her small army of purple shirted helpers). I booked this conference late last year so by the time it came around I had been looking forward to it for ages and couldn’t wait to get there! Luckily I don’t live too far from Chester and it was only a 45 minute train journey and a quick taxi ride to the university campus. A friend was also attending so we got some tea and had a quick chat. I was really impressed by the small ‘market place’ the uni had set up where they were selling books, jewellery, bags, badges, ornaments and other random things. The university had a really friendly atmosphere and I got a sense that it was going to be a really beneficial experience for me.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the first and last day of the event due to work commitments, therefore the highlights below are from those days only.

Karina Quinn, visiting from Australia, gave a fantastic presentation which was very poetic. Karina’s writing style is facto-critical and focuses very much on her writing about her own body. Her aim is to create a space within academia where others are able to also write in this incredibly creative way. This was a really interesting talk and as a speaker, Karina captivated her audience. There was focus on how her purpose is to ‘unhide’ as in the past she had felt a sense of over-disclosure whereas now she embraces the act of ‘writing her body’. I felt that this was really original and inspiring work.

Georgia Burdett’s paper focuses on the work of the Welsh author Niall Griffiths. In analysing the literary texts Sheepshagger(2002) and Runt(2008), Georgia found references and representations of learning disabled and autistic individuals/characters. Although stereotypical and derogatory language is often used in reference to these characters, Georgia argues that the author and these texts in particular, represent progress in terms of cultural representation within Welsh literature.

Louise Yates gave a really interesting talk about tall women arguing that when women are taller than average, there is a fine line between being thought of as a ‘vision’ and being though of as a ‘spectacle’ or a freak. Louise claims that throughout history and even now, women who are ‘too tall’ seem to seen as somewhat more masculine than smaller women. Throughout the talk links were made to hetero-normative scripts, non-normative bodies and ideas surrounding romance. For example, the need or desire for a woman to be shorter than the man she is dating (think Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman or Sophie Dahl and Jamie Cullum). This was a really interesting paper for me because I am interested in representations of the human body in popular media. This was also a topic I would assume that not many people think about, unless you are yourself particularly tall, therefore it was intriguing and insightful at the same time.

Melissa Trujillo’s presentation explored the concept of ‘body image’ and the need for a new type of rhetoric in relation to how we describe issues which surround the body. Arguing that body image is a gendered term which carries with it negative connotations, Melissa put forward the concept of ‘positive corporeal  agency’ which aims to inflect a sense of agency into academia’s representation of women and the debates surrounding how they might experience their bodies. Interested in body practices, Melissa’s research also involves a qualitative study on corporeal routines and women’s relationship with their bodies.

The plenary session for the first day involved speaker Ellie Land and her animated documentary ‘Centrefold’ which is about labiaplasty. This 9 minute animation is nothing short of AMAZING. It is understanding, compassionate and representative of women who do not have a voice in mainstream media. In her animation, Ellie gives a balanced, fair view of a subject which is often framed in  relation to ‘inferior’ issues surrounding vanity and the desire to look a certain way. The short film is available to watch here: http://ellieland.com/.

Miriam Walsh’s paper focuses on fairytales and the ‘importance of beauty to the construction of female identity’. Using Cinderella as a prime example, Miriam argues that young audiences learn from fairytales that exciting things only happen to those who are beautiful. Miriam also equates beauty with ‘goodness’ and ugliness with being bad or evil within traditional and modern fairytales.

Zahra Stardust gave a really insightful talk about her experience of being a sex worker. Zahra argues that academic discourse surrounding the sex industry and those who work within it is problematic as it neglects the opinions, attitudes and views of sex workers whilst having the potential to effect their working lives by impacting local authorities or policy initiatives. Zahra critiqued the recent ‘sexualisation’ debates and dismissed theories relating to ‘objectification’, ‘pornification’ and ‘raunch culture’ claiming that these interpretations are far from what actually happens in porn. Zahra argues that sex workers are aware of the sexism and stigma involved with the job and that they have “diverse relationships with beauty, femininity, performativity and stereotype”. Zahra challenges notions of passivity and overall, presented an impressive paper which was extremely welcome given the lack of sex workers speaking to academia about this issue.

Abigail Tazzyman spoke about her research into identity and body modifications. Taking a chronological or a historical look at the participants body modifications, from hair removal and make up to tattoos and piercings, Abigail argues that body modifications are a social phenomena “significantly determined by their social context”.

IMG_0809[1]Marjolein Van Bavel’s research was really interesting and extremely relevant to some of the topics I hope to cover within my thesis. Marjolein’s study involved qualitative interviews with ex-Playboy models (and models from other prestigious Dutch pornographic magazines) from the 1980s. With the aim of exploring aspects of empowerment, Marjolein sought to examine the relationship between popular discourse relating to ‘sexualisation’ and the individual discourse of the women who ‘sexualised themselves’ posing nude for men’s magazines. The participants of the study spoke about actively seeking to de-sexualise their poses, expressing agency when able to and preserving control in certain ways, for example, by having an input into how photoshoots would look or what poses and style would be used. The women did not feel incredibly disempowered through the work they did, although there were times when they did feel sexualised, exploited and a distinct lack of control. Marjolein argues that a new discourse is needed to address the historical shift in how women experience sex work and there needs to be a particular focus on discussing aspects of empowerment/disempowerment, agency/structure.

Reflecting on the conference, it was a fantastic experience which opened my eyes to a lot of topics relating to my research interests. Hearing from a variety of speakers, particularly those working within the sex industry, really opened my eyes to a range of different perspectives. This is the third conference I have attended and it was also the best. It was extremely well organised, the staff were welcoming and it was definitely value for money at £75. Overall, the event was a great success!

Body Projects Conference University of York (09/03/13)

Conference Summary

At the beginning of March 2013 I attended my second academic conference. It was a postgraduate conference entitled ‘Body Projects’ and when I first saw the Call for Papers I thought it seemed really interesting as some of the themes related to my own research interests.

The conIMG_0609[1]ference was at the University of York so I set off to get the train at about 6am. When I arrived the university staff and students were really welcoming and I spent some time looking through the conference program before the first session began.

During the morning sessions, there was a focus on female bodybuilding and how it can conflict with traditional notions of femininity and heteronormativity. Dr Gemma Commane gave a great talk based on Jodie Marsh and how Jodie’s status as a glamour model juxtaposes her choice to modify her body with tattoos and piercings and her choice to pursue a career in female bodybuilding. Really interesting!

A highlight of the day came from Tanita Maxwell and Sarah Peat, postgraduate students at the University of Aberdeen. Their paper looked at Suicidegirls.com which is an alt-porn website set up by women with the aim of challenging popular representations of beauty and sexuality. The Suicide Girls claim that they are not Baywatch girls and they are not Playboy girls, however, as Maxwell & Peat argue, the website does not really serve to challenge the existing order, in fact, over time the images of Suicide Girls have become increasingly ‘mainstream’ with the exception of tattoos and piercings. Maxwell & Peat also argue that a large majority of the images are of thin, white woman and when women are not white, for example, if they are Asian, they are often labelled ‘exotic’ by the site. Another interesting point about this talk is that it brought up issues surrounding the ownership of images on the website which I assume to be an important factor of agency for the girls involved.

IMG_0621[1]A separate point which came up during the day was the notion that conforming to popular forms of femininity can be interpreted as a kind of performative labour and entrepreneurship by women who will also often treat the body as a site of continual improvement. In keeping with this argument it was interesting to hear some of the speakers relate conformity to the experience of trans women whose attempts to fit in are often based on binary ideas and stereotypical representations of gender.

Perceptions of one’s own body was also a recurrent theme within the conference and a particularly interesting study by Dr Beth Bell of Northumbria University really inspired me. Beth’s presentation/paper was entitled “The Thin but not that thin Body Ideal: A Qualitative Glimpse into Adolescent Girls’ Personal Body and Beauty Ideals”. In the study participants were asked just one question- to describe what the perfect body is to them. It was really insightful to discover that the majority of girls had very specific ideas about what the perfect body looks like with “curvy but not fat” and “a small waist but not too thin” being the kind of answers that were given. Some of the girls rejected the idea that there is such a thing as the perfect body and others described a body drastically different to their own.

Other talks on the day included an insight into the Kickboxing culture of Dutch-Moroccan girls and how they avoid training hard, instead using kickboxing training as a symbol of status and a means of fitting in with their peers.

Overall the conference was exciting and very interesting! Hearing from the speakers about their wide range of research has definitely helped me to see where my own research ideas and aims fit within the existing literature, not just in relation to my own topic but the topics which surround it.

IMG_0634[1]When I got home I was really pleased with my daytrip and how well it went. I even managed to see some of the sites of York while I was there but it was rainy and miserable as you can see from my photo!

My next post will be a summary of a conference I attended this week at the University of Chester.

Young Sexualities Conference Cardiff University 25/01/13

Conference Summary

A few months ago I attended a conference in Cardiff (25/01/13) which focused on ‘Young Sexualities’. The conference title and programme attracted me and the scheduled talks on sexualisation, youth and sexuality, constructions of femininity and girls’ advertising experiences, all fell within my research interests.

After paying the conference attendance fee I booked my return train from Liverpool to Cardiff with the aim of making it a day trip. In the lead up to the conference it had been snowing a lot so I put my wellies on in preparation and upon arrival I found Cardiff to be as sludgy and cold as I had imagined it to be!

IMG_0376[1]I was all organised and knew where I was going. I had to get a train from Cardiff Central to Cathays, but while I was on this train I was told that it was running late and wouldn’t be stopping at any of the planned stations! So basically, I ended up in Ponty-somethingoranother at the end of the track which took about half an hour and then I had to wait another 20 minutes for a train back to Cathays!

After this detour of random Welsh towns I eventually arrived at the conference 45 minutes late. Luckily I hadn’t missed anything too exciting because the first talk I’d planned to attend had been cancelled and next up was the talk I was most looking forward to: ‘The Trouble with Sexualisation’ by PhD student Helen Williams.

Prior to the conference I had emailed Helen and we had a brief exchange about our research interests so I was really looking forward to hearing her speak.

In her presentation, Helen addressed the debate surrounding the term ‘sexualisation’ arguing that it is a troubling concept which problematises young female sexuality. Focusing on The Sexualisation of Young People Review by Linda Papadopolous (2009), Helen critiqued the policy approach to sexualisation by raising some very interesting points relating to moral panics, conservative values and the demonisation of young female sexuality. Helen argued that much of the discourse surrounding sexualisation tends to neglect female agency by adopting a protectionist approach through which young women are portrayed as the victims of a sexualised culture.

IMG_0374[1]Although heavily critical of ‘sexualisation’ as a concept, Helen also argued that there is a need to address the sexual images in society as well as a need for research into how young people themselves interpret sexual imagery. Helen suggests that addressing the sexual images in mass media should involve a more frank and open approach to sex education which includes the discussion of pornography and sex within relationships.

Overall, the presentation by Helen Williams prompted some helpful ideas for my own research. I was also introduced to a different point of view to my own as the points raised were something I had not previously considered in great detail. The talk made me reconsider how I had initially interpreted Papadopolous (2009) and having since re-read the review and having explored other critiques of sexualisation, I have now developed a more critical view of the framing and language used when focusing on issues surrounding sexism, sexual objectification and sexual imagery in general.

IMG_0363[1]The other speakers and posters displayed during the day added to my ideas about youth, sex and subjectivity. The whole event was really interesting and touched on issues surrounding female sexuality, agency and empowerment, which is what I had hoped for when I first read about the conference.

I was definitely pleased that I attended the conference, although, when it came down to the content of the presentations, there were only a few talks that I could draw inspiration from or apply to my own research. However, I don’t see this as a negative, I suppose that is what conferences are all about, you never know what research will be useful to your own until you hear or read about it.

During the day there were a few opportunities to network but as this was my first academic conference, I felt a little bit out of my depth and didn’t feel confident explaining my research to people. I kept myself to myself but hope to get more confidence over the coming months so that I can network successfully in the future as its a shame to waste such an opportunity!

Reflecting on the day, I feel that my trip to the ‘Young Sexualities’ conference in Cardiff was a very worthwhile experience. Having travelled there alone and attended talks which excited and inspired me, I was left with a great sense of achievement and independence.

My next post will feature a conference I attended at York University in March entitled ‘Body Projects’.

Book Summary: Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism.

This book summary is part 3/3 and focuses on a contemporary feminist text written by Natasha Walter a British journalist, author and feminist.

Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. Virago Press, London.

Natasha_Walter_-_CR_Bohdan_CapNatasha Walter is a well known feminist and the author of The New Feminism (1998). In this text, Walter focused on what she believed to be the most worthy cause for contemporary feminism: economic and political equality. Walter (1998) claimed that women should not worry about objectification or sexism because these kinds of issues will fix themselves when women achieve equality in other areas. However, in Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010), Walter admits to having a massive change of heart and executes a successful U-turn arguing that sexual objectification of women is something to worry about and that if anything, it is becoming more, not less of a problem.

6a00d83451bcff69e201310f267332970c-300wiWalter’s (2010) main stance throughout Living Dolls is that there is a hyper-sexualisation of mass culture occurring across Western society. Accompanied by the proliferation of sexually objectifying images found in mass media, women now face an added pressure in order to fit the mould of femininity which is offered. Not only is beauty and slimness a must but increasingly so, sexiness is falling into the definition of what it means to be a woman.

Walter (2010) claims that female sexuality is often celebrated throughout the media but it is narrowly defined and fails to represent reality. Adopting the ethos of the sex and glamour industries, sex is framed as something a woman should perform; therefore women should continuously strive to improve in terms of sexual allure and their ability to please.

“The image of female perfection to which women are encouraged to aspire, has become more and more defined by sexual allure” p3.

In the first few chapters of the book Walter (2010) addresses the gender stereotyping of products and toys marketed at young people discussing the usual in regards to pink for girls and blue for boys. Then Walter (2010) moves on to argue that women are encouraged to look like dolls. Referring to the Girls Aloud dolls, the author argues that they are eerily identical to the real thing; both are perfectly airbrushed with big hair, smooth skin and trim bodies. For Walter (2010), they are interchangeable consumer objects and act as models for the next generation.

girls-aloud-pic-pa-841252739The book moves on to glamour modelling and lads magazines with the author able to offer an insight into the working of the glamour industry. Walter’s (2010) recall of the ‘Babes on a Bed’ contest she attended (where the girls compete to win a Nuts photoshoot) and her interviews with glamour girls are what make this book interesting and different. Walter (2010) successfully combines her evaluation of the hyper-sexualised culture she sees around her with the insider knowledge and words of women who work within the sex and glamour industries. In a non-judgemental manner she gives them a voice in her book. However, a critique of Walter (2010) is that whilst she does not neglect the agency and autonomy of the girls, she does not draw too much attention to it either. Some of the girls are happy doing what they do and some of them are not which is probably a fair analysis, but I do feel that this approach leaves the question open as to whether or not their work is truly empowering for women and this is something I would like to have read more about within the text.

Nuts UK September 11In reference to the book’s subtitle ‘the Return of Sexism’ Walter (2010) argues that the current feminist discourse surrounding female sexuality is more damaging than it is liberating as it merely encourages women to accept a sexist and sexual cultural landscape which largely caters to the fulfilment of male fantasies, ignoring genuine expressions of female sexuality and pleasure. Almost hijacking the rhetoric of choice and freedom, third wave feminism has taken the original feminist message and distorted it so that it fits the mould offered to women by the patriarchal system we live in. For Walter (2010) it is problematic to the point where women are almost taking part in their continual subordination.

Walter (2010) believes that the feminist rhetoric of choice and empowerment is now so deeply submerged within our hyper-sexualised culture that it can no longer represent true choice or real sexual liberation. The representations of female sexuality which we see most often are too tightly confined within the limited model of femininity continuously thrust upon us.

Walter (2010) really reminds me of Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture, which is a good thing. In fact, I think it goes a step further than Levy (2005) as Walter’s interview data makes her observations stronger than Levy’s (2005) which lack any real, empirical evidence.

The main criticism I have of the book is that it fails to address aspects of race or class in any great detail. Walter (2010) does briefly touch on class in relation to the career aspirations of young women. Referencing an interview with Dave Read, the Director of Neon Management, she claims that middle class parents do not have the same concerns regarding their daughters and the possibility that they might want to work in the sex or glamour industry. This is an interesting topic in its own right and it would have been beneficial to Walter’s work if she had expanded on some of the points made.

Despite some criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed this text, from beginning to end. I felt like it said everything I want to include in my own work. Walter (2010) explores different aspects of society and focusing on how sexual images are becoming increasingly dominant in mass culture, argues that sexism still exists and calls for feminists to recognise the new ways in which it works. This book builds on Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture and adds to the current debate surrounding sexualisation and women.

IMG_0268If you are interested in reading more of my book summaries please visit my previous posts in which I have written about feminist texts by Betty Friedan (1963) and Ariel Levy (2005).

Book Summary: Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

This post is part 2/3 and follows on from last week’s summary of Betty Friedan’s classic 1963 feminist text, The Feminine Mystique.

Unfortunately due to having started a new job, I am now working 12 hour days which has left me with no time and no energy! Therefore the three planned ‘book reviews’ are turning more into ‘book summaries’ and although they lack any real critical reflection I hope that they will provide people with a general overview of the books considered.

Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Simon & Schulster, London.

ariel levyAriel Levy is a contributing editor at The New Yorker and was fairly unknown before breaking out in 2005 with one of the latest feminist texts to have mass appeal. The book looks at what Levy claims is ‘the rise of raunch culture’ and detailing the cultural context in which this is occurring, the author points the finger of blame in the direction of what she calls ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ (FCP).

According to Levy (2005) FCPs are women who make sex objects of themselves and other women and they are everywhere. Levy illustrates her theory with an array of testimonies and examples including the reality television programme ‘Girls Gone Wild’, the adoption of the Playboy brand logo by young girls, the popularity of celebrity sex tapes and the increase in cosmetic surgery procedures, in particular, breast implants and labiaplasty.

“We don’t even think about it anymore, we just expect to see women flashing and stripping and groaning everywhere we look”

The main point made throughout the text is that contemporary American culture is saturated with images of cartoonish Jessica Rabbit style representations of femininity- breast implants, collagen lips and stripper heels. Levy (2005) claims that this image is now so pervasive that it has become embedded in the subconsciousness of women to the point where they will imitate what they see to win approval from the opposite sex.

The author holds porn and glamour industries responsible for this uniform, ubiquitous representation of femininity, arguing that it creates a social context in which women are expected to be sexy at all times whilst remaining ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ in the eyes of the potential partners.

Levy (2005) contends that girls and young women feel pressured into conforming to the characteristics of a FCP, however, she fails to question whether their actions are in fact a true expression of their agency and sexuality. In reference to FCPs, Levy often describes a one-dimensional woman whose only way of expressing her personality is by “spinning around a pole”. I could almost taste her disapproval.

“Sex is one of the most interesting things we as human beings have to play with, and we’ve reduced it to polyester underpants and implants”

Levy (2005) argues that the rise of raunch culture has resulted in American women embracing a false model of sexuality. They do this by imitating those whose job it is to fake lust and ecstasy- porn stars. She believes that this threatens the liberation of female sexuality as opposed to being the epitome of it as some feminists suggest.

In a 2008 radio interview, Levy said that she “doesn’t buy into exhibitionism as a form of empowerment” and whilst I tend to mostly agree, I recognise that there are women out there who do feel empowered and I would like to have heard more about these women in the book.

books_bgI really enjoyed Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. I am not a big reader (yet) but I found the text really accessible. Being a teenager in the late 90s/early 2000s I was familiar with a lot of the media references Levy made, I remember when boob jobs blew up (no pun intended) and I understand where Levy is coming from when she talks about the bombardment of sexualised images coming out of American culture. I got through the book very quickly and would recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about debates surrounding contemporary feminism.

I will post the next book summary in a week or so, time permitting. It will focus on Natasha Walter’s Living Doll: The Return of Sexism.

Book Summary: Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique.

This short book summary will be the first of three which collectively focus on a mix of contemporary and classic feminist texts. I hope to provide people with a general overview of each book, the author and the social context in which the book was written.

Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. Penguin, London.

femininemystique1Let me begin by expressing how much I enjoyed reading this book. It was given to me as a gift when I left my voluntary job and I began reading it a couple of weeks before Christmas . I read the majority of it whilst in work, sometimes before I started if I happened to get in early, but mostly on my breaktimes. I had heard so much about the book being great but not a lot about the actual content or main arguments made within the book, however, when I started to read it and place it within the social context of post-war America during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the magnetism of the book drew me in and I began to realise what others had spoke about in reference to The Feminine Mystique (1963). I suppose it was a kind of realisation that yes, most women are unhappy when placed in the mould of housewife and mother alone and yes, in their hearts they strive for more, but do they go out and get this ‘more’ which they long for? Friedan (1963) informs us that no they don’t, not really, and if they do, it most often stops short of the point of satisfaction.

Reading words which were written at a time when they were rarely spoken aloud, for me, gave the book a controversial edge. As an artefact belonging to the early phase of second wave feminism, Friedan’s (1963) work sets out to reveal and share details of ‘the problem that has no name’- the deliberate manipulation of women by advertising agencies, editorial boards, journalists, educators, Freudian psychoanalysts and others alike, to believe in a false belief system. This belief system tells women that they must fit the mould or have their femininity stripped of them, for to be a housewife and mother is the greatest achievement a woman can obtain and if she fails, she fails as a woman.

OB-VK647_1122fa_D_20121120131535Friedan (1963) argues that this false belief system keeps women trapped in a state of perpetual infancy wherein they are never allowed to grow and realise their own worth and true potential. As I read the book, I felt myself agreeing with a lot of the things she wrote about this. When women live in a society in which domescity is a synomyn for femininity, all other possibilities of womanhood are erased. Domesticity therefore acts as a mass distraction, keeping women from becoming full women- women who know their own femininity, enjoy their sexuality and who do not feel threatened by education, employment or stepping out of their mother’s shoes.

Friedan (1963) explains that during the post-war years, men returned from war and it was no longer necessary for women to be employed, seek education or do anything other than stay at home looking after the house and children. Women were told that they had a choice about what to do with their lives. If they really wanted to they could seek education or a career, but at a time when resisting conformity surmounted to failure as a woman, how could they choose freely?

Betty Friedan published the words that thousands of women had uttered to themselves whilst wading in discontent. Friedan (1963) showed the female population that they could do more than what was expected of them. They could break the mould into a thousand pieces if they were determined enough. Framing her words with excerpts from some of the 200 open ended questionnaires she conducted with her former college classmates, Friedan’s (1963) work was pioneering and daring. Many claim that it planted the seed of second wave feminism by highlighting the social and political stagnation experienced by women across America and having sparked the consciousness of women all over the world, many began to embrace feminism and social activism as a means to achieving equality.

It has now been 50 years since The Feminine Mystique (1963) was first published and the impact the book had at its time remains unparalled. In the decades preceding The Feminine Mystique (1963)the problem with no name’ has gradually drifted away from the realm of domesticity to focus on women’s appearance; their beauty or lack there of. The false belief system Friedan wrote about, to me, is very similar to Naomi Wolf’s description of ‘the beauty myth’. The Beauty Myth (1991) acts as an updated version, a contemporary analysis regarding the new mould women are expected to fit. Therefore this problem; this weight holding women down like an anchor tied around our increasingly thin waists, still exists, the mould has merely changed shape.

As one of the most influential leaders of second wave feminism, Betty Friedan helped to found the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Friedan continued to teach and write about women’s inequality, consistently voicing her concerns, until she died of congestive heart failure in 2006 at the age of 85.


I will be posting the next book summary within a week so please check back or follow my blog if you are interested. It will focus on Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture.

Attending Academic Conferences

A while back in a post entitled “Today was a good day” I provided a list of academic conferences relevant to my research subject. Last week I registered for my first conference which will take place on the 25th January at Cardiff University. The conference is called Young Sexualities and the programme shows that there will be two talks which focus specifically on themes relating to the ongoing sexualisation debate.

Cardiff University ‘Young Sexualities’ Conference

tb-poster3The conference cost is £10 which I think is excellent and my train fare totalled £35. So all in, travel and attendance comes to under £50. I think this is quite reasonable and hope that future conferences will cost a similar amount. However, I’m not sure how realistic that is as I am hoping to attend a conference in Chester university on the 9th March which I have just discovered is £75 to attend! It is a 3 day event and Naomi Wolf is the keynote speaker. If you are interested please see the link below for further details. I plan to register for this event as soon as I have got the money together.

Chester University ‘Talking Bodies’ Conference

So the motivational message attached to this post is… if you are thinking about attending academic conferences, don’t put it off or find excuses not to go, register your place and book the train/coach. You won’t regret it!