- RISE OF RAUNCH
This year, over the St Patrick’s Day festival, I had the dubious pleasure of covering nightlife in the capital city, from the on-street vomitting in Temple Bar to a rave in the Point Depot, from early houses to teenage discos to gay bars. The only element of all of this that saw me tut tut with pursed lips and a shaking head was, naturally, the under-18 disco at Wesley rugby club in Donnybrook. The much patroned and much scrutinised disco is of course, not the only one of its ilk in the country, but it is perhaps the most visible. Crowds of young teens line the D4 street and await entrance, hopping off the 46A bus, naggins of vodka in hand, and heading to the adjacent petrol station to stock up on red bull, chewing gum, condoms and cigarettes. It would not be quite so desperate a scenario if the young female patrons, most of whom are just skimming puberty, were not dressed like - and there is no other way of saying this - whores. They wear garters, suspenders, skirts that barely cover what they're meant to, push up bras, see-through tops, bunny ears, ironic angel wings, stilletto heals and endless lipgloss. Watching them strut drunkenly into a night of sloppy kisses and oral sex, sneaky drinks and badly rolled joints, I tried to put a word on how I felt. Then I got it - sad. Recently, Ariel Levy has managed to better articulate this personal feeling of discomfort, and a further universal one in her book ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women And The Rise Of Raunch Culture.’
Now might be a good time to raise my hand and say I wasn't ever cool enough to frequent Wesley. Thankfully, my school time ended half a decade ago, and I wasn’t mercilessly bullied for non-participation. A friend of mine who recently returned to her Dublin secondary school for a serious of articles discovered an alternative universe; 14-year-olds who listed Sex & The City as their favourite TV programme, endless bullying directed at those who weren’t the right size or didn’t go to the right discos or wear the right make-up, girls who had countless experiences with oral sex maintaining they were ‘virgins’, girls practically forced into kissing each other under the guise of OC-inspired ‘experimentation’ and with all of these things, abortion, depression and and almost a complete absense of parental involvement. The prevailing sentiment amongst these kids is that they wanted to look and act like anything other than themselves, namely the ‘celebrities’ of our time who are either porn stars (Paris Hilton, Jordan, Jodie Marsh, Abi Titmuss), or channel a completely inappropriate TV fantasy for kids of their age (Mischa Barton's pseudo-lesbianism, Lindsey Lohan and Nicole Richie aka the Skeletwins, the ‘sex without responsibility’ attitude of the cast of well everything). Even Pink, who is now proposed as a best-of-a-bad-lot-feminist-role-model dressed up like a stripper for the Moulin Rouge ‘Lady Marmalade’ video. And eventually, there is no self, just a collage of tabloid magazine steal-her-style wardrobes, and a vocabulary like a running script from E4’s programming.
I tested this view on some friends - in their early to mid twenties - who concured. It was something that they knew was happening but hadn’t put their finger on. “Actually why do we go and get Brazilian waxes? No man ever asked me to do that, it’s just because everyone else does, and then, well, you have to too,” said one. Once the discussion was opened, the sudden realisations and subsequent criticims flowed. “Threesomes! Like, it's something you're meant to be seriously considering if not already doing.” “When you go out, you have to flash the cash. It’s just expected that you dress raunchy.” “Imagine believing in no sex before marriage? People would think you were some kind of freak.”
The Playboy bunny is no longer a symbol of objectification, but something school girls have printed on their pencil cases and t-shirts. Nikki, a contestant on this years Big Brother (hardly a barometer of normality, I know) said her life ambition was to be a footballer’s wife. She entered the house dressed in a bunny suit. Leah, a surgically-enhanced contestant and mother of one weeped in the diary room that not getting evicted would mean that she would feel the public accepted her for ‘who she is’, as if someone put a gun to her head to implant her breasts. For her upset, she, like many women who endorse the single version of image and sexuality as a straight, slutty, white, blonde, big-breasted party girl, only has herself to blame.
Somewhere along the line, we skipped a major beat, and began to take literal cues from a pop culture that has descended into the denegration and obscene objectification of women. Maybe it began with Sisqo's ‘Thong Song’ - an ode to stripper attire that subsequently (an uncomfortably) clad a generation. But personally, I believe the pop culture landmark was Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirrrty’ video. David La Chapelle, a 21st Century bling Helmut Newton directed the award winning promo, which began with the battlecry “If you aint dirty, you aint here to party”, now a threatening motto for a generation. Xtina descended into an underground fightclub wearing a bra, knickers and leather chaps and spent the next three-and-a-half minutes overlooking naked mud fights, simulating masturbation, acting out a lesbian shower scene. It’s fun, we're told, it’s raunchy, it’s, ahem empowering. Of course, Ms Aguilera is just acting, but her behaviour and dress is imitated millions of times over by those who are exposed to it.
The overwhelming aspect of raunch culture is that it is stifling in its options. Make that option. If you’re made up like the sillhouette on the Bada Bing sign, and don’t act like the girls inside the establishment, you’re going nowhere. And if you aint here to party (now the sole raison d'etre, apparently) you might as well retreat into your unmanicured binkini line, frigid, podgy-stomached, plain universe with the rest of those who still think for themselves but aren't allowed articulate it, less they poop the post-feminist ‘orgy.’
Women seem to have become completely delerious. No one can tell it like it is anymore, because it’s made out as slamming the sisterhood. Jordon is not a feminist icon. She is a calculating consumerist who has made her money by demeaning her feminity and stripping. Jodie Marsh is a sad piece of work who thinks it’s cruel to eat meat, yet perfectly fine to rate her conquests sexual prowess out of ten on a t-shirt. Eva Longoria is celebrated for her part in sexxing up the suburbs in ‘Desperate Housewives’ (says it all really) and then encourages us all to remove our pubic hair, “every woman should try a Brazilian wax once. And then the sex they have afterward will make them keep coming back,” she trilled to Cosmopolitian magazine. Paris Hilton became famous on the back of a video tape of her having sex and then writes a book for tweens (‘Confessions of an Heiress’) giving out the contradictory message to dress like a prostitute but don’t be “easy”.
Last year, taking the bus into Dublin for a Saturday night out, I was seated upstairs amongst a group of girls who, as we passed a suburban night club, began to lament the various threesomes they had been involved in. Then they started talking about what a drag the Junior Cert was. A few months later, on the same bus in the other direction, I couldn't help but overhear a girlie conversation about who had ‘blown’ who the previous evening at a party. When I stood up to disembark, I saw they were clad in the tracksuit colours of my old primary school. This isn’t free love, it’s cheap love. Women have earned the right to have sex with whomever they choose, and have adopted a lifestyle of unadulterated slutism. Sex, as Levy points out, is no longer about passion or intimacy, but about performance. We have begun to model ourselves on pornstars, ridiculous really when their job is to act out sex.
Cosmopolitian teaches us how to “please our man”, not how to have meaningful relationships. Women have become sex actors. The trend of lesbianism as exhibitionsism is directly transported from pornography where heterosexual women act out lesbian acts. Women all of a sudden think poll-dancing classes are a great way to get fit, while subconsciously seeking male approval. Exhibitionism is the norm, and a competing norm. In Germany this month, we saw ‘Posh’ Beckham lead the way with the WAGS, each woman competing for approval with the sauciest Engerland outfit and the biggest bar bill. Men are not pushing this ideal, women are. The male (probably very happily) is passive, with no need for action as they sit back and enjoy the ride, as it were.
And the latest manifestation of this is The Pussycat Dolls, a troupe of ex-strippers (sorry, ‘burlesque dancers’) who prance around purring “dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me.” The plug was recently pulled on a venture to imortalise them as dolls aimed at the 6+ age group following complaints from parents groups in the States. “We like to encourage young girls to look to the Dolls for inspiration in how to be feminine,” ‘Doll member Melody Thornton said in an Irish Times interview. I’m sure parents will thank her for that one next time they’re shopping for raunchily logoed t-shirts for their daughters. There is, of course, nothing progressive nor political about this culture of faux empowerment. All it is is achingly consumerist. Sex sells, so now everything that can be bought must be sex.
Raunch, ladies, is everywhere. And, as Ariel Levy concludes, is a culture propogated by women. “If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs; women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves,” she writes. “Just because we are post doesn’t automatically mean we are feminists... “Raunchy” and “liberated” are not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we’ve come, or how far we have left to go.” And I confess that I too have bought into it, the invisible hand of raunch culture has guided me into establishments to get all manner of painful (and completely unnessecary) 'maintanence' treatments, hell, I bought a pink diamante Playboy bunny belly button ring once (actually, that one was a gift), I’ve taken a frivalrous attidude to relationships, visited the strip clubs, hollered the mysogynist lyrics of chart songs in clubs. But it’s over. Now, it's about damage control. We have to save ourselves, because no one else will. I aint dirty, and if this is the party, I’d rather make my excuses and leave.