Some odd things were happening in my social life, too. People I knew (female people) liked going to strip clubs (female strippers). It was sexy and fun, they explained; it was liberating and rebellious. My best friend from college, who used to go to Take Back the Night marches on campus, had become captivated by porn stars. Only 30 years (roughly my lifetime) ago, our mothers were supposedly burning their bras and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the Bunny logo as symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time?
What was even more surprising than the change itself were the responses I got when I started interviewing the men and - often - women who edit magazines like Maxim and produce television series about strippers. This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We’d earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the wild party of pop culture where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If male chauvinist pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would beat them at their own game and be female chauvinist pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.
I tried to get with the programme, but I could never make the argument add up in my head. How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavoured to banish good for women? Why is labouring to look like Paris Hilton empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star - a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place - going to render us sexually liberated?
There is a widespread assumption that simply because my generation of women has the good fortune to live in a world touched by the feminist movement, that means everything we do is magically imbued with its agenda, but it doesn’t work that way. “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.