Free Press, 2005.
This book is about the thorough sexualisation of our culture and how women especially are affected by it. It is also about how feminism has gone wrong, and how human sexuality has been reduced and restricted by the new porn culture.
Now these are all themes that one would think a good religious conservative could wax eloquent on. But the author is both secular and liberal. Thus she senses a problem and seeks to tackle it. Yet pointing out worrying symptoms is not enough. One must also accurately pinpoint the source of the problem, and offer practical solutions to the problem.
Levy tries to identify the source of the problem, but many would argue that she misses the real picture. And she does nothing about offering solutions.
As to the symptoms, well, that is the easiest part. Anyone can amass a wealth of examples and details about how Western culture has been turned into one big brothel. And Levy has done a good job of pointing out many examples, by way of interviews and keen observations, to make her case. And the case is readily made.
Everywhere we look we are inundated with sex, sex and more sex. Shows like Sex and the City, books like How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, and the Lad Mags like Maxim, Ralph and FHM are just a few examples that can be cited. The truth is, porn has become mainstream.
And this does not stop with adults, but extends to our young people. The general sexualisation of our children is of special concern. Children trying to get the “look” for example, to be cool, are increasingly seeking to dress as adults, and as very tawdry adults at that. Thus we see the rise of lingerie marketed for kids, and the ‘prostitute chic’ as one has described it. Children are encouraged to emulate and slavishly follow the fashion sense of their favourite pop stars and media idols. And given that so many of these are following the raunchy trends in fashion, our children are copying this sleazy image.
Young girls are especially being targeted here. Thus we have eight-year olds wanting T-shirts with the word “Porn Star” emblazoned across the chest, or ten-year olds buying padded bras at mainstream shopping centres.
Why have Paris Hilton, strippers and porn stars become the new role models? Why have Desperate Housewives and classes in pole dancing become so mainstream? Here Levy is less than helpful. She basically speaks of the betrayal of feminism and complains about “the future that never happened”.
She does trace the division in feminism in the 70s between anti-porn feminists and pro-porn feminists. Obviously the latter have won out. Levy thinks any gains of feminism in the 60s and 70s have largely been lost today. But she offers only a weak explanation here as to why this is so, and is even on thinner ground when she looks at the way ahead.
She says that if women want to be “lusty, busty exhibitionists,” that’s fine, but there is more to sex, and life, than that. But she gives us no compelling reasons as to why this is so and why women should do more than aspire to being a stripper.
Thus the value of this book lies in the documentation of our porn-crazed culture. But as I said, that is the easy bit. One simply has to clip headlines or ads in papers, or tape highlights on the TV, or look at the clothes being manufactured and targeted to young people, for example, to make this point. And others have made it as well. (See for example two recent titles: Ben Shapiro, Porn Generation or Pamela Paul, Pornified.)
But as a warning about where society is going, this book serves a useful service. It acts as a bit of a wake-up call. But one will need to look elsewhere for actual solutions to the problem.
Tackling the Problem
It is at this point that the shortcomings of Levy in particular and secularism in general become apparent. They can decry where we are going as a culture, but can only offer tentative and partial reasons as to why these problems exist. And when the wrong diagnosis is given, the wrong solution is proposed.
The biblical worldview offers us the whys and wherefores of human sexuality. It tells us what sexuality is about, what are its boundaries, and where and when it can be properly enjoyed. The truth is, it is not the failure of feminism that has led to the pornification of culture. Indeed, feminism has been part of the problem. In seeking to remedy and redress previous inequalities and injustices, it often sought to make women just like men. It said (in part) if men could be totally free sexually, so should women. But this promise of liberation and freedom has instead simply further enchained women. Indeed, the sexual revolution of the 60s has entrapped an entire generation: men as well as women.
The biblical world view goes deeper in addressing the problem (sin) and goes further in offering a solution (reconciliation in Christ). Simply bemoaning the current culture of porn is not enough. A twofold approach instead is needed. First, personal sexual integrity is the need of the hour. And only a life submitted to Christ and led by the Spirit of God can ensure such a life.
Second, we need to take the porn culture head on that we are all drowning in. Thus we need to band together to fight against the exploitative and demeaning world of porn, prostitution and sexual license. The newly formed Sexual Integrity Forum is one way to begin. Headed by Warwick and Alison Marsh of NSW, this new movement is working to make changes in the legislative, social and political arenas.
A culture that has become obsessed with all things sexual is a culture that is losing its way. Back in 1956 Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin made this warning: “This sex revolution is as important as the most dramatic political or economic upheaval. It is changing the lives of men and women more radically than any other revolution of our time. . . . Any considerable change in marriage behavior, any increase in sexual promiscuity and sexual relations, is pregnant with momentous consequences. A sex revolution drastically affects the lives of millions, deeply disturbs the community, and decisively influences the future of society” (The American Sex Revolution, New York: Porter Sargent, 1956).
We are at the point of either further degenerating as a culture, or of waking up and seeking to turn things around. As usual, it will be the people of the faith community who must lead the charge. That means we must commit ourselves to sexual integrity, and then get involved in the culture wars. It will not be easy. There are many vested interests (especially financial) that are working against us. But we are co-labourers together with the one who has overcome all obstacles, even death.
So while we rejoice that secular voices are becoming concerned over the porn wars, the actual job of fighting this evil will largely be one that we, at least, must initiate. Let us have courage and boldness as we take on this pressing challenge.