As a rebellious teenager, how many times did your mother stop you when you had one foot out the door, demanding you “wear something less revealing!/wipe off some of that makeup!” or simply screeching, “You’re going out looking like that!?”
We can say the same for many of our feminist foremother’s perspectives. For many Second Wave feminists, oppression wasn’t just women’s inability to stand on equal footing to men in the home and workplace. Wearing makeup and girdles for men’s benefit was oppression. Pornography was misogyny on par with rape, or at least its influence on men was severely harmful to women and girls.
And while sex positivity, or the idea that women (even non-married women!) should enjoy sex risk-free of pregnancy, and access to abortion and birth control were growing movements in feminism, much was lacking in terms of inclusivity.
This may as well have been a motto on par with “the personal is political.” First and Second Wave feminists, perhaps from either a lack of education or active exclusion, while fighting for equality left behind women of color, the GLBT spectrum, sex workers, and countless others.
This could be one of the many reasons Third Wave feminists work to combat that privilege to encompass a broader umbrella of people. Third Wave feminism is all about choice: If you choose to be a stay-at-home mother, you can still be a feminist. If you choose to work in the porn industry, you can still be a feminist. If you choose to have sex in every position before marriage, if you choose to have an abortion, if you choose to never marry, if you choose what clothing and how much or how little makeup you wear, you can still be a feminist.
This includes the choice to get in front of a camera, scream, and flash your breasts. Or at least it did until yesterday, when the Girls Gone Wild conglomerate filed for bankruptcy.
A series of legal debts after some shady casino dealings, as well as a $5.8 million award to Tamara Favazza, who sued GGW for recording her exposed breasts without her permission or consent, have yet to be paid, and filing for Chapter 11 will only make it more difficult for money owed to end up in the right hands.
The use of a shot in the Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy series of another woman pulling down Favazza’s shirt and damaging her reputation is clearly a violation of Favazza’s rights. A judge and jury saw evidence of Favazza mouthing the word “no” and resisting the other woman’s grasp on tape. And sadly, Favazza’s case is one of several since the early 2000’s involving allegedly underage and unwilling participants.
But as Ariel Levy documents in her 2006 book Female Chauvinist Pigs, it’s been all too easy for Girls Gone Wild to find women eager to expose themselves on camera with only a t-shirt and sense of wild empowerment as payment. For the young women on Spring Break or at college parties who choose to lift up their shirts or pull down their panties, they aren’t being “slutty” or “skanky.” “The body is such a beautiful thing,” 19-year-old Debbie Cope is quoted during a trip Levy takes with the GGW crew in Miami during Spring Break 2004. “If a woman’s got a pretty body and she likes her body, let her show it off!”
And many a Third Wave feminist would be apt to agree. Body positivity, the fight against fatphobia and fat shaming, and calling out of the media for setting unhealthy standards for women, are just some of our battles for equality. But in that sense, Girls Gone Wild is not as empowering as female participants might think.
You’re hard pressed to find a woman of color or plus-sized woman on a GGW video box cover. And while plenty of the girls going wild kiss, one young woman named Meredith who Levy watches grope a friend on camera later clarifies her actions… when she’s sober.
“I’m not at all bisexual … not that I have anything against that. But when you think about it, I’d never do that really. It’s more for show.”
Which once again brings up the question of straight girls kissing: Is it for male benefit, and does it have a negative impact on lesbian couples who don’t always have that same right to show affection in public?
As much as we roll our eyes at our mothers’ insisting modesty, or our feminist foremothers’ privileged ignorance, Levy makes a point bridging the generation gap: “Why is this ‘new feminism’ and not what it looks like: the old objectification?” Is it a good thing that the Girls Gone Wild corporation is being forced to face its issues of consent and objectification in filing for bankruptcy? Or are we underestimating a force for women’s choice that without outlets like Girls Gone Wild may not have pushed ideas like body and sex positivity to our conscious?
What do you think? Share your thoughts on Girls Gone Wild’s bankruptcy in the comments below.
Written by Lauren Slavin