Trying to synthesize the reactions we got (and the reactions we had) to the various comments on our first post on raunch left us feeling that there are two simultaneous and important truths in contention here.
“Raunch culture is not about a real or unbridled exploration of what turns women on or makes us happy, it’s about one particular — and particularly commercial — shorthand for sexiness, with an emphasis on performance over pleasure, formula over authenticity.”
This is one truth. The pressure on young women to look raunchy, to pay attention to the ever-present images of pornography in the culture, to match them in ways that will draw the male gaze has two huge downsides:
First, as female desirable looks have been in so many cultures, it’s a lot of work, and it takes energy away from other things women might be doing. As Amanda at Pandagon points out, it has always been the job of women to prop up the patriarchal standards. None of this is new.
Second, it can easily distract or confuse women (especially young women) away from paying attention to their own sexuality. Dressing and behaving in ways that are hot for men is not necessarily related in any way to what’s hot for the young woman in the raunchy outfit. She may, if things go badly for her, never learn about what’s hot for her. (She might never have learned that in the 50s, either, of course.)
At the same time, and every bit as important, “raunch” can provide a way for real female power to be expressed, bringing out the women’s power and women’s sexuality that the powers that be are always afraid of.
And perhaps even more important, raunch creates a space in which a genuine hot individual female sexuality can be discovered and expressed. When this is the real deal, it is not the performance of “porn star,” but real aware orgasmic sexuality. Society has never allowed much space for this and, in fact, works hard to prevent and/or punish the real thing.
For some women, raunch culture provides a framework for that heat and energy; and, when it happens, that’s a fucking miracle.
And it’s not only all true at the same time; the two are often woven together in ways that are hard to separate.