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Welcome to the second edition of Flash Points, a new weekly feature that provides a critical overview of cultural trends and developments. The main criteria is the issue of cultural relevance. We will therefore be covering topics that range from the latest news to new film trailers. This week we look at the release of a controversial book sexually ‘profiling’ women, the slut shaming of Rihanna and the poor showing of Facebook’s IPO. Please feel free to add your own thoughts and comments—your contributions help determine the meaning of cultural relevance.


Sexual Profiling


The latest call to men to objectify women is about to get widespread release. The worst book ever might be sensationalist nonsense, but it actually seems to go out of its way in its press release to be severely offensive to women everywhere. Indeed, one American woman complained that its FAQ page is arguably the most perfect combination of gleeful sexism and clueless racism ever committed to internet-paper.


You’re probably thinking: What is this book and why are all these people (including myself) giving it free publicity? Well, it’s called The Field Guide to Chicks of the United States, and it only seems appropriate to draw attention to its willful sexism and causal racism.  The assumption is that it’s possible to raise awareness by raising the alarm –  that maybe we can alert people to shameless sexism by publicly shaming into submission. The Field Guide to Chicks of the United States is written by a male member of the seduction community, and he has emerged from one its “lairs” to remind us that women remain easy marks if you know how to play the Game. This playa is presumably unaware of The Rules, a guide urging women to play ‘hard to get’.


As many men might secretly concur, however, the rules are simple: the relations between the sexes is really about sexual relations. All women should therefore be targeted for sex as men compete with each other to successfully hit their targets (make physical contact with, so as to meet their weekly quotas). The Field Guide to Chicks of the United States therefore makes no bones about how men should typically relate to women. As its FAQ intimates, “chicks” are to be “spotted” in their “natural habitats” and preyed upon accordingly. It’s the press release, however, that gives the real indication of the valuable information to be found inside (or beneath) its covers.


“The Field Guide to Chicks of the United States is the must-have summer book as your readers hit the road this summer. The book will help you learn how to spot, identify, admire and appreciate American women all across the country.


Author Joe Bovino has identified 92 different “species” of women across the country. There’s Miss Texas, who is known for her big, blonde hair, large breasts, natural tan and megawatt smile. She is frequently spotted in cowboy boots, short shorts and designer clothes and accessories. You’ll be able to spot her at a beauty salon, beauty pageant, country club or church. The Phillycat is a tiger on the outside and pussycat on the inside who cares mainly about family, friends and basic necessities. She’s likely spotted in a neighborhood bar, coffee shop or shopping mall. And on the West Coast, you are likely to encounter the Peace of Ass who is typically a personal trainer, psychologist or massage therapist. Her “song” is talking about inner peace, personal growth and meaningful relationships. Look for her in health food stores, yoga or Pilates studios, canyons, trails and spiritual centers. On the cover, you can see Afrodisiac, Country Biscuit and Taco Belle!


Bovino is giving his gift of Chickspotting to all mankind in this new book, which offers amusing insights into the most distinctive physical characteristics, vocalizations, behavioral tendencies and mating habits of American Chicks from regional and ethnic subculture (or species) across the country. You will also find vivid illustrations of each Chick, color-coded range maps and other “Chick magnet” guidance.


Set up much like a bird guide, it sticks to the facts that Chickspotters can see out in the “wild”. Instead of identifying why women in America behave as they do or look a certain way – it examines what they do and how to spot them when they do it, all while admiring and appreciating them in their natural habitat.


The Field Guide to Chicks in the United States will get men and women talking, and your readers will appreciate the facts that will surely help them improve their dating lives, and crack a smile while doing so.
The book is full of amazing full-color illustrations that you will have to see to believe. Men will want to see how many they recognize or can cross off their to-do list; and women will want to see if you can “spot” themselves in the book.


The question is whether it’s possible to combat such unabashed sexism (and racism) by calling on potential readers to resist the call of objectification. The guide makes a point of dividing members of our own species into 92 different other species, and divides them according to racial and sexual types. The problem is that any public protest will be similarly preaching to the converted – or a constituency more (or less) willing to take its ‘humorous insights’ seriously. Whatever the book’s failings – its stupidity,  banality, insensitivity, etc – it at least knows its target audience.


Unfortunately, the very things that many people might take exception to – such as its willingness to dehumanize and depersonalize women –  remain the book’s big selling points. The The Field Guide to Chicks of the United States essentially provides a taxonomy of pervasive cultural stereotypes. On the one hand , anyone who might take the ‘field guide’  seriously is missing the point: it’s in on the joke, and is having it at everyone’s expense. On the other hand, the humor merely conceals serious intent.


The way it views woman is no laughing matter, and the jokes come at a high price: it turns sexism (and racism) into a spectator sport. It isn’t so much a clarion call to objectify but an object lesson in ‘laughable’ sexual attitudes: taking women seriously is apparently strictly for the birds. The Field Guide to Chicks of the United States therefore provides a genuine insight into how many men would still like to view women: through a distorting lens.


Slut Shaming


The Field Guide to Chicks of the United States is a needlessly complicated insight into misogynistic attitudes. While there might be “92 different species of chicks” to prey upon, they’re are really only two kinds of women to watch out for. It’s already been amply documented in one form or another that women can simply be reduced to ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’. The bitches, of course, are the women that won’t have sex with men while the whores are the ones that do. The general moral guideline appears to be: try and hook up with as many whores as possible before you end up marrying a complete bitch. 


Apparently many men still think women are only good for one thing, and if a woman wants sex in its own right or on her own terms, there must be something completely wrong with them. The recent slut shaming of Rihanna provides an interesting case in point. It not only embodies the hypocritical nature of the objectification of women, but that sexual double standards continue to regulate a supposedly permissive and liberated culture. Although men and women similarly live in a highly sexualised world, there continues to be a taboo around (or fear of) women actually having sex with men.

As Rihanna has been increasingly subjected to criticism (from former lovers and contemporaries) , a couple of men have surprisingly jumped to her defense. Their clear eyed observations are a reminder that it is important to ‘keep it (or get) real’. Russel Simmons – the co founder of Def Jam Recordings and creator of the Phat Farm clothing empire – publicly complained that “there have been a lot of (musical) artists recently talking about (a) “good girl gone bad”, and the question is: Who the hell are these guys to talk? While the famed businessman has seen it all, he was not quite prepared for all the gossip within the music community. And Michael Arceneux observed in Ebony that there is an “increasingly annoying criticism made about Rihanna that reeks of a double standard” and the “jerk factor… needs immediate fixing”. He went on to note that slut shaming hurts everybody.


“To ‘slut shame’ is to perpetuate the idea that sex is dirty, and in particular, dirty and dangerous for a woman. That rigid mindset is problematic as it is unrealistic and does little in the way of advancing the way we discuss consensual sex between adults.” (Rude Boys: Stop Slut Shaming Rihanna, 16 May, 2012)


Rihanna’s slut shaming – the public dissing of her in song, people privately talking about her behind her back – readily confirms that we would prefer ‘our’ women to be sex symbols than consenting adults. The ideal woman would primarily be a sex object or trophy wife. She would initially be turned into a public offering and subsequently married off. Like Rihanna, she would be sexually attractive and/or provocative – someone we could all ogle, Google and masturbate to, but she’d generally remain hands off. Her sexuality would ideally be objectified and commodified, and used to make other things or people appear more attractive. If some men were lucky enough to have sex with (say) Rihanna, that would be the exception that proves the golden rule: she’s only to be valued as a sex trophy.


We can’t have prospective women owning their sexuality when it’s either to be bought and sold or have some prospector make a territorial claim upon an individual woman’s body. It isn’t difficult to see the morality behind such ‘logic’:  sex cheapens women as it inflates the value of other ‘things’ (such as a man’s ego or Rihanna’s latest song). Many men might want to have sex with Rihanna just for the bragging rights, but they appear to feel similarly diminished by the prospect of being reduced to a mere sex trophy. So while these men need to prove their manhood to themselves and each other, Rihanna should be ashamed of herself for wanting and enjoying sex, too.


Sex might be a measure of a man’s manhood, but it is also becomes a stain on a woman’s character. It therefore dis/counts the price we generally put on women. It’s telling that (say) Chris Brown’s or Rihanna’s ‘reputation’ convey different values. Slut shaming might be used to deter her from having (more) sex, but it also serves another important social function – it can ‘mark’ her like a price tag. 





Oversharing


Rihanna wasn’t the only public offering to have its stock rise and fall on an internal contradiction. Facebook’s much hyped IPO resulted in the value of its shares plummeting and crashing, too. The poor public showing indicated that oversharing has its price, and that the trade off between public and private values proved to be too good to be true. Our emotional investment in Facebook’s Initial Public Offering became a global obsession with diminishing returns. The stock was not only valued above its real worth, but people got less than they bargained for. Indeed, Rupert Murdock’s New York Post went so far as to declare public investors “zuckers!”


“They were Mark Zuckerberg’s cash cows.


Hordes of everyday…people played the fool yesterday to Wall Street fat cats and Facebook insiders, who used a bloated stock price to milk them of billions of dollars during an overhyped IPO.


With a $38-a-share price tag and forecasts for a 10 percent jump, mom-and-pop investors blindly bought in with dreams of instant riches that never came true.


It was another Wall Street bailout — but this time the banks had to cough up the cash. Facebook’s underwriters propped up the social-network’s trading debut , as the shares threatened to crash through the initial public offering price of $38.


‘They squeezed the lemon dry here,’ said Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Management. ‘They didn’t leave enough on the table.


‘This is what happens when you price something around 100 times earnings,’ said Barry Ritholtz, CEO of New York’s FusionIQ.


‘There is nobody to blame but the company and the underwriters themselves.’


Rupert Murdoch was initially proved to be the real sucker of course. Newscorp had brought Myspace for 580 million and was forced to sell it for 35 million when Facebook priced it out of the marketplace. Nonetheless, there were a couple of other ironies about Facebook’s poor debut on the stock exchange. The first was that a virtual environment was blamed for devaluing Facebook’s stocks. Trade occurred on NASDAQ, a – virtual listed exchange, where all of the trading is done over a computer network…(and where) buyers and sellers are electronically matched. A computer glitch ensured that some traders lost money due to mismatched share prices. The very thing that made Facebook a successful social network – computers linked to one another and exchanging information – also compromised it from the outset:  a breakdown in communication prevented people from keeping updated about their status.


Facebook has, of course, brought 900 million active users together to raise their own stock (reputation and popularity) online . The initial public offering occurred in the form of free public profiles and people sharing information amongst each other. Take away all the people on the network freely trading information and Facebook would instantly become worthless –it’s the ordinary people underwriting Facebook that enabled it to be listed on the stock exchange in the first place. Facebook’s ability to deliver all these people to paid advertisers –  to allow other corporations to make their presence felt in the social network –  made it increasingly valuable to stock holders.


The irony, however, is that there are questions about the effectiveness of advertising on a site primarily designed for self promotion. Advertisers aren’t competing for attention with other products or companies but with ‘friends’ sharing relatively worthless information about each other. Facebook has allowed people to trade in their own commodities: themselves . Everyone is primarily interested in marketing their own ‘brand’ there, ironically devaluing the stock of the company bringing everyone together. It was therefore difficult to give people value for their money when they remain more invested in advertising their own wares and shares.


Steven Aoun was the film and television critic for Australia's leading film journal Metro magazine. He has also written music criticism for Melbourne's daily newspaper Herald Sun and been an editorial assistant for CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, the peer-reviewed quarterly of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. He is currently writing a PHD on the nature of critical theory and may even finish it within this lifetime. Steven regularly contributes to PopMatters as a feature writer and previously wrote the column Through the Looking Glass and the Flashpoints series. Steven can be contacted at bonnee01@gmail.com when he is not also writing the novel "On Caroline Jane's Happiness".


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