I must admit that I get excited when I hear anyone embrace the term ‘feminist’, especially in the world of modern media; that is, of course, until that person refers herself as a ‘mama grizzly‘. So naturally, when I came across an MTV interview in which Beyonce used the term to define herself, I was rightfully stoked.
I think I am a feminist in a way. It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be; perhaps it’s because I grew up in a singing group with other women, and that was so helpful to me. It kept me out of so much trouble and out of bad relationships. My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.
I have been a fan of Beyonce’s for years, ever since Destiny’s Child’s second CD The Writings on The Wall came out in 1999. They gave a fresh, young perspective on their experiences in the world as women and I sincerely respected their musical talent and honesty. Those are qualities that I respect about Beyonce to this day.
There has been much debate within the feminist blog-o-sphere about whether Beyonce’s lyrics (specifically those of Single Ladies) should be considered empowering. Empowerment is the foundation for all feminist approaches and one might argue that for a woman to say to a man, “this is my bottom line, take it or leave it”, regardless of what that bottom line is, is the very definition of empowerment. Clearly Beyonce is not a Women’s Studies major with years of feminist theory under her belt; however, she’s never claimed to be. Despite the fact that she is not the first pop star to openly categorize herself as a feminist (TLC’s Chili, Lady Gaga, Ellen Page and Ryan Gosling are also on the f-train), Beyonce’s positive acceptance of a term deemed so negative by the media is most definitely praiseworthy. Considering the fact that feminism has been (and still is) regarded as a movement that is no longer relevant, it is extremely important for celebrities to encourage a supportive conversation regarding feminism- as they can reach a demographic that otherwise wouldn’t think twice about it. Not everyone has the privilege of growing up with positive female relationships like Beyonce and I personally wasn’t able to foster my own until I took a Women’s Studies course; but the beauty is that while our phenomonologies are vastly different, we can still come together as empowered women willing and able to advocate for ourselves.
Katy Perryis at the top of the pop star game with her latest single California Gurls currently at #1. As it turns out, if you have a catchy tune no one really questions or cares about the lyrics which is in this case is good for Katy Perry because she says nothing of any substance. At all. This, however, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise seeing as her claim to fame was “I Kissed a Girl”, a song that did nothing but sell a girl-on-girl heterosexual male fantasy in the form of a CD. Go figure. Granted, she does write *most* of her own lyrics and therefore is the only one to thank for the enlightening and empowering messages young girls are consuming all over the country right now:
Bikinis on top
Will melt your popsicle
Oooooh Oh Oooooh
To be quite frank, I don’t personally understand the appeal to her music as I find it to be beyond lame. It is a classic example of just how devoid of originality and substance our pop culture landscape is and it does a perfect job of keeping women in an overly sexualized one-dimensional category. It is songs like this that reinforce our ever growing need for more sheroes and a deconstruction of the messages that we are financially supporting and constantly consuming without batting an eyelash.
In a recent Jezebel post by Dodai, the pop message is explained crystal clear:
Tale as old as time: Love me; I’m pretty! Her cupcake boobs and suggestive frosting-licking are campy fun, though disappointing on some level, since the only message seems to be: I am here for your consumption. Eat me.
As if the lyrics weren’t ridiculously dull enough, the cupcake filling shooting out of her cupcake breasts left me at a complete loss, extremely confused and in search for some sort of justification. Upon further investigation and a quick visit to Wikipedia, I learned that Katy Perry had quite the religious upbringing, raised by two Pastors. In fact, she started singing in her church at the age of nine and her first CD was a self-titled gospel album. So, naturally after her tweet blasting Lady Gaga’s new video this past week as “blasphemous” I couldn’t help but spot the irony. I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss in a skintight rubber dress.
The fact of the matter is that Katy Perry (lame music and all) is extremely popular right now. Whether she likes it or not she is a popular public figure and by default a role model for young women and girls. What exactly does it say about our present female ‘role model’ that the best she can come up with are insipid, sexually explicit lyrics that promote her as nothing more than a Candyland piece waiting to be eaten up by Snoop Dogg?
Yet another girl is pimped out by parents in order to create an internet frenzy. “Baby Gaga” was featured on the Huffington Post today and, to be honest, I felt like I was watching kiddie porn. The simple role playing and dress-up games I engaged in in my youth have become too serious and public for me to be comfortable with. We live in an age when younger and younger girls are sexualized and online access places them at direct risk of coming into contact with registered sex offenders. In this context, a video like this seems incredibly irresponsible and blinded by potential hits (and a reality show, perhaps?).
The media, in a series of editing moves, has now deemed them unacceptable and unfit for public consumption.
I’ve wanted to write this piece for awhile and, in light of Britney Spears releasing unretouched photos of herself for the Candie’s campaign, decided it was time. Unfortunately I wasn’t very surprised by the things “enhanced” on Spears’ body – the usual suspects: cellulite, tattoos, blemishes, bruises, slimming of hips, thighs, waist, etc. But lately there’s been a new body part deemed unacceptable by the photo editors at magazines, record labels, etc. – armpits. That’s right ladies, the area under your arm, even when clean shaven has been deemed far too hideous for general public consumption.
I first noticed the trend, while reading Jezebel, as is usually the case with these kinds of things. They posted the cover of British GQ where Anne Hathaway seems to be missing something. Her armpit isn’t just hairless and smoothed by some moisturizing deodorant – it’s not there at all. Just completely gone, just torso side and…arm, with nothing in between. Since then, I’ve come to notice it in other places as well:
Photo stills of Lady Gaga’s music video Telephone:
A Kim Kardashian exercise line campaign:
A photoshoot for Harper’s Bazaar with Megan Fox:
and finally a Sports Illustrated spread:
Apparently that pesky underarm area hinders exercising, dancing, posing, and uh, swimming.
Now it’s just another thing that’s been added to a list of things for the resident photoshopper at any magazine, PR firm, etc. to check off their list, but I think the issue is much bigger than that. Men don’t have to deal with the same “image enhance everything” that is so prevalent when it comes to actresses and pop stars. For example, when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on the cover of Esquire Magazine, all his stubble, lines, and wrinkles were left intact. For women, this new underarm thing is another flaw that someone in a board room somewhere has decided is not worthy of publication – it must be fixed. It is another issue for women to worry about – another thing for girls to look at and wonder “why don’t I look like that?” and “what can I do to fix it?” These images eventually become the norm, what we think women really look like, or are supposed to.
Yes, I was disappointed with Lady Gaga’s interview with the Norwegian press. It left me confused. Lady Gaga is vocal on the ancient and persistent sexual double-standard that promotes male sexuality and suppresses female sexuality. She marches for gay rights. How could she deny being a feminist? Huh?
But, that confusion and disappointment has turned around for several reasons.
I was happy to recently read that she dropped the f-word to the LA Times and self-identified as a bit of a budding feminist as a reflection of her status as an ever-evolving woman. Super cool. Like Noelle Williams, author of the article that revealed Gaga’s new affinity for the feminist label, I believe this young, dynamic and out-spoken woman has the ability to shift the young public’s perception of feminism and feminists. The bottom line is, Gaga has the power to influence.
That’s why her recent comments to the Daily Mail got me excited. She was talking about sex, safe sex, conscious sex. What’s not to get excited about?
She started by commenting on the rate of HIV infections among women:
‘The rate of infection worldwide is higher than ever for women in our particular demographic,’ says Gaga. ‘Those most at risk are women in my age bracket, 17 to 24 [she is 24], and Cyndi’s, which is 38 to 60 [Cyndi is 56]. Part of the problem is that women in those groups are not getting tested. Here in the UK, for example, the statistics are that 73 per cent of women have not been tested for HIV. This is a disease that affects everyone, not just the gay community, and right now it’s mostly affecting women.’
The bottom line? Protect yourself. Don’t let someone convince you not to use a condom. Many young heterosexual women don’t use condoms because they fear disapproval or rejection from the men they want to be with. And that compromises their safety and health. What a positive and powerful message to send to young women in a culture saturated with endless sexually explicit images and messages (and simultaneously disempowers women, encouraging them to be silent).
I was equally excited to read her statement on sex, celibacy and a woman’s right to choose to be sexual or not:
What it’s about, she concludes, is having the confidence to stick to your guns. ‘I remember the cool girls when I was growing up. Everyone started to have sex. But it’s not really cool any more to have sex all the time. It’s cooler to be strong and independent.’
Incredible! Thank you, Gaga. Thank you for using the spotlight to relay intelligent and important messages on timely and pertinent issues.
“It’s cooler to be strong and independent.”
YES! How often do young girls and women hear that? Not that often in our pop culture arena. There have been scores of articles reporting on the increase of oral sex and intercourse among tweens. Many of my students are TA’s in elementary and middle school and they’ve had first hand experience with 12 year-old girls performing oral sex for tween boys. One student told me he walked in on his friend’s little sister giving her male friend a lap dance. When they asked her what she was doing she replied, “playing MTV.” She was 9 at the time.
Sex and feminism have had an ever-changing relationship. Pro-sex feminism was a response to the critique of pornography and female objectification made by anti-pornography feminists such as the group W.A.P, Women Against Pornography. Feminists since the new millennium have been quick to point out that, yeah, enjoy your sexuality but don’t rest your sole sense of empowerment on sex. I won’t tackle that entire issue here. I just want to point out that Gaga’s statement on sex, the decision not to have sex, to feel empowered to make conscious decisions for yourself is totally feminist and totally awesome. It’s also very much needed as a counter to the ceaseless and confusing messages about sex that bombard young women today. Thank you, Lady Gaga.
This clip was originally posted at BitchMedia last year. In an interview where Lady Gaga is asked about the sexually explicit lyrics in her songs and her sexually provocative persona, she calls the interviewer out on the ancient sexual double-standard that has existed between men and women for literally thousands of years. It’s so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that Jessica Valenti made it the title of a recent book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double-Standards.
If she’s singing about f*****, she’s a slut and a bad role model. If he’s singing about f*****, sticking his d*** in her ear or some other female orifice, slapping her on the a** or what have you, he’s a rock star, a rapper, a happenin’ celebrity…or just a regular guy. It’s a tired, restricting and one-dimensional double-standard that does not serve our society in any way. Good for Gaga for calling him out on it.
Ah, but then it continues. Hmmm. If she’s making a critical statement like that, could she… be a (gulp) feminist?
Nope. Gaga loses points when she perpetuates the stereotype of the man-hating, gender separatist feminist who hates men ( and wants to cut their balls off). There are tons of stereotypes that keep people otherwise supportive of feminist values and goals away from the movement. Man-hating happens to be the number one reason.
Sadly, her former statement was trumped by the latter and proves that most people continue to know more about the stereotypes than they do about the history of the movement, the women and men that organized and sacrficed for rights most people take for granted and it’s core principles. Equality. Freedom.