Another day, another article arguing that criticism of sexualization and objectification is proof that men are afraid of women’s expressed sexuality and that women are jealous.
What an innovative, groundbreaking notion.
A recent article at Huffington Post defends a twerking video model, Amber Rose, posted on YouTube for her husband Wiz Khalifa’s birthday and Beyoncé’s pole-dancing at the VMAs, on the basis of “agency.”
The author writes, of Beyoncé’s “sometimes provocative dancing”:
‘”What is she teaching her daughter?” some asked, pearls tightly clutched. I would answer, “Agency. Independence. Talent.” But others, it would seem, say watching her mother dance and sing in front of millions — while making millions — is teaching Blue not to respect and value her body. Even when married and a mother — the supposed safeguards against being called a whore — Beyoncé’s “goodness” and motherhood are called into question.”’
According to liberal feminist gospel, twerking conveys “agency,” as does pole-dancing on stage in front of your two year old. “Agency,” being that elusive concept that only those with a four-year arts degree seem to understand. The rest of us, informed by empirical evidence, are slightly concerned about statistics showing that younger and younger girls are increasingly dealing with eating disorders and anxiety, and are being pressured and coerced into performing sex acts and pornified versions of sexuality.
Forget the kill-joy rubbish statistics, this is about AGENCY. And PEARLS. What do pearls have to do with agency? Let me break it down for you:
The liberal feminist representation of “agency” proposes that anytime a woman performs using what we see as “sexuality,” she displays independence, power and agency. If you don’t agree, it’s because you are: (1) a fear-ridden, sex-deprived male, (2) a pearl clutching, sex-deprived conservative, or (3) a jealous woman (possibly sex-deprived).
Negative sex-stereotypes abound. The author claims to want to end negative sex-stereotypes and virgin-whore dichotomies (which feminists have been arguing against for decades), but does the opposite.
The idea is that this dichotomy is smashed because Amber Rose and Beyoncé are wives and mothers but also twerk.
The author asks the reader:
“Are you angry because she’s doing what should never be done [twerking and also being a mother], or are you angry because she’s doing what we should all be allowed to do but feel we cannot?”
I would hazard a guess that many women are somewhat tired of the “post baby body,” “yummy mummy,” “MILF” and “cougar” obsessed world. Even in motherhood, women cannot catch a break from the unrelenting obsession with “sexy” — objectifying mothers is now having drastic impacts on women’s health.
The author then asks:
“…are you angry because [Amber Rose] is standing with one foot firmly in the mother-wife camp, and the other in the camp that is half-naked and booty-shaking?”
Is this a trick question? I thought we were denouncing the virgin-whore dichotomy, but by the end of the article, these stereotypes seem to be more intact than ever.
These kinds of stereotypes — “virgins,” “prudes,” “MILFs,” “pearl clutchers,” “hos” — have no place in an equal society. Such slurs are designed to control and silence women and they are no more or less acceptable whether they are hurled by misogynists on YouTube or from self-described feminists.
Indeed, Beyoncé has made history as an amazing entertainer while simultaneously bringing feminism into the limelight — it is a momentous achievement. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look critically at what she represents and the messages she conveys.
How many tertiary-educated feminists does it take to see that celebrity culture produces (and is a product of) harmful cultural norms including sexism and racism? Norms that deserve to be interrogated rather than uncritically promoted by feminists?
Many liberal feminists seem to get stuck in the mindset that there are only two ways to talk about sexuality: (1) the conservative, “repressed” way: never have sex, or (2) the liberal/”liberated” way: everything “sex” is good, no matter what.
… There’s that dichotomy again…
In reality, there are a million ways to own one’s sexuality that doesn’t require pole-dancing in front of millions of people. Pole-dancing, at the end of the day, really has nothing to do with female sexuality, and everything to do with strip club culture — i.e. male culture, i.e. performing sexualization for the male gaze. It does not, in any way, threaten the status quo.
The recent pole-dancing trend in music videos, exercise classes and stagettes not only celebrates the sexist status quo, but it glamorises sexual exploitation. Research conducted by an ex-stripper showed over half of the dancers had experienced digital rape on the job as well as other forms of verbal and physical assault. More recent research shows that dancers are expected to maintain conventional beauty ideals, often resorting to dangerous surgeries and extreme weight loss measures in order to do so. I guess these women didn’t get the memo about fun feminist agency.
Women have the right to be critical of this increasingly pornographic culture. Parents have the right to rage against the pressure on girls to sexualize themselves for the male gaze. Women who are critical of these messages are not necessarily “anti-sex” or prudes – the reality is more complex than what that binary offers.
There are people who like sex but who are also critical of sexual exploitation. Indeed, as it turns out, some people can envisage a sexuality that doesn’t require market-driven, male-centric, or porn-fueled performance.
Take Lydia Cacho, a Mexican journalist who went undercover to examine how the sex trade was recruiting younger and younger children to fuel the demand for more extreme porn. Cacho felt it necessary to state, “I love sex and eroticism,” during a recent talk she gave in Sydney – probably out of fear that liberal feminists would dredge up the “pearl clutching” line dare she breathe a critical word on porn or “sex.” Cacho showed how the broader culture was leading to younger children being taken advantage of and exploited, whether it be by pimps in Mexico or the kids who accidentally stumble across child-rape porn, due to porn sites linking kid-friendly search terms to their images.
Cacho is an example of a person who enjoys sex, yet is critical of a culture that uses a one-dimensional view of “sex” to sell anything and everything (increasingly to younger and younger boys and girls). The dichotomy that positions sex as something we are either “for” or “against” is unnecessary.
Despite oft-repeated concerns about sexual repression and pearl clutching, sex is no longer hidden or repressed by Puritanism. In fact this has rarely been the case since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s. In today’s world, “sex” has become a ubiquitous cultural narrative. It is the narrative that tells us women’s breasts should be used for porny ads, but not for breastfeeding. It’s online, on TV, in the newspaper, and in your face 24/7 — used to sell everything from porn, to mini pole-dancing kits for kids, to peaches (yes, that’s actually a thing).
While many liberal feminists are critical of exploitative capitalism, they remain uncritical of the capitalist exploitation of sex and sexuality. How can you be anti-capitalism but pro-commodification of sex? According to liberal feminist gospel, workers all around the world lack agency, except for objectified and sexualised girls and women. Even young girls in the sex trade, I have been told, are just “underage workers” with agency. For a movement that claims to be against rape-culture and the patriarchal status quo, this hypocrisy is astounding.
Liberal feminism promotes a market-driven, one-dimensional view of male-centric sex. Rather than promoting diversity or dissidence in women’s sexuality, it decorates the patriarchal status quo with the label “agency.”
Though it might be tempting, assigning “agency” to anything and everything only serves to eschew a more critical analysis of the structural realities of oppression. Tacking the idea of “equality” onto a system that is founded upon structural inequality does nothing but solidify and disguise the inequality. The idea that women must “feel empowered” in disempowering situations is nothing but victim-blaming with a new name.
Patriarchy demands increasing access to women’s bodies, at increasingly younger ages. The sexual revolution prepared men for a world where women say yes to sex, but it did not prepare them for women’s right to say no. Reframing this male entitlement and demand as agency is just a PR campaign for patriarchy.
It’s not as simple as agentic vs. non-agentic. Expecting women to “feel agency” in situations of structural oppression does nothing but pacify true resistance. Liberal feminists are doing women the ultimate disservice by conjuring up stereotypes of pearl-clutchers vs. pole-dancers. Pressuring women to toe the line lest they be labeled jealous pearl-clutchers is the work of misogynists, not feminists.
Laura McNally is a psychologist, consultant, author and PhD candidate. Her current work draws upon critical theory to examine the limitations of corporate social responsibility and liberal feminism. She blogs at lauramcnally.com.
I did not slut shame JLo and Iggy Azalea: Brody Dalle
Everyone was telling me I should watch JLo and Iggy Azalea’s ‘Booty’ music clip. I’d just come back from disappearing myself at a beautiful coastal haven. It wasn’t really the first thing I wanted to do. But, because I’m expected to have something to say on such things (and am about to give a related paper on porn culture at a women’s conference this weekend), I made myself. Really, can it get much worse? Faux lesbian masturbatory material for men who don’t need to bother turning the sound on. And why would anyone want to turn the sound on anyway? It’s a crap song. I mean really crap. It has not one redeeming quality – ‘What you got a big booty’, ‘Baby your booty is a movie star’, ‘Mesmerized by the size of it’, ’It’s his birthday, give him what he ask for’. And so it goes, a moronic cacophony of manufactured, unimaginative, uncreative, commercialised pornified stupidity.
I like what Brody Dalle had to say about it.
“Slut shaming? Body shaming? Girl hating? Please don’t assign incorrect motives to my tweets. It is you who is implying they are ‘sluts’, not me…
“How are the lyrics ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering to women? How? How is spreading your bottom apart and singing ‘give him what he asks for’ empowering at all?”
Miley recently cited Irish singer Sinead O’Connor as an influence for her Wrecking Ball video. O’Connor begged to differ. Here’s what she wrote in an open letter on her website:
I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today i’ve been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your Wrecking Ball video was designed to be similar to the one for Nothing Compares… So this is what I need to say… And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.
I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you.
The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted.. and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.
None of the men oggling you give a shit about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a fuck about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don’t give much of a fuck about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don’t give much of a fuck about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped.. and that includes you yourself.
Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them pray [sic] for animals and less than animals (a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and the associated media).
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever.. Don’t be under any illusions.. ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty.. which they could not do except for the fact your youth makes you blind to the evils of show business. If you have an innocent heart you can’t recognise those who do not.
I repeat, you have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either. Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying fuck about you. They’re there for the money.. we’re there for the music. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.
You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age.. which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.
Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. Its really not at all cool. And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.
As for the shedding of the Hannah Montana image.. whoever is telling you getting naked is the way to do that does absolutely NOT respect your talent, or you as a young lady. Your records are good enough for you not to need any shedding of Hannah Montana. She’s waaaaaaay gone by now.. Not because you got naked but because you make great records.
Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted.. its so not cool Miley.. its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. we aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers.. that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career. Kindly fire any motherfucker who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you.
I would very much like you please to apologise to myself and Amanda Bynes for having perpetuated abuse of both of us on the grounds that we have had ‘mental health issues’ and or experienced suicidal feelings and were open about it.
This should also involve an apology to all sufferers of mental health difficulties.
I’m not sure if you are aware that in your own country 7 out of every 100,000 people between the ages of 15 and 19 commit suicide every year. The third highest cause of death for those in that age range. Or that on average one person in your country dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes.
In your country suicide is the second highest cause of death amongst 25-34 yr olds.
A lot of these deaths would not take place if it were not the case that stigmatisation and bullying and buffooning of those perceived mistakenly or otherwise to have mental health issues, especially when they seek help, creates silence and causes many not to seek help.
Bullying of mentally ill people causes deaths. Period.
You may have noticed that in your country it is the fashion to lynch young famous ladies in the streets because they have been diagnosed crazy by media and or celebrities. This is unacceptable. And at some point the media may attempt it upon you. If so they will certainly have to deal with me.
Look Miley, what you did to myself and Amanda encouraged enormous abuse of us both, publicly and privately. And will certainly have made it difficult for young people who admire you and who may be suffering with mental health problems to feel they can be open and seek help, since you had us mocked for seeking help.
It is imperative that all suicidal people seek help. Whether they do so on twitter or anywhere else is beside the point. People must save their lives by any means necessary which do not involve hurting anyone. It is extremely dangerous to vilify these who are brave enough to seek help as I did. Or to support in any way the public lynching of so called ‘mad’ people.
Young people are being buried in their droves, having died by suicides brought about by bulling of the type you perhaps unwittingly subjected myself and Amanda to. The type of media bullying which resulted from what you did causes suicides. And perpetuates the idea that those deemed by the media to be crazy are fit for nothing but to be mocked and insulted, this causes deaths. Period.
As a result of what you did I have had numerous communications from people urging me to commit suicide. Not to mention I have been the subject of literally thousands of abusive articles and or comments left after articles, which state that I and therefore all perceived mentally ill people, should be bullied and be invalidated….Read in full here
Teaching little girls that make up rituals should start early
“Make-up is for everyone!” declares 5-year-old Madison, who has become a You Tube sensation for her video sessions on make-up application, recorded and uploaded by her mother.
A child doesn’t make this statement in a vacuum. As documented over and over on the MTR blog, little girls are imbibing a dominant, all-consuming message about physical appearance equating with worth. This has become much more than a child messing around with mum’s makeup, but is now more a reflection of cultural conditioning and the commercialisation of childhood (so perfectly captured in the book title This Little Kiddie Went to Market). What we are witnessing here is just part of continuum which includes child beauty parlours and toxic child beauty pageants. The beauty rituals which adult women are expected to engage in daily are now being transported to little girls.
Madison’s DIY make-up tutorials have been seized upon by cosmetic companies who appear to be sending her products to spruik. The product placement is now overt and there are links back to cosmetic sites. Madison appears to be becoming a tool of the global beauty industry. Her You Tube videos have titles like ‘Sibu Review’and ‘MAC Lipglosses’. It would be good to see Madison’s bubbly personality and creativity directed in other ways.
Parenting blogger Yvette Vignando and I were asked our thoughts on Channel 7’s Morning Show Friday.
More on the pornification of female artists: MTR on Channel 10
Music industry producer Mike Stock recently came out against the increasingly pornified performances of female artists, an issue I blogged on a couple of weeks ago. In a piece titled Why this pop-porn will damage a generation of children, Stock wrote in the Daily Mail:
Now, however, an entire generation of young girls, some as young as eight or nine, is growing up transfixed by the writhings and thrustings of performers such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna, singing along to lines such as ‘Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it’…
Just as worrying is the impact the same material must be having on young boys. What is happening now doesn’t just undo all the good work done by the feminists of the 70s, it drags us almost back to the Stone Age. Women, as seen through the eyes of the music industry, have become little more than sex objects again. Read full article here.
With Miley Cyrus having toured Australia, and attracting media interest for her clothing and performance in an audience dominated by very young girls, Channel 10 asked me to comment. Here’s what I said:
I should probably declare an interest before I post these two articles which I’ve wanted to share with you for awhile.
I love Adele.
I only discovered her recently. Her song ‘Someone like you’ did me in. Have a listen.
And her cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ is gorgeous beyond belief.
No Lady Gaga porno gimmicks. No Christina Aguilera crotch shots. No Rhianna bondage and banana clips.
Adele doesn’t need any of this. She’s only 23, but she knows she can sing. It is her voice, and her presence, which makes her a star. She doesn’t need to follow the sexualised scripts demanded of so many young artists and which I’ve written about before here.
So I was heartened to read these recently published pieces echoing my thoughts.
‘Faux porn’ music videos may be headed for a sex change, says label boss’
The Guardian – May 30, 2011
A top record executive has launched a damning attack on music industry attitudes, claiming the insistence on over-sexualising female artists has led to “boring, crass and unoriginal” music.
Richard Russell is founder of record label XL Recordings, home to the hugely successful UK singer-songwriter Adele, 23, who he said had the potential to change the way women were seen in the industry by focusing on her music rather than her sexuality.
“The whole message with [Adele] is that it’s just music, it’s just really good music,” said Russell. “There is nothing else. There are no gimmicks, no selling of sexuality. I think in the American market, particularly, they have come to the conclusion that is what you have to do.” Read article here
Pornography killed the video star – pop music’s latest little death
Warwick McFadyen, June 4 2011 – National Times
SOME commodities are dug from the ground. Some are grown from the soil. Some are reared on the land. The value of each, whether it be iron ore, wheat or cows is governed by supply and demand.
So it is with the pairing of sex and women – the raw materials in the manufacture of a musical product that has less to do with the ostensible first cause of said product, that is the song, and much more to do with the selling of a chattel.
The sexualisation of women in the pop business to achieve this aim credits no one. It is a disgrace. In this commodity market, the human becomes the object. A singing, dancing object that has been degraded of individuality so as to be amorphous, malleable and interchangeable. Puppets and puppetmasters. Read article here.
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“Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping…educate the public on the link between pornography and violence…” – Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence
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‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
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Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.