This fall I was hanging out with my sisters, catching up on pop-culture stuff. We watched some music videos, looked at a few Instagram accounts, and checked out blogs. And amid the usual duck-lipped selfies and staged paparazzi photos, a theme emerged: Stripper poles, G-strings, boobs, and a lot of tongue action were all now normal accessories for mainstream pop stars. Across the board the Instamessage seemed to be: “You know you want to have sex with me. Here, take a look at lots of parts of my body.”
That was at the end of October, a month that had already brought us the Miley Cyrus cross-continental twerk-a-thon and Nicki Minaj’s Halloween pasties. With the addition of Rihanna writhing on a pole in her “Pour It Up” video, and Lady Gaga’s butt-crack cover art for the song that goes “Do what you want with my body,” I was just done. I’d had enough.
I don’t know when the pornification of pop stars became so extreme, but as Robin Thicke‘s “Blurred Lines” video played in the background—naked fantasy women bouncing around and licking things—I realized that the lines were not really blurry at all. They were clear. A new era had arrived.
If 1994 was the Year of O.J.’s White Bronco, 2013 was the Year of the Very Visible Vagina.
Let me say up front: I am not a prude. I love sex; I am comfortable with my sexuality. Hell, I’ve even posed in my underwear. I also grew up on a healthy balance of sexuality in pop stars. Yes, we had Madonna testing the boundaries of appropriateness, but then we also had Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Cyndi Lauper, women who played with sexuality but didn’t make it their calling card. And for every 2 Live Crew “Me So Horny” video girl, there was Susanna Hoffs singing tenderly about her eternal flame.
Twenty years later, all the images seem homogenous. Every star interprets “sexy” the same way: lots of skin, lots of licking of teeth, lots of bending over. I find this oddly…boring. Can’t I just like a song without having to take an ultrasound tour of some pop star’s privates?
On that fall day I wanted to know if anyone else felt like me. So I took to Twitter. (Admittedly, not the best place to go while frustrated. Because, as my best friend puts it, Twitter is a bad neighborhood. If you go there to score, you will be surrounded by people looking to pick a fight. They may also rob you. And carjack you. And call you names. He was right.) Here’s what I tweeted:
This week’s celeb news takeaway: She who comes closest to showing the actual inside of her vagina is most popular. #stopactinglikewhores
And then: Let me clarify. I don’t shame ANYone for anything they choose to do with their lives or bodies…
And then: BUT I think we ALL need to take a look at what we are accepting as “the norm”…
And then: There is a whole generation of young women watching. Sure, be SEXY but leave something to the imagination.
And finally: Also, calling on all men to show me dat ass. (This tweet was purely selfish. If women are going to do all this exposing, why can’t we get a little something in return?)
I was shocked by the responses. Yes, I know, I used the word whore; more on that in a minute. But while some of the Twitterverse was supportive, most reacted like this:
Stop policing how women dress #slutshaming
I used to look up to you for being a highly educated actress but now I think you’re a bit of a misogynist.
And this nice one: RU a whore? (The answer to this would have been an overwhelming YES if you were referring to me from 2007 to mid-2011. Liberating sex run!)
I’m not gonna lie. The fact that I was accused of “slut-shaming,” being anti-woman, and judging women’s sex lives crushed me. I consider myself a feminist. I would never point a finger at a woman for her actual sexual behavior, and I think all women have the right to express their desires. But I will look at women with influence—millionaire women who use their “sexiness” to make money—and ask some questions. There is a difference, a key one, between “shaming” and “holding someone accountable.”
So back to the word whore. My hashtag was “stopactinglikewhores.” Key word, acting. Like I said, I’m not criticizing anyone’s real sex life; as George Michael tells us, “Sex is natural, sex is fun.” But the poles, the pasties, the gyrating: This isn’t showing female sexuality; this is showing what it looks like when women sell sex. (Also, let’s be real. Every woman’s sexuality is different. Can all of us really be into stripper moves? The truth is, for every woman who loves the pole, there’s another who likes her feet rubbed. But in pop culture there’s just one way to be. And so much of it feels staged for men, not for our own pleasure.)
I understand that owning and expressing our sexuality is a huge step forward for women. But, in my opinion, we are at a point of oversaturation. It’s like when TV network censors evaluate a show’s content. Instead of doing a detailed report of dirty jokes or offensive words, they will simply say, “It’s a tonnage issue.” One or two swear words might be fine; 10 is too many. Three sexual innuendos is OK; eight is overkill. When it comes to porn imagery and pop culture, we have a tonnage issue.
And then there’s this: What else ties these pop stars together besides, perhaps, their entangled G-strings? Their millions of teen-girl fans. Even if adult Miley and Nicki have ownership of their bodies, do the girls imitating them have the same agency? Where do we draw the line between teaching them freedom of sexual expression and pride in who they are on the inside? Are we even allowed to draw a line?
Some people think not. Sinéad O’Connor got blowback after writing an open letter to Miley Cyrus, warning her of the dangers of her constant sexual imagery: “The music business…will prostitute you for all you are worth…and when you wind up in rehab… ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body, and you will find yourself very alone.” Miley responded by basically calling her crazy.
It’s all enough to make you want to take a monastic vow and swear off Wi-Fi forever. But I’m an optimistic woman. So as we say goodbye to 2013 and wish for a slightly more clothed, more original 2014, I have a few requests:
Record execs: When you market young pop stars, can you please try to apply some of your own personal moral parameters? (I’m just going to assume you don’t take off your suit midmeeting and do a selfie with a whipped-cream bra.)
Women: Let’s at least try to discuss the larger implications of female sexuality on pop culture without shaming each other. There’s more than one way to be a good feminist. Personally, I loved the Lily Allen “Hard Out Here” video—a controversial send-up of tits-and-ass culture. She helped start a conversation. Let’s continue it.
Men: WHERE ARE YOU??? Please talk to us about how all this makes you feel. You are 49 percent of the population; don’t sit around and let women beat one another up while you intermittently and guiltily enjoy the show. Speak up! We care what you think!
And finally, pop stars: Please stop saying you don’t want to be role models. Because, guess what: You are. You want to sell millions of albums? You want to sell out a tour? You depend on the millions of people who adore you. So maybe just consider some sort of moral exchange program, in the same way that carbon credits make people feel better about driving an SUV. Go ahead and make videos in which your ass cheeks slap water around in slow motion; go ahead and tweet pictures of your undercarriage. But perhaps every eleventh song or video, do something with some more clothes on? Maybe even a song that empowers women to feel good about some other great quality we have? Like, I don’t know…our empathy, or childbearing skills, or ability to forgive one another for mean tweets?
I know some people will wonder what gives me the authority to tell people to do anything. The answer is: nothing at all. But I feel this way—and I’m guessing other women might too. Besides, let me get to the point of this, which is that I’m dropping my new single this year! And if everything continues in this direction, my single will be literally dropping out of my butt. Live at the Video Music Awards. See you there.
Original article here.