Far from pushing boundaries, what the recent spate of pop videos show are women well and truly towing the line.
Miley Cyrus! I thought I’d get the name out there straight away so you can be done with rolling your eyes. Far, far greater than the sum of her twerking parts, Cyrus has fast become the poster girl for an ongoing debate about pornified pop; raising more interest than the actually naked women in the hideous Robin Thicke video ever did!
Following Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer, Annie Lennox is the most recent “celeb with experience” to add to the debate. Listening to Lennox on 5 live on monday night she made it clear that having pushed a fair few herself she is “All for boundary pushing” – although going a bit androgynous is small fry compared to swinging naked on a wrecking ball. Or is it?
What Lennox seemed most concerned about is how these videos cross the borders into porn, which she doesn’t think is appropriate for their young fanbase. Porn bothers a lot of people and is one of the focus points of the Campaign for Better Sex Education run by Yas Necati. It’s not covered in schools, yet is available for everyone to watch online. So when Lennox calls for pop videos to be rated like films are, what exactly would be the point? Void of any possibility of content control, what is important is to contextualize porn and the pop that peddles it, and help young people to understand and deal with the pressures it presents.
What is important is to contextualize porn and the pop that peddles it, and help young people to understand and deal with the pressures it presents
I remember the release of Madonna’s ‘Erotica’ single when I was pre-teen in 1992. I seem to recall the video being showcased late at night (probably on Channel 4) and for obvious reasons then, never went mainstream. Now of course, I, and anyone with access to the internet, can watch it on youtube without any warnings or restrictions. Age ratings and parental controls cannot touch young people’s access to the net, if the desire is there.
Back in ’92, knowing I shouldn’t, I watched the preview of ‘Erotica’ via a faked bedtime and my brother’s telly upstairs. Watching it back now, what is really interesting is how far removed from porn it is. Sexy and stylish the video explores gender roles, S&M, powerplay and religion in a song that is actually all about sex. It looks nothing like mainstream porn, as we all clearly know that to look, and is more like a film noir shot in slow motion in the KitKatClub, Berlin. It got Madonna banned from the Vatican and certainly ticked the boxes of boundry pushing pop!
Sexy and stylish the video explores gender roles, S&M, powerplay and religion in a song that is actually all about sex
The ‘Erotica‘ video is entirely appropriate. Not that this is key. It’s not ‘appropriate’ for me to douse myself in glitter each weekend but I do it anyway. I am all for people doing what they want to (so long as everyone consents).
Beyond Cyrus is Rihanna’s newest video release. ‘Pour It Up’ is so extreme it’s like a parody of porned pop. As a lovely feminist friend on facebook asked “What next, will Rihanna smear her fanny on the camera?” While everyone is focusing on Cyrus this stunning example of XXX brainwashing is slipping under the radar; which raises interesting questions in itself. Why are we more concerned about the Hannah Montana star than the Barbadian singer who has, more than once, been on the receiving end of extreme domestic violence yet seemingly advocates the gangster/hoe lifestyle that perpetuates female subjectivity?
Why are we more concerned about the Hannah Montana star than the Barbadian singer who has, more than once, been on the receiving end of extreme domestic violence
I do not advocate censorship in creative terms but I am all for raising awareness of the damaging effects of the pornified sexuality seen in these videos; sexuality based entirely on male dominance and female subjugation. While porn has branded sexuality, selling it back to women in the guise of empowerment, the reality of it is far from sexy, and is it fast becoming mainstream! When Lennox was working her masculinity back in the ‘80s she was genuinely stepping outside of the box – not simply writhing neatly within it. But no boundries are being pushed in the Cyrus/Rihanna videos; a million twerks away from deviance, what we see is women towing the line.
A million twerks away from deviance, what we see is women towing the line
But then why is that surprising? From a very early age women are shown their place when they pass up-skirt shots on newsstands and ‘girl-on-girl lads mags covers in supermarkets. We know exactly what it means to be acceptably attractive and therefore what it means to be acceptable. Now a favourite response of the anti-feminist league to attacks on anything from page 3 to porn is to shame a woman into silence by slinging “prude” and “stiff” at the debate. If they are not throwing the “it’s her choice how dare you comment” line, one camp slut shames, the other tries to put fear into women with the threat of being seen as sexually unattractive, if she happens to not be ‘up for it’.
And this is the paradox of pornified female sexuality and the reason why it’s maintreaming bothers me. Such homogenized sexuality is nothing to do with outward expression, and everything to do with inward approval, acceptance and validation. It is entirely about the male gaze and not female desire – for who knows what might happen if females start to desire? We might desire equal pay, we might desire equal representation, we might desire a world where the stereotypical, pornified parody of femininity isn’t billboarded over our entire lives telling us constantly what is and is not acceptable.
It is entirely about the male gaze and not female desire
As Laurie Penny pointed out in monday’s Comment Is Free “The times when I’ve been strongest and most daring, the times when I’ve been proudest of my own achievements – that’s when I’ve been called a difficult bitch.” I’m all for the boundary breaking, I’m all for the difficult bitch and I’m all for a world where women can imagine for themselves what sexuality looks and feels like.
A shorter version of this article appeared on Independent Voices
Today i’m listening to John Maus (still) :O)
Another actually relevant image for the piece (this is becoming a useful habit) and another couple of pieces by the fantastic and very to the point artist Sarah Maple who I was lucky enough to work with for the equals exhibition I co-curated recently. It included a whole range of current feminist artists, and was fantastic to develop. (I REALLY want this mirror in my house :O)