Why Female Artists Trying to Fight Sexist Images Might be Missing the Point

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and now seems like as good a time as any to put it in writing and get my two cents in on the matter. What is that matter? Why, fighting the patriarchy of course!

Okay, in all seriousness, it’s this idea that women in pop culture are going to declare their freedom from letting men ogle at them by…doing things that men will undoubtedly ogle at. Is it just me, or does that seem really counterproductive? Regardless of whether it is or not, it’s been happening for some time. As such, I want to walk through a few artistic interpretations (as I understand them) rating them from closest to their mark to not even trying. I can’t say I have the right answers or even an unchanging opinion on the matter (and thank God for that because it means I may just learn something), but I definitely have an idea of how these things come off to me.

1) Lily Allen – Hard Out Here – Rating: Overkill

Let me be the first to say that I enjoy this song quite a bit. Outside of the obvious catchy beat and the general sound of it, the lyrics are witty and poignant. Lily Allen acknowledges that she doesn’t “need to shake her ass for you ’cause [she’s] got a brain,” and I can get behind that idea. She tears down norms in traditional female roles and appearances, and I can support that, too. What sticks out to me the most is her pointing out of her own satire when she sings:

“Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?
Have you thought about your butt? Who’s gonna tear it in two?
We’ve never had it so good, uh-huh, we’re out of the woods
And if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood.”

Basically, if we were considering just the lyrics of this song, there would be some pretty high praise, not necessarily because she is terribly original, but because she makes good points and does so in a way that entertains, thereby getting their attention and using the same tricks that rappers do to get women singing about “big booty bitches” and how they are going to “back dat ass up” without thinking twice. It’s deceitful, but it works.

Then there’s the video…

If you didn’t watch the video, Lily Allen starts off dealing with a manager who thinks she needs liposuction because she “let herself get like this” and proceeds have Allen attack all the gender roles the music industry promotes by offering a parody of them with herself filling the role of the leading man.

If you watched it, you notice that it is an attempt to be satirical about the whole “gender roles are giving women the short end of the stick” thing. By an attempt, of course you realize I mean to say that Allen basically smacks you upside the face repeatedly with the fact that women are objectified in an archaic way.

But think about what she’s doing.

The thing that really turns me off from her message is the back-up dancers. We get it. Men like to have women dressed in something small and tight so they can shake the parts of them that are neither of those things. Super. But what Allen is really doing here is saying, “I’m a woman, so when I let women get nasty on the set of my music video, it’s empowering. When a man does it, though, he’s a sexist animal trying to objectify women.”

Um…I must know, what’s the real difference between the two? Sure, Allen is a woman, and that’s cool and all. And sure, she is making a parody of other music videos where we are bombarded with phallic symbols and all the things a woman can do that a man “wants” to see. Regardless, she is still marketing a product in which those exact norms she is saying are crap show up in the majority of the video.

What I’m saying is that, sure, the lyrics are sending a clear message, but the video itself spends so much time “spoofing” that it essentially becomes an entitled version of what it is claiming is wrong. I could go on forever about the specifics, but what it all comes down to is that just because you are a powerful leading lady preaching against the objectification of women in a relatable way does not give you license to spend most of the valuable minutes that you have my eyeballs showing me exactly what you are denouncing as wrong but claiming “it’s different because of my song.” No, it isn’t. If you want it to be different, actually show me what you are singing about. Give me women who, though maybe oppressed by those gender roles in the beginning, eventually overcome them and offer me a new form of entertainment that I can really get behind.

2)  Meghan Trainor – Dear Future Husband Rating: Wait a Minute…What the Hell?

Again, the lyrics to Trainor’s song paint an entirely different picture than her music video does. The only difference between her and Allen, and it’s a doozy, is that at first brush her lyrics seem to be a declaration of a strong woman who won’t settle for just any man until you realize that she is not only buying into every stereotype of the crazy girlfriend, she is also perpetuating all those whacked out gender roles that we see Allen fighting before.

If I were being frank, I would say there isn’t a line in this song that doesn’t make me cringe, but for you all I will pull out two of my favorites. The first one, “‘Cause if you’ll treat me right / I’ll be the perfect wife /  Buying groceries” makes me a bit ill. Ah, yes, the perfect wife. The one who, in return for being “treated right” and bought things will, in fact, bring food into the house if you would like her to do so. I get that she might have been trying to sound cute, but all she really did was domesticate and prostitute herself all in one verse. Marriage isn’t a deal based system where, in exchange for spoiling the woman, she will do chores around the house. If it is, I want no part of it.

Along with that one, later on in the song Trainor makes it very clear that “I’ll be sleeping on the left side of the bed / Open doors for me and you might get some…kisses / Don’t have a dirty mind / Just be a classy guy / Buy me a ring.” Essentially, she is every man’s worst nightmare and the kind of woman that women don’t want to be associated with. While literally everything is wrong with this verse, let’s just zero in on the fact that if her future husband opens doors for her,  he might just get some…kisses (which you and I both know doesn’t rhyme with “bed”). Here we are again with Trainor offering her “services” in exchange for getting what she wants. I don’t know if this is her way of marketing a different kind of entertainment service, but it is most definitely not a way to assert her independence as a woman and set her standards.

As for the video, well, I’ll just let you see for yourself. Enjoy watching her put a host of men to the “test,” if you can stomach it.


3) Erin Pike’s Her Score Rating: Woah There, Big Girl

I only recently learned about Pike’s work, and I have not seen her full performance. However, from my understanding of her show through her description, her photos and outside conversation, I have come to think that Pike’s only problem is that she is too angry at going too far.

According to her websiteHer Score is billed as “A wordless exploration of female objectification [featuring] a tiny chair, a large purse, and five-inch heels as phallic objects are slowly consumed. What does it mean to be female and under the patriarchy’s constant observation? What exactly are you looking at, anyway? And who gave you permission to look?”

Well, first off, the description is written in such a way that it would appear the show does not need to exist. Between that description and the still frame shots, I don’t believe there is any doubt as to what we are seeing. It is an angry woman challenging a man to watch her do things that are most definitely meant to be sexual just so she can point a finger and say, “This brutish bastard thinks he can watch me eat a banana naked on a stage?!? Well, I never!” I hate to be that jerk, but to answer her last question, who gave them permission to look is her when they bought the tickets to her show.

While I agree with and can get behind the idea of not being a piece of meat watched with strict scrutiny, I cannot get behind her apparent methods at all. What people are going to try and tell me is that I don’t understand the art of it all.

No. I do. And it is not nearly as high level as you think. Yes, it is raw, and maybe she performs it in a powerful way, but regardless of that, there is nothing higher level about it. It is a naked woman fueled by rage at something she can only possibly have had so much experience with. I’d sooner see her take down the patriarchy by creating something so powerful that her gender is no longer taken into account. If you like her style, I can respect that. I just think there has to be a better way to do get her point across.

These are obviously just a few examples of a broad spectrum of attempts to let women be powerful, independent humans in spite of what tradition dictates. Some are far better, and others are Valeria Solanas (the woman who shot Andy Warhol). I am, by no means, claiming that I have the answers. All I can do is look at what is presented to me and offer a critique of what I know does not work. I would to see all people really feel equal, but these are just not the ways to go about getting there. Hopefully people will start to find a better, more balanced message to send to the world, and that rationality will be the turning point.




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