On racism, call out culture and holding each other accountable for The F Word
On the democracy of the internet, the return of Spare Rib & how it might work around online feminism for The Guardian
Today’s family planning panel at the LSE provided real food for thought, particularly around human rights and women’s welfare worldwide. It is a fundamental human right of every woman to be able to choose when they want to be pregnant, and a lecture hall full of pro-choice health professionals was nothing less than refreshing.
The event’s twitter hashtag was #nocontroversy, but it’s safe to say the event wasn’t complete without some anti-choicers slipping through the net and shouting from the floor. I’ve jotted down a few thoughts on the event (which was largely positive).
An explicitly gendered perspective is absolutely crucial- and it’s something I felt was lacking from the panel. This means crediting the women’s organisations who have championed this cause for years. This means saying the word ‘feminism’ explicitly when talking about the intricacies of the issues. When we talk about vulnerable child brides in developing countries being denied family planning advice because they’re married, we need to address the fact that this intrinsically patriarchal. When we talk about governments worldwide deprioritising and underfunding family planning efforts, this needs to be linked with the fact that women’s issues are too often side-lined in the public sphere. Family planning is a reproductive rights issue- an on-going battle for women across the world to take charge of our destinies, with our reproductive systems not governed or restricted by any state. Let’s talk about the fact that too often, those governing are men, and those restricted by legislation or culture are women. We should be honest, and we should be clear- family planning is a feminist issue.
A global summit is undoubtedly a good thing, but an emphasis family planning issues in developing countries gives the west an easy way out. 300 miles west, women in a developed country, Northern Ireland, are forced to travel abroad to access abortion services. Kids in the UK are still not receiving compulsory sex education- the key to a holistic approach to reproductive rights. And, whilst the West’s problems pale in comparison to the battles women and girls in the developing world face daily, a panel that doesn’t address these factors paints a false idea of what it’s like to be a woman in the west.
Celebrity advocates can take important causes and elevate them to high profile status, so it was great to see actress Ashley Judd taking part in the panel. That being said, when member of the Society for Unborn Children (SPUC) provided the floor with an anti-choice rant, it was disappointing to see Judd’s retort centre solely on explaining how important it is that contraceptives prevent abortions. If we are to defend women’s reproductive rights in all forms, we can’t pander to anti-choice rhetoric in any way, shape or form. Judd’s contraception yardstick was used to placate- even reassure- the suited man from SPUC. But those who are anti-choice make their arguments very clear- they oppose all methods of contraception that prevent conception, as well as opposing a woman’s right to access abortion services. Placating their demands with halfway house agreements delegitimises access to abortion in the very same breath as it defends contraception. We must be clear about out values from the start- there is absolutely nothing wrong with safe and legal access to abortion.
Opposition to a woman’s right to choose manifests itself in a few tired forms, but the thread linking each is the assumption of some kind of anti-humanity agenda. Defending and promoting reproductive rights has nothing to do with a western conspiracy to reduce population growth in developing countries (as one imaginative audience member suggested), and everything to do with women taking control over our reproductive systems.
You can read more about the London summit here.
A shorter version of this post is available on Liberal Conspiracy
My four year old sister has a pink pair of plastic high heeled shoes. They are not the type of too-big heels that little girls tottered about in years gone by. They fit her little feet perfectly, and she clops about the house in them. She also has a red scooter that she rides along the street, picking up and collecting the elastic bands that postmen drop on their rounds. I ask her why she does these things (wears the heels, collects the bands). Her answer was the same for both. It’s fun. When my sister wears her pink high heels she isn’t vying for the attention of men or boys. She isn’t sexualising herself. Yet when I first saw her teetering about the house in these heels I panicked. In my grown up mind, a high heel is a shoe designed to make the leg look elongated and sexually appealing. My instinctive protectiveness towards my sister made me want to snatch away the shoes, to dispose of them, to have her running around in trainers again. I didn’t want anyone looking at my sister like a sex object. But upon more thought, I came to the conclusion that the only person sexualising her was me. By assuming she thinks the same about high heels as my adult brain does, I was thinking of her as a being with a comprehensive understanding of sexual consciousness. She isn’t.
At a recent friend’s family get-together, music was playing, and one six year old got into the spirit by imitating the dance moves she had no doubt seen on TV. She was quickly reprimanded by a fellow party goer who told her not to dance like that, ‘because little girls who dance that way grow up to be whores’. She didn’t understand why she was being told off, and started to cry.
And yesterday on Question Time, Germaine Greer saw fit to brand little girls in sequined Jordan-pink jeans ‘tarts’.
Over the past week, lots of concerned adults have seen fit to speak on behalf of children, caught up in the grasping fear that they are all being sexualised beyond anyone’s control. Amidst all of the arm flailing, hand wringing concerns over the sexualisation of children, there has been some blind confusion about exactly who or what is sexualising them. Reg Bailey, author of the Department for Education’s review into the issue entitled ‘Letting Children be Children‘, is baffled. In his analysis of this increasingly sexualised society, he finds it hard to pin down any cause, admitting ‘it is far from clear how we arrived at this point’.
Predictably, his much anticipated report was ultimately meaningless, based on emotional unease instead of quantifiable evidence, without even a distinct definition of sexualisation in the first place. It’s almost depressingly comical to watch commentators and journalists alike repeatedly stumble over and miss the root of this dilemma.
The perspective of this sexualisation is almost philosophical. Many news reports cite worried parents lamenting the loss of their children’s innocence, but I think it’s worth asking- lost innocence in who’s eyes?
Children are not sexualising themselves. Adults are sexualising them by projecting adult morality on to them. More often than not, that adult sexual morality is entrenched in sexist ideals. The sexist ideals floated to the surface when that six year old girl was warned she would grow up into a whore if she continued to dance provocatively. Sexist ideals dictate to us that the way a woman or girl dances must reflect how much sex she has had, or wants. Sexism tells us that women don’t just dance for dancing’s sake- like every other female action and endeavour; it’s orchestrated for the benefit of men. Because after all, isn’t that why we function?
What happens when you project your patriarchal adult moral ideals on to pre-pubescent bodies? The judging starts. Suddenly little girls are called whores, tarts, sluts.
This sexualisation doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and is indicative of the wider problem of objectification of women’s bodies. Is it any wonder that these toxic gender roles are filtering down to kids?
They imitate their idols and we shame and punish them for it. The female idols in question are often regarded with disgust for balancing on the knife edge between daring to announce publicly that they have sexual feelings, and exploiting their sexual imagery. Morality crusaders are quick to let us know that sex is all around us, and that sex sells. But that’s a lie. It’s not sex all around us, but the objectification and consequent marginalisation of women’s bodies, commodified into accessory status. But for some strange reason, nobody wants to talk about that. It’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to challenge patriarchy. It’s easier to wail about this sexualisation of our children, all the while colluding in the myth that all of these sexualising factors are immediately permissible once the girl in question turns eighteen.
Regulation and legislation will not fix this. Equality will. Free women from these narrow, suffocating gender-fascist ideals of appearance and behaviour, and the girls will follow.
I’ve written for The Guardian’s comment is free about Nadine Dorries and her victim blaming on yesterday’s Vanessa Show.
Tucked away on daytime TV on Monday afternoon, Nadine Dorries was justifying her proposals for elements of abstinence-based sex education for girls. The Vanessa Show saw the Conservative MP go head to head with Julie Bentley, chief executive of the sexual health charity FPA. The women, along with presenter Vanessa Feltz and retired rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio, discussed the bill that was unveiled to the House of Commons two weeks ago.
When it was first introduced, Dorries insisted her aim was to empower teenage girls to say “no” to sex. There is really nothing empowering about teaching young women that their sexuality is not their own. Abstinence-based sex education teaches girls that sex isn’t something that they participate in – instead, it’s something they give in to. Towards the end of the debate, Dorries said:
“A lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don’t realise until later that that was a wrong thing to do … Society is so over-sexualised that I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.”
Read the rest here!
These were the words uttered by a Toronto police representative in January, talking a group of students at a campus safety information session. He’s not the first. In 2009, androgynous pop singer La Roux said: ‘There’s far more ways to be sexy than to dress in a miniskirt and a tank top … I think you attract a certain kind of man by dressing like that. Women wonder why they get beaten up, or have relationships with arsehole men. Because you attracted one, you twat.”
I can’t be the only twenty one year old woman who is no stranger to these warped opinions. The stance is deeply rooted in the notion that a woman’s body is some kind of public property that must be owned (not by the woman herself, mind) and protected by those who seek to steal or defile it. It’s an almost ingrained attitude that finds itself wheedling into every crevice of our culture- for example, many women who experience street harassment find telling the pursuer that she has a boyfriend is an effective deterrent- ‘thanks for the attention, but I’m already owned by somebody else’.
Arguments that attempt to justify victim blaming often (if not always) equate women’s bodies to property, money, or food. All of these things are less than human. Women are none of those things. Victim blaming absolves those who sexually harass, assault, and rape of all responsibility, shifting the focus to the person they did it to. Additionally, it paints men as uncontrollable sex beasts who are lead entirely by their insatiable penises, devoid of morals, logic, and empathy. In short, victim blaming undermines us all.
False debate about women’s clothing is definitive of rape culture. It excuses abusers for the crimes they commit. Maybe we should stop asking women if our clothes make us more susceptible to sexual assault, and stop letting abusers off the hook.
Women’s bodies are dragged out into the public sphere over and over again. Right wing extremists attempt to legislate subjective sexual morality amongst the echelons of power, from Nadine Dorries in the UK to republicans in the United States. Whilst these people make decisions about how we should conduct our bodies, we are being dissected.
Nobody ever claimed that the slutwalk movement celebrates promiscuity in women. But even if it did- so what? For hundreds of years, woman’s virtue has been inexplicably linked with chastity. We are constantly being defined by what we don’t do. The virgin/whore dichotomy is nothing new. We live in a time when Tory MPs are sitting in parliament pushing regressive abstinence agendas that teach young women that sex isn’t something you participate in, it’s something that you give up. The hand wringing hysteria over assertive female sexuality sexual autonomy is both extremely archaic and very much alive.
All of this is why I welcome the slutwalk movement with open arms.
The movement’s website states: ‘With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.’
Basic feminism 101. So why the backlash? It seems the name of the movement has caused confusion- some more methodical than others. I used to respect the anti-pornography campaigner Gail Dines, but her problem with feminist activists organising without her permission is unnerving. I admit, I must have missed the memo that confirmed she was crowned Queen of Feminism, because her approach to the debate appears to be very much her way, or the highway. Gail, along with professor of sexual violence Wendy J Murphy, have voiced strong opposition to the idea of slutwalks, asserting that women should not be fighting for the right to be called sluts. Whilst I sympathise with their reservations about the word, but I just can’t agree with the way they have let their concerns hijack the very real issue of victim blaming. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the misinterpretation of the cause and the consequent Guardian article condemning the march has single handedly begun the avalanche of misinformed debate that is obscuring the original cause of the march. As for Gail’s continued worry that concentrating on slutwalks will deplete precious feminist resources- I’m confused. I didn’t realise every feminist activist ran out of feminist energy at the end of every month. Should we be calling Dines for a top up?
Yes, the word slut is a contentious and derogatory term, with its conception mired in slut shaming and victim blaming. However, I can’t help wonder if Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy are wilfully missing the point. Surely the name of the march is a direct response to the policeman’s comment. Why are they choosing to ignore this? With a mainstream culture that rarely challenges victim blaming, I’m not sure if we should be trying to pick apart a genuinely well-meaning movement in its infancy.
The subsequent backlash over reclaiming the word slut doesn’t just shove the original cause to the margins, it is also incredibly indicative of a repetitive cultural hysteria over women’s sexual autonomy. What does promiscuity mean anyway? In this context it seems to be that age old outrage about women enjoying and even pursuing (!) sex- otherwise known as slut shaming. I doubt these links are a coincidence.
I’ve no inclination to reclaim the word slut, but I do believe that we should start shouting about how the word is consistently used to shame and blame women. That’s why I’ll be going on the march, and you should too.
It’s the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day today! I’m feeling a bit emotional about it. In fact, I think I might like International Women’s Day more than I like Christmas day.
The women and girls of my generation often enjoy the achievements of feminism without really giving any credit to the women who fought for it. There are those who actively reject feminists of old, and those who tell me feminism is no longer relevant. They’re wrong.
I wrote this for IWD 2010 in the midst of my feminist awakening. Up until then I’d felt something strange was going on, sensed some injustice, but the concept of feminism was completely alien to me. The closest I’d ever come to it was girl power- false empowerment wrapped up in a capitalist bow.
It’s funny that just a year ago I was only vaguely dipping my toes into the ocean of activism that I soon discovered exists. Feminism is such a huge part of my life now that I couldn’t imagine me without it.
So, I’m going to dedicate this post to saying thanks to feminism.
Thanks, feminism- if it wasn’t for feminism, I wouldn’t be at university.
Thank you, first wave feminists, for fighting for my right to vote.
Thank you, second wave feminists, for freeing my generation from that restrictive, singular career choice of wife and mother. Thanks to feminism I am not consigned to a life of domesticity. And If I chose to be, that would be ok, because it would be my informed choice, not one thrust upon me.
If I choose to get married and my husband views my body as his instead of mine, I can report him to the police. Thanks for that, feminism.
Thank you feminism for fighting for me and every other little girl of my generation to have options past fulfilling and supporting men. Thanks for letting me know that it’s ok to be my own person and have my own dreams, that I don’t have to consign my life to the male gaze, and that marriage isn’t my only destiny. Thanks for assuring me that I can have and own sexual feelings without having to feel dirty or wrong.
Thank you feminism, for handing me control over my own uterus.
Thanks feminism, and your consequential activism, for introducing me to some rather awesome people this year.
Thanks to feminism I’m a lucky, lucky girl. When I speak to older feminists I hear horrific stories of blatant and overt discrimination, 20, 30, 40 years ago, based entirely on their gender, and for black feminists, also their race. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. But just because that misogyny isn’t as overt today (sweeping generalisation, it often is, and is disguised as ‘banter’ or justified with blind and dogged misogyny) doesn’t mean it’s disappeared. Misogyny is clever, it’s sophisticated and manipulative. Misogyny is in those images of impossible ideals marketed to young women that eventually makes impressionable minds ill. It’s in that anti-wrinkle cream that promises eternal youth and advocates that warped message that older women are no longer sexually attractive and therefore invisible. It lingers upon page three of The Sun and in those lads mags that make you feel uncomfortable when you pop into your local newsagents. It’s rife in porn, which seems to be serving increasingly as sex education and somehow dictating just how far women’s bodies can be brutalised, and just how much men can do to them.
So I’m eternally grateful to the feminists and womanists and women-who-didn’t-define-as-feminists-but-still-fought-for-equality of the past. I’m a 21 year old woman enjoying the achievements of their efforts, but despite this I still understand that there’s work to be done. Because as long as women’s bodies are still seen as public space, still used as insults, still used as a synonym for weak and pathetic, as long as women are beaten by their husbands; and as long as women and girls across the globe are denied access to education, equal pay or just any work at all, as long as governments see fit to control women’s bodies, and as long as women are bought and sold in the name of objectification, as long as women’s genitals are sliced and stitched and mutilated for fake notions of chastity; as long as women have to suffer sexual shame, as long as single mothers are blamed for the ills of society, as long as a woman’s work is never done, and as long as women and girls are blamed for sexual assault and rape, as long as women internationally are confined to lives of domesticity and servitude, as long as women’s bodies are oiled up and dissected in music videos, as long as the female form is used to sell things, and as long as women are seen as subordinate to men;
That’s how long I’ll keep fighting the feminist cause. Solidarity.
I wrote a guest post for Education for Choice, which I shall also cross post here.
It must be very difficult to be a poor woman in the US right now. Rich, white, powerful men have spent the past few weeks in Congress making life changing decisions that will ultimately determine whether women will be granted control over their own bodies.
Unfortunately, it looks like Congress is winning.
If you follow American politics, you may have noticed that there has been an unprecedented rise of right wing patriarchal traditionalism in recent months- a movement that is callously concentrated on keeping women in their subordinate place.
First came the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. In this bill, speaker of the house John Boehner asserted that funding for abortions should only be provided to women who have been ‘forcibly raped’. With this phrasing, Boehner aspired to realign the definition of rape so that it fitted neatly with his own ideology. ‘Forcibly raped’ quite unsubtly suggests that women who don’t emerge from rape or sexual assault covered in bruises are somehow lying or disingenuous when they ask for help. It excludes victims of incest who are over 18. ‘Forcibly raped’ immediately eliminates those women who have been raped whilst drugged, raped whilst intoxicated, or manipulated and groomed.
Then, Congress voted to strip Planned Parenthood, America’s largest sexual and reproductive health provider of funding – effectively barring access to hundreds upon thousands of poor women across America who can’t afford healthcare.
Currently, South Dakota is considering a law that would make abortion providers guilty of a crime punishable by death.
And now, Republican Rep. Bobby Franklin is campaigning to classify abortion as murder, and wants to put policy in place that would require hospitals to report all spontaneous miscarriages so that women can be investigated for abortion. He’s joined Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker in an all-out assault on abortion rights.
For too long now, the misconception that pro-choice means anti life has warped public debate about women’s reproductive rights. This mistaken logic leads to anti-choicers branding sexual health and abortion clinics as murder houses, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The same people campaigning to ban abortion are often those campaigning to restrict sex education, with the misguided belief that abstinence is the only way to curb teen pregnancy. To assert that young women shouldn’t have sex if they don’t want to get pregnant is absurd. Take a look around at our hyper sexualised culture and you’ll notice one stark factor – the idea of pregnancy has been completely divorced from the concept of sex.
Educating young women about sex and relationships, as well as granting them access to contraception and the morning after pill are all key factors that are likely to reduce the rates of abortion. Pro-choice means granting women the dignity to make their own decisions without governments interfering with and attempting to control their reproductive organs. Motherhood is glorious, but women aren’t baby machines. Much of the abortion debate has been fuelled by ideology; with those in government putting their own beliefs before the health and well-being of women in their own country. A recent US study found that 77% of anti-abortion leaders are men. 100% of them will never be pregnant.
It’s a funny paradox that the American republican right occupy themselves with. In the midst of all this passion to rescue potential life, they’ve forgotten actual life – the women having to make these difficult and devastating decisions. The women who own these bodies. In the middle of a recession, America’s republican men and women are more interested in policing women’s bodies instead of focusing on wider social, cultural and economic causes of a catastrophic financial crisis. It seems, in times of austerity, it’s easier to bully and belittle those with no power rather than address real issues. These false bastions of the family are currently channelling all their energy into making the world a harsher place for American women.
It’s always good fun to see white men pass big fat swathes of unfounded judgement on the black community- in particular, black women. I usually steer clear of conservative or right wing blogs as they tend to leave a nasty after-taste, but I was intrigued when Tim Montgomerie, editor of leading political blog Conservative Home, tweeted a link to a post from Graeme Archer. A ‘brilliant piece’, he tweeted, ‘on what we are and are not allowed to say’. I respect Montgomerie’s commentary, so I clicked, assuming a piece on state censorship, or freedom of information. What I got was a thinly veiled attack on the black community, our make-up, and a hand wringing lament on fatherless homes.
Last week, 20 year old aspiring hip hop dancer Claudia Seye Aderotimi tragically passed away after travelling abroad to receive silicone injections in her buttocks.
Archer’s post, entitled ‘Don’t Look Now’, ended with the gem ‘Why mustn’t you say these things? Oh come on, do I have to spell it out? You haven’t mentioned ethnicity once. But you will be called a racist.’
His knee-jerk desire to blame this tragic case entirely on the black community is really quite worrying.
Graeme Archer doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He blames Hip Hop when he should really be blaming the patriarchy. Hip Hop is predominately misogynistic because its control is in the hands of men, who regard women as little more than oiled up, jiggly, rotund decoration for their pleasure.
The unique thing about the patriarchy is that allows men from all cultures to band together and sneer at the women who go to great lengths to fit their arbitrary definitions of what’s acceptable, and what’s not. Archer is right when he describe the misogynistic nature of Hip Hop as ‘a machine which is used by its owners to enrich themselves, to set out their desired norms regarding female behaviour and appearance’. I blogged about that a few weeks ago. But he loses all equality points with his discriminatory stance on black women’s bodies and the black community as a whole. His offhand comments about black women’s ‘over-inflated backsides’ reveal an ugly misogyny that he tries hard to disguise at the beginning of his piece. I’m a black woman, and I have news for him- some of us don’t undergo surgery to gain our big backsides- we are naturally shaped that way. It’s just that this body shape is now held up as the aspirational ideal- kind of like playboy bunnies and big breasts. And, as we have enough hassle from the extreme objectification of our bodies in these videos orchestrated by black men, we could do without the wrinkled nose disgust about black women’s body shapes from white men like him.
Personally, I miss the days when Hip Hop was like this, rather than the commercialised rubbish beamed out on MTV Base. The body fascist patriarchy manifests itself in all sorts of subcultures. Each hold different specifics but the crux of the message is the same- women, you have to be this body shape to be perfect.
Shame on you, Conservative Home. If you wanted astute analysis on this tragic case, plenty of black, female writers would have been happy to contribute. Maybe even a young, black, female writer- the unfortunate target audience of Hip Hop’s ugly machine. Perhaps then the post would have focused on the very real problem of body Hip Hop’s body facism, rather than descending into an arm flailing, wailing lament about ‘kids these days’ from an out of touch old fogey.
Archer’s comments on Hip Hop’s ugly, inhuman machine are entirely misappropriated. Its patriarchy’s machine we should be worrying about. Conveniently, he fails to mention any cases outside of Hip Hop culture that detail women undergoing cosmetic procedures with fatal results. This is a symptom of impossibly achievable ideals that are sold to women as aspirational. It’s horribly tragic, and the ideal doesn’t just exist in the black community. Maybe cosmetic surgery related deaths outside of hip hop culture probably doesn’t fit into Archer’s ‘self-destructive black community’ narrative that he’s so eager to promote. Instead, he makes disjointed connections about teenagers on the top decks of buses and fatherless homes. Graeme- I grew up in a black, fatherless home with plenty of boundaries- and those boundaries made me the person I am today. You can take your undiscerning, unfounded generalisations, and piss off.
Ever wondered what misogyny is? Read this interview.
I fully understand that the concept of feminism doesn’t appeal to everyone (equality isn’t everyone’s bag, especially those who seek to benefit from inequality) but I was very, very pleased to see almost universal condemnation directed at ex Big Brother contestant, the detestable Kenneth Tong.
Popularised via Twitter over the past week for his disgraceful, irresponsible tweets encouraging women and girls to starve themselves for the benefit of his limp penis, today Tong felt the full force of interrogational journalism when Independent columnist Johann Hari’s interview with him hit both the internet and press with a bang.
Tong doesn’t believe women are fully human- rather, women everywhere are disposable playthings for him to exploit freely. Women’s flesh should be regulated. Hell, women shouldn’t even eat! How selfish of them!
Gems such as ‘A girl who has sex for free is an idiot. Seriously.’ prove that Tong views women in an incredibly twisted light- not as human beings with thoughts, feelings, wants, needs and desires, but instead as blow up plastic moveable dolls that exist solely for male utility.
This isn’t a free speech issue- far from it, because I will, and am, using my free speech to contest his free speech. And, whilst this idiot has the right to say whatever he likes, those of us who oppose his hate speech (and this is hate speech, directed at women and the overweight) can use our free speech as an effective protest.
I’ve resisted adding my voice to the crowd for a while on the premise of Tong’s attention seeking nature- but it’s obvious that he’s got his attention now, so I don’t see why not. Thank goodness that everyone thinks he is awful.
I don’t have much else to say on the issue, and I certainly don’t have anything new to add to the condemnation- Johann Hari has covered it brilliantly. Everyone should read the interview. Just read it.
Not me. Last night, the BBC attempted to tackle the issue with a sliver of sensitivity in the documentary ‘Music, Money, and Hip Hop Honeys’.
I can’t be the only black woman who is sick to the back teeth of other black women’s bodies being oiled up, dissected and objectified in hip hop and grime music videos.
I’m tired of seeing hip hop, R&B and grime videos that so gleefully encourage and illustrate male dominance and female subservience. By dominance, I don’t mean a numerical advantage- quite the opposite. Women often outnumber men in these videos, but the men are fully clothed and the women are partially dressed. The men are speaking and the women are silent. The women are jiggling their buttocks into the camera lens, but there no sign of the dominant male figures waggling their crotches into the lens for the good of the audience.
Call me a prude, but the truth is I couldn’t care less about the supposed sexual liberation or empowerment that these women gain from starring in these videos. Instead, I’m pretty worried about the skewed representation of black and minority ethnic women in the mainstream media. I’ve followed hip hop, R&B and grime music since my early teens, and from the beginning I understood that misogyny was the norm. The day I realised hip hop wasn’t going to tackle its misogyny any time soon was the day hip hop star Chris Brown punched, slapped and bit his R&B girlfriend Rihanna, and his fans bent over backwards to excuse the abuse and blame the victim. In hip hop, grime and R&B, the majority of black women’s bodies are constantly up for degradation or consumption.
In hip hop and R&B, lyrics about and towards women have changed dramatically over the years. In 1994, Boyz 2 Men crooned the lyrics ‘I’ll make love to you/ like you want me to/ and I’ll hold you tight/ baby all through the night’. Eleven years later, the Ying Yang twins rapped the lyrics ‘You like to fuck, have your legs open all in da butt / Do it up slappin ass coz the sex gets rough’, with a chorus consisting almost entirely of the words ‘I’ma beat that pussy up’. Note that the word ‘pussy’ is completely divorced from the unfortunate female who happens to possess the genetalia in question. It’s no surprise, then, that the representations of women in the music videos that are paired with these songs are increasingly degrading and misogynistic.
In a world that’s crying out for black female role models, these images only peddle in and pander to the empowerment lie, albeit with new specifics. Black women aren’t really represented as fully human in these videos. Instead, we’re subservient, covered in baby oil, and constantly jiggling. We’re portrayed as tantalisingly voluptuous and always sexually available. Our bodies are dissected by selective camera shots like slabs of meat.
Americanised popular culture is inescapable, and black women need diverse and positive representation. Currently, we’ve got Michelle Obama and Rosa Parks firmly in the heroine camp, and on the other side of the scale we have video chicks- black women who are paid to wear thong bikinis and shake their oiled buttocks at the camera.
Sometimes it feels like hip hop, R&B, and grime videos hold a unique kind of contempt for black women , one that prioritises female subservience and submission above all else. Feminists often protest objectification, but the knee jerk default is to challenge the Hugh Hefner-esque, pink and blonde, creamy skinned feminine sexual ideals. We must never forget that black women are heavily objectified in the media too. We just have a different cookie cutter mould that we’re expected to conform too. Big buttocks, heavy breasts, thick thighs, tiny waists and full lips. It’s just as narrow, and just as damaging.
And what of the women who are enticed into the industry on promises of glamour, money and fame? What I saw from the BBC3 documentary, the ambition was possible, and also, very, very rare.
The UK has always lagged behind the USA, and the video chick phenomenon is no exception. Black women in the US have already reached Katie Price proportions when it comes to exploiting the video chick role- the BBC3 documentary reports that the most successful video chicks can make $9,000 for just showing up a premiere and $12,000 for two days filming. A few years ago, ex-video chick Karrine Steffans released the hotly anticipated expose and biography Confessions of a Video Vixen, detailing her career starring in videos and her affairs with the hip hop stars who hired her.
But here in the UK, video chick haven’t quite reached that level yet. Instead, women often respond to adverts on social networking websites calling for girls to star in low budget grime or hip hop videos. In the words of one of the grime video directors who featured in the documentary, these women are often ‘swindled’, and promised pay that never appears. This female empowerment lie tricks women into playing into the misogynist’s hands. You can have the money, the fame, the confidence and the admiration. You’ll be a better person for it. All you need to do is take your clothes off, spread your legs, push up your breasts, and pout.
For the purpose of convenience in this post, black defines those of non- Caucasian origin- African, Asian, Middle Eastern, mixed race, etc.