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Friday, March 28, 2008

Sexy Empowerment is a Tough One

I have to hand it to Christina Aguilera for promoting messages of female strength in many of her songs, where most popular entertainers don't. But at the same time, her career seems to depend on her sex appeal, which of course embodies the same old confusing message about female power as ever.

I discovered her video for Can't Hold Us Down the other day. To me, this video seems sadly to enact the double standards of gender that we navigate all the time, while attempting to speak out against them. (It also plays heavily on race and class issues as well: the way Aguilera sets herself in the dress, body movements, and neighborhood traditional to black rappers and singers who perform about their oppression, poverty, and so on is a whole other sticky identity politics blog post!...and interesting in light of something I just learned today: a Girl Scouts study about girls and leadership recently found that black and latina girls are more likely to imagine themselves speaking out as future leaders than caucasian girls. Hm. Help me with that one!)

The entire song is portrayed as the reaction to a man physically harassing Aguilera (in this case, grabbing her ass) on the street. The lyrics to "Can't Hold Us Down" are a global call to feminist community and to not staying silent in the face of oppression and abuse, which are messages I think we need to hear more often in commercial media outlets: "This is for my girls all around the world/Who've come across a man who don't respect your worth/Thinking all women should be seen, not heard/So what do we do girls?/Shout out loud!" She also gives context to why women often stay quiet when raped, molested, or abused, mentioning that, "If you look back in history/It's a common double standard of society/The guy gets all the glory the more he can score/While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore."

BUT. As she sings that no one "can, never will...hold us down," she struts around in runway sashay and slides her crotch on a
hose spouting between her legs. (I'm quite sure I don't need to go into an explanation of the symbolism on that one!) During Li'l Kim's mid-song rap about the player/whore double standard, she does a hip-hop version of strip tease meets lap dance choreography. Later on, she gives a fierce look to camera while pushing up her boobs. So while these women sing about the power of speaking out and sisterhood--two aspects of feminism I'm all about!--they suggest through their visuals that these things come from sexual appeal and aggression.

The video and song itself pits men against women,
excluding men from joining feminism through blame (which I think is ultimately hurtful to feminist goals--men need to care too or we'll never get anywhere!). And confusingly, while pointing an angry finger at men, the women's power and enjoyment in this video seem to come from making the men want them, and themselves being in a perpetual state of heat. The sexually charged dance-off (plenty of crotch-grabbing and eying-up amongst the break dancing and hip-hip moves) depicted between genders culminates in faux violent footage at the end of the video: women form a front to push the men back in a style reminiscent of riots, ironically tying violence back to empowerment and sex appeal.

And while I'm at it, I'll throw in my usual commentary on media and body confidence--Isn't it easier for us to hear this message from a thin, toned, made-up and digitally-retouched celebrity than women at home, work, or in our government!?

As usual, I feel conflicted. This is not a video I'd want a girl to watch, yet Christina is taking feminism mainstream, which is normally a difficult thing to do--but a thing that is necessary for widescale social change for women.

What do you think? Do videos like this aid or impede, crystallize or muddle a revolution? Is flaunting sexuality equal to true power? Should we be thankful for or disappointed in her voice amongst other pop stars'? Do videos like this damage or create respect for women? I'd love to hear.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Even Superheroes Can't Escape Body Norms

In Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, she writes that Wonder Woman was created by a man who thought the world needed a female hero and leader--that the strong and nurturing qualities of women were just what the world needed to make it a better place. I think it's really cool that a man created her with that ideal (we won't mention the disaster which apparently was his family life), but I still have my mixed feelings about what I call the "Kill Bill syndrome": the need for female heroines to be kick-ass and hot at the same time.

Fun with feminism picks up on this theme with their post, Even Superheroes Can't Escape Body Norms. Go check it out!

What do you think? Are female superheroes and comic book characters good role models for girls? Does it matter what they look like? Comment away!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Join the In Her Image Facebook group!

Help me join the 21st century (better late than never, right? ;) by joining my "In Her Image" group on Facebook! I've also got a "Julia Barry" profile and would love to link up there too. (And, if you're on LinkedIn, you can find me there too.)

Got other ideas for how I should reach out? Post 'em here!

Well if this isn't incentive, I don't know what is...

Apparently, guys who chip in with housework get more sex. Is it just me, or is it kind of obvious that helping out with chores leaves time for other (more fun) things? Glad we're all catching on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Bride

Check out this article from Newsweek about the pressure brides feel to be super-skinny and flawlessly beautiful on their wedding day. It's a shame that we can't feel beautiful as our genuine selves, especially on a day that hopefully marks the beginning of a genuine partnership...