Aug 26, 2014, 06:24AM

Yes, Feminism Is Sexy

New songs and VMA performances make it very clear.

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I couldn’t afford the XM radio in my car anymore, so this summer I’ve listened to the regular radio stations selected by my tween (who rejects this word). If my 20-year-old is in the car, she outranks and chooses 103.1 WRNR out of Annapolis for alternative, but the rest of the five of us in the family don’t really care what plays. The middle schooler does, so top-40 tunes are usually on deck for family car trips.

There were a bunch of fun, girl-power songs released this summer that I think are great. From Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” and “Black Widow” (Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Oro) and “Problem” (Grande, Azalea) to the “Bang Bang” compilation by Jessie J, Grande, and Minaj, these songs are about women who are in complete control of themselves and their sexuality, who don’t need men for anything except when they happen want them for something.

At this year’s MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), these sexy singers were putting their talent out there, not to mention their asses (seriously booty-jealous of Beyonce, Minaj and Azalea). Minaj had a wardrobe malfunction, but the night was dominated by sexy women, capped by a show-stopping medley by Queen Bey.

All this sexiness is apparently alarming to conservatives. Fox News “article” entitled “Beyoncé’s feminist VMA message prompts some eye rolls” declared:

“Of course, Beyoncé’s silhouette stands tall as the word “Feminist” lights up in large block letters, projected on the screen behind her.

Cue the confusion.

‘Watching Beyonce slide down the stage with a big sign saying FEMINIST behind her just ended me. I am done. Goodbye,’ one tweeted, another expressed confusion by noting that ‘it’s all about the deregulation of sexualization.’”

No, Fox News and your non-bylined article. No one is confused but you. You’re quoting two anonymous tweets as your source, both of which are vague in the first place? Crappiest reporting ever? You’ve provided absolutely zero evidence for the “eye rolling.”

Beyonce’s VMA performance voiceover went like this:

"We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings the way that boys are. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls 'You can have ambition, but not too much',” says the voice-over. “Feminist. The person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

Beyonce, arguably one of the most powerful singers in music today, chose to promote a feminist message. I couldn’t help but think she was trying to do away with what has unfortunately become negative message imagery associated feminism of a past era and replacing it with a women-positive sexy image. We got this. We don’t need concern-trolling men or women telling us we’re not equal. We are equal because we believe we are equal.

“These are songs that remind women not to obsess about looks and perfection (‘Flawless’), sexual pleasure ought to be a two-way street (‘Blow’) and pleasing your man isn’t an anti-feminist endeavor (‘Partition’),” says Eliana Dockterman in the Time article “This Year’s VMAs Were All About Empowered Women,” where she notes that the message from women this year at the VMAs is clear:

“We’re taking over. And we’re not sorry.”

She points out that Nicki Minaj in the oft-blogged “Anaconda” video “has always done what she wants whenever she wants without any consideration for anyone, let alone the opposite gender,” and says the “Black Widow” performance “celebrates girl power in a way rarely seen in pop culture.”

The songs mentioned so far represent not only diversity in the women who sing them (in race, in background, in size) but a healthy attitude of empowerment. My favorite so far is the new hit “All About the Bass” by Meghan Trainor—the “not a size 2” girl—whose song sends a body-image positive message to girls: “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” I love that a body acceptance anthem, in addition to all this sexy power, is at the top of the music charts.

  • I've got to respectfully disagree with you on this one Mary. Bey, Minaj and Grande are all selling sex. The fact that they are portraying dominant as opposed to submissive roles does not a feminist make. These trends are as predictable as the changing lengths of mini-skirts Hell, it's just a lame redo of Madonna from the eighties and at least Madonna was authentic. How much of the music and lyrics did Grande write? Vocally, she sounds like a chipmunk who inhaled a tank of Helium. If Beyoncé were ugly do you think she would sell as well as she does? (I don't deny the woman can sing, I just question the whole "Queen Bey" and it's marketability if the woman looked like Janis) As for Minaj, I don't know much about her other than the whole butt-floss thing. For feminist icon musicians I'd look to Gwen, Adele, and Joan Jett before ever considering these three. In fact, do any of these three ever speak to anyone without their PR/Marketing/Image consultants getting final prior approval? In other words, they may play feminist characters on T.V. , but that hardly makes them actual authentic feminists. What's next, Miley Cyrus, the humanitarian?

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  • Nice piece, Mary!// Texan, The suggestion that Gwen Stefani or Joan Jett are somehow not selling sex is pretty funny. Also...maybe not necessarily such a great idea to set up a dichotomy where white women are the real feminists and black women don't make the cut?// Pop celebrity is about image of course, whether you're Beyonce or Adele. The nervousness around the visual aspect of performance is very, very old, going back to the discomfort critics had with the performative aspects of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.// Feminism can mean lots of different things, but certainly empowerment and sexual freedom and claiming the term as Beyoncé does are all within the tradition.

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  • Noah, your racism is showing again. Last time I checked Grande was of Italian descent and Bey is only part black. But in your racist eyes, I guess they all look alike since they don't look like you. Nice. And we should listen to your bigoted views on feminism, I think not!

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  • Ah, the old, if you point out racism it must be you who is the racist. Italians have been white in the U.S. for quite some time; Beyoncé is African-American. Race isn't real, but the cultural markers are set up the way they're set up. Black women have talked a lot about the way they're often excluded from feminism. Claiming white ethnics are authentic and black people aren't (Beyonce isn't *really* black, according to you) just emphasizes that problem.// You could read bell hooks on Madonna? She's pretty devastating on the way that Madonna appropriates black and gay culture while erasing those influences.// Not that you actually care or anything. Your bad faith is pretty manifest in that last comment.

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  • Wait, what's wrong with selling sex? I don't see that as anti-feminist-- I doubt these pop princesses are sitting around getting swindled by Mad Men-esque characters in back rooms. They know exactly what they're doing. And as for race, I left it out if the discussion beyond the word "diverse" purposefully- I am talking about them based on music, not color.

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  • 1. Noah tries to make everything about race. Just ignore him. 2. Nothing wrong with selling sex. My point is that selling sex should not be mistaken with feminism. Just because a woman is forward about her sexual nature does not mean she is or understands the meaning of the word lit up behind her. Basically, feminism is an "it" topic these days and the women you mentioned in the article are exploiting the concept for every dollar it is worth. I see 0 evidence that they actually care or are connected to the real world or the sexism it enshrines. 3. As for them being swindled, only time will tell but men and women in this business have always been the subjects of such schemes regardless of there social/political positions.

  • Texan wins the argument with a very concise (rare for him) and articulate comment.

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  • I remain tired of having men discussing what feminism means and what's sexist.

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  • Sorry Mary. I didn't realize my penis precluded me from having vibrant input on the subject

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  • No apologies. I just happen to think having a vagina allows me to have more meaningful input.

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  • You just challenged Noah's whole raison d'etre. Interesting

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  • So...Texan and Applehead are the same person?

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  • Beyonce is not just "selling sex." She's a good role model, a strong and powerful woman, and is adored to an especially fanatical degree by millions of people. Like, you say one suspicious word about her and off goes your head. I also think it's crucial to understand that as men we cannot define feminism (obviously) and the only thing we can do is support it in our everyday lives. Look, I didn't watch the show, or the performance, I've just seen the one picture of her silhouette in front of the big FEMINIST sign, and that's pretty damn cool. Much cooler than dancing with snakes or humping the stage...

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  • Nicky, what specifically makes Beyoncé a good role model? Outside the heavily managed PR image, what has she done that girls should emulate? Furthermore, why can't men be part of defining feminism? How can they support something they are not able to define and which school of feminist thought should they be supporting in everyday life? Doesn't that support require the individual to pick and choose from the many schools, therefore in part, "defining" the concept?How can half the population be excluded from defining a concept yet be compelled to live by such concept? Isn't that exactly the kind of inequality that brought about feminism? Should white folk not define racism? Should women be precluded from defining masculinity, patriarchy etc.? What other things should the thought police stop us from doing based solely on our gender? P.S. I think Beyoncé does a fair amount of stage/chair/desk humping in her show.

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  • "Outside the heavily managed PR image, what has she done that girls should emulate? "//Anyone who is in the public eye has a managed PR image, pretty much. Beyonce is by all accounts a control freak about managing her image, so I don't think she lacks control over it, if that's what you're saying.// Her music often addresses feminist issues in ways that are explicitly about female agency and empowerment; that's been the case from early on, where she sang about how stalking is bad, up to the present where she has an activist explaining the goals of feminism.// So...I think women, and black women, especially find it inspirational to see someone succeeding and in control of her career as she is, and a lot of her songs are explicitly about female empowerment and talking to women about sexism and combatting sexism.// If you see sexuality as opposed to feminism, then, yes, that's a problem, and some feminists do. But certainly all of them don't.// FWIW, I think it's somewhat inevitable that men will talk about and think about feminism, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but being willing to listen to women seems like it's pretty important as well.//

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  • Obviously, this is the only sane way to contribute meainingfully to this conversation: http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/2013/11/28#.U_48w_ldU_Y

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  • For context: http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/2013/11/27#.U_49OvldU_Y (Btw, I'm not belittling opinions expressed here - it's just that hurling decades-old BC Molotov cocktails in seems like a good a means as any to lesson the tension. Most of you raise great points I don't know how to approach.)

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  • You can't go wrong with Bloom County.

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