All About That Bass

It’s time for another fun round of my friends and I critically analyzing music videos via email!! As with “Hard Out Here” Sam sent us Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass with this message,

yeah so issues with 1. skinny bashing, maybe? 2. basing appearance on what guys want to grab at night 3. jesus with the pastels 4. are the black back up dancers being used as props? is she being inclusive of all big booties or capitalizing on black booties? why can’t my white booty stop bouncing to this song?

I started to respond, but then I wrote an essay (why can I never shut up??) so I’m posting it here and maybe we can all talk about it together!

The message I took from this video is, “I’m not a size 2; I’m a REAL WOMAN.” Oh, ever so sorry, I didn’t realize I’m not a real woman. Turns out I’ve been a velociraptor this whole time.

I don’t understand how this song can simultaneously call for an end to unrealistic body images and harmful photoshopping while having lyrics like, “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that– no I’m just playing, I know you think you’re fat.” Haha, oh my god, that’s so funny, what a total laugh, women have been taught to hate themselves!! A real knee-slapper there. But then it goes on to say, “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” I’m so confused; didn’t you just say that the only good body is the one that has “that boom boom that all the boys chase” and that “boys like a little more booty to hold at night”?

We absolutely have body image problems in our society. We demonize fatness; “fat” is an insult. Our whole society needs intense therapy. We need to fix that stuff. Let’s all pause and listen to Beyonce.

Thin privilege is real. I could go to 7/11 right now and get the biggest size slushy possible and people would probably chuckle and think I was doing something endearing. Kind of like when I was out with Megan and Whitney and our server thought it was ever so precious when I ordered a cookie. He chuckled and gave me a look that said, “Aren’t you adorable?” But if my body were different, people wouldn’t think that. They would have nasty thoughts and they might even vocalize them. I don’t have to experience that, and I can only speak from my position as someone who benefits from having a body that’s considered worthy by the people who send certain sizes of clothes to Target.

I’ve noticed this demonization of fatness more and more as my sister’s gone through a weight loss journey. She’s lost nearly 100 pounds over the past year and people treat her differently now. I notice people responding to her differently. We talk a lot about how it’s been for her to transition, both bodily and in the eyes of society. People are nice to her now and they weren’t before. 100 pounds ago, people treated her like she wasn’t a human. That’s unreal.

With all of that in mind, this song seems like it should be great. We should be changing our cultural perceptions of bodies and worth. We need to stop equating skinniness to worthiness and fat to trash. But trying to replace one ideal with another isn’t the way to do that.

Sam, I read your comments before watching the video and I thought it must involve some kind of Jesus swathed in pastels. I think I would have preferred that, but you’re right, there’s no way to address that mess other than, “jesus with the pastels.” The video uses the pastels to play up classic femininity—sugar and spice and everything nice, now with big butts! But what all of this is really doing is saying that there’s one right way to be a woman. We’re still going to be pastel Stepford Wives, now we’ll just be curvy pastel Stepford Wives.

Swapping out one oppressive ideal for another won’t get us anywhere, ESPECIALLY if it’s done through the lens of pleasing men. Ugh. Ugh. Ew. I can’t. As the resident outspoken (ironic) misandrist of our friend group, allow me to loudly state that I don’t care what men think about women’s bodies. I don’t care and neither should anyone else. As kids, we’re taught that we should avoid peer pressure by being True To Ourselves and Not Doing Things Because Our Friends Are and Don’t Jump Off That Bridge Because Your Friends Say To, but none of those lessons seem to apply when it comes to heteronormative relationships. Then, throw all of that self-actualization out the window and do everything you can to make a dude happy.

The song reinforces that message- that we should craft ourselves around the aesthetic ideals of men. There’s nothing more important than being wanted by a boy! And boys want big butts! And nobody likes skinny bitches!

Putting down women hurts all women. Why doesn’t anyone seem to understand this?? Love your body; it’s awesome. Be all about the bass. Just don’t vilify the treble while you’re at it. (Aside: I really can’t get over bass/treble being used as a stand in for fat/thin.)

I want to meet with every person who’s been hurt by this toxic thinking and clutch their cheeks while staring into their eyes and whisper, “All bodies are good bodies.” over and over until they believe it. And I want everyone to stop pitting women against each other. Nobody signed up for this fight, but we keep being thrown into the ring.

I didn’t even get to the race stuff going on in the video, but I think Sam’s right about the appropriation/capitalization. And, as always, a thousand thanks to Riot Grrl Whitney for popping in with some of her musical preferences. Here’s her selection: Half Girl’s Lemmy, I’m a Feminist. I’m going to slink back into my cave and listen to The National.

Dale Hansen, Be My Valentine

Like Leslie Knope’s ideal man, Dale Hansen has the brains of George Clooney and the body of Joe Biden. And you’re lying if you try to tell me you weren’t feeling some major sexual attraction when Mr. Hansen started QUOTING AUDRE LORDE.

And in that moment, I swear I hated straight white men a little bit less.

Since NFL-hopeful Michael Sam came out as gay earlier this week, all sorts of sports folks have been in an outraged tizzy. Then Dale Hansen (Unplugged!) came along with a great response.

Right before quoting Audre Lorde he did say, “I’m not always comfortable when a man tells me he’s gay. I don’t understand his world. But I do understand that he’s part of mine.” That sort of sucks because, ugh, why is everything always about you, straight white men? You know who’s not always comfortable? Gay folks living in your heteronormative society! But then he quoted Audre Lorde on national television and I went into a trance.

Here’s another gem from the video:

You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs pulling her hair out by the roots; you’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk; that guy’s welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes*; we know they’re welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away. You lie to police trying to cover up a murder; we’re comfortable with that. You love another man. Well now you’ve gone too far.

*Just to be clear, this is a pro-sex worker blog!! We don’t demonize sex workers here!!

In all, this is pretty delightful. Do you think Dale Hansen has a Valentine’s date yet? Those Clooney brains; that Biden body. Be still my heart!

Hard Out Here

Back in November, internet feminists had a heyday with the release of Lily Allen’s video “Hard Out Here.” My friend Sam sent a link to the video and a group of the grad students in our department tried to unpack our concerns with it over an email thread. With their permission, I’m going to reprint that conversation here. Even though this is (certainly by internet time) outdated, I think it’s interesting to consider how we collectively form our opinions and challenge each other’s ideas.

Originally, we all thought the use of black women’s bodies in the video was a parody of Miley Cyrus’s recent (and continued) fetishization of black women’s bodies. In the course of our discussion, Lily Allen released a statement making it clear that no such parody was intended. That essentially ended the conversation and any hesitant defense of the video. Ultimately, it’s a good attempt but the violence and privilege of White Feminism are all over the video.

Sam: It’s hard out here for a bitch.

Lydia: I have been thinking about this ALL day. On the one hand, I love it. On the other, the use of WOC feels super problematic. I think it’s supposed to be a further satirization, but there’s really no explicit discussion of it. None of the lyrics reference race or the way white artists use WOC’s bodies in music videos, it just reconstructs that stereotype. So while I feel like Lily Allen is making a comment on it, it’s not explicit and is in a way further silencing/objectifying/disempowering. UGH HELP ME UNDERSTAND, WHAT DO YOU THINK???

Sam: That’s exactly what I was just saying to Jesse!!!…she is still coming from this place of power…her appropriation, even if satirical, is privileged. I tried to think that perhaps she was trying to mock Miley’s “black women as prop” thing, but now we have it in another form because, like you say, there is no explicit discussion of it.

Mocking the appropriation by appropriating it without acknowledging the “it” really just furthers it.

Lydia: It’s so frustrating because that’s such a glaring, harmful piece of the video but I feel like the rest of it is important for a wide audience to experience. But creating an army of White Feminists is not going to help anyone. ughhhhh. My hope is that teenagers see this, feel inspired, get into a Women’s/Gender Studies class and learn about intersectionality.

Megan: Y’all…..
#1 Sam, thanks for sending this! I love this vid. New fave….Pentatonix get lost!

#2…..the satire was blatant to me, and so I’m wondering if a discussion about the appropriation is necessary? I mean, I don’t think we (the ppl on this thread) need that explanation because we get it…so I think she doesn’t need to provide an explanation to an audience like us. Her satirical appropriation speaks for itself, even if it comes from a place of privilege. She can’t help that she’s privileged…in fact, I’m reminded of an Audre Lorde quote. Can’t remember it verbatim, but it’s something like “people should use their privileges for the benefit of others (to help stop oppression).” I think that’s exactly what Lily Allen is doing here, but Sam and Lydia are quite right in saying that she doesn’t explicitly say that she’s doing this. She expects the audience to figure it out. And perhaps that’s presumptuous on her part, but I think it’s also a sign of respect for the audience, since she’s basically saying “you’re smart enough to figure out what I’m doing here. So figure it out!” However, on the other hand, maybe the general public might need an explanation. I could see a lack of discussion being particularly problematic for people who don’t understand satire and/or privilege. Okay, so maybe the inclusion of a discussion is contingent upon different audiences. I dunno.

#3 Hope y’all are having a good night. I’m eating a salad and reading Foucault….talk about the BEST NIGHT EVER!!

Just found this comment on YouTube….this user agrees with you, Sam and Lydia…

“The thing with satire is that it DOESN’T WORK IF YOU CELEBRATE THE SUBJECT MATTER! e.g. the objectification of black women. Use a bunch of white women twerking to get your satirical idea across Lily!”

Vani: I love you all for having this debate in a mass email. PLEASE STILL DO THIS AFTER WE GRADUATE. YOU MAKE ME FEEL LESS INSANE.

Sam: WE ARE MASS DEBATERS. SOMEONE HAD TO, SORRY GUYS.

Lydia: MASS DEBATING ALL OVER YOUR EMAIL RIGHT NOW.

Someone once said (lol, like I know who, what are citations???) that satire goes up, that satire is meant to critique those with the power, who create the oppression. That’s why most rape jokes are the absolute worst, but this Wanda Sykes one is SPOT ON because she’s making fun of rapists and the idea of rape, etc, etc.

So I feel that in this instance, the character of the white man directing the video should have been a more prominent figure, because HE’S the one who needed to be satirized. In this delivery, it feels too much like it’s falling back on the WOC… and I honestly think the whitewashed masses are too bought in to realize what’s happening. BLEH.

Amanda: I’ve been thinking a lot about this, because I generally like what Lily Allen does. I think that her critiques of pop culture are smart and subtle. I understand what you guys are saying. I think that it’s probably true that her use of satire will be lost on some. One of the things that we’ve talked about in my classes is the idea of intentions vs. consequences.

It might be that an author’s intention was to make a certain point, but if they’re too subtle or ambiguous, what are the consequences of their text? Ultimately, the consequences are important. For me, the satire is blatant. For those that are just looking for entertainment, this may not be the case.
I guess the question is: to what extent can we hold an author accountable for their audience’s ignorance? To what extent does she need to blatantly show that she is commenting on this behavior and not promoting it? I dunnnotheanswer!

Here’s one of the better ones, I think: The Fear.

Sam: Jezebel. [This article includes Lily Allen’s response to criticisms.]

Whitney [resident punk rocker and musical aficionado]: NOT TO MENTION THAT IT’S THE WORST SONG I’VE HEARD ALL YEAR!!!

DAY TWO: After Lily Allen’s response, now we all know it wasn’t any kind of parody.

Megan: Thanks for sharing the Jezebel article, Sam! Lydia and I were talking about it yesterday….I was under the impression that Lily Allen’s video was an obvious parody of Miley Cyrus, but sadly I was wrong :/ It’s shocking that she’s like completely oblivious to what’s going on….makes me think about the video very differently now.

On a related note, you all might be interested in checking out this game….it’s “A Day in the Life with Female Experience Simulator

HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE!!!!!!

This Week in Politics [part 1]

If ever there’s been a week that’s made me want to move to Sweden… well that’s every week, really. But this week in particular has been vexing in regard to US politics and culture. This week reinforced the many reasons why the United States ranks sixth overall on the Social Progress Index. (We’re seventh in personal freedom and choice, sixth in personal rights, fourth in equity and inclusion, and forty-eighth in ecosystems sustainability. OUCH.) Sweden is ranked first overall.  I want to go to there, Liz Lemon. But running away or choosing not to care doesn’t do any good. Apathy does not an ally make.  Let’s talk about two big things happening around the US this week, and why we should care.

The Supreme Court overturned DOMA. Huzzah, hurrah, it’s about time. I’m annoyed that this is even an ‘issue’ that the government needs to intervene upon. I’m more annoyed by all the idiotic and frustrating responses coming out around the ruling. This morning I heard some lady on NPR say, “Of course I don’t support same-sex marriage because I don’t support same-sex couples.” Hi, lady. I don’t support you or your bigotry! Other people were going on about the man/woman marriage precedent set by the Bible, which is a totally valid argument since this country is and should definitely be governed by that particular religious text. I feel absurd stating that I’m being facetious here, but apparently there’s still a large group of people who don’t understand why the Bible isn’t a credible political document. Hey, y’all. Don’t like same-sex marriage? Okay. Don’t have one. And while you’re at it, stop trying to legalize discrimination. All that hatred doesn’t look cute on you.

Wendy Davis is a rockstar. Oh, man. Oh, men. Oh, white men of the Texas senate. You are the worst. Wendy Davis led a one-woman filibuster against SB 5, a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and would close most clinics across Texas. For thirteen hours, Wendy Davis stood and spoke against the bill. She did not sit. She did not even get a bathroom break. For thirteen hours. Republican senators tried to trick her into speaking off topic, a violation of rules, which would have ended the filibuster. They tried to claim she broke the rules by receiving assistance putting on a back brace. When the bill was finally voted on, the numbers were in favor of passing SB 5. (After all that!) The vote took place a few minutes after midnight and was therefore invalidated on a technicality.  But because white men in politics can do anything, they tried to change their own rules. They tried to kill the bill, even though the vote was taken after midnight. Wendy Davis was treated terribly all day long by a bunch of people without uteruses (Hey there, white dudes. Don’t like abortion? Okay. Don’t have one.) and then they tried to change their own rules. All that hypocrisy and cruelty doesn’t look cute on you. Oh, and Big Media? The way all of you felt the need to comment on Davis’s pink tennis shoes? That sexism doesn’t look cute on you, either. And I clearly know about what looks cute on people, seeing as I have a uterus which radiates fashion sense. That’s a biological fact, isn’t it?

I love the idea of politics and hate the way they’re carried out in this country. A cursory glance at any comments section will show a lot of sweeping and often off-topic generalizations about “all liberals” and “all conservatives”. We’re so mired in our camps and we all get off on hating each other so much, that we’ve lost the ability to converse like compassionate humans. We can’t even treat each other with basic decency. (Someone helped you put on a back brace because we won’t let you sit down and we don’t care about your physical wellbeing? Rule-breaker!!!) We’re not willing to listen to each other. This includes me- I don’t want to hear anyone’s ideas on why they think homosexuality is wrong. I’m a fallible human and I don’t have time for that nonsense. I just wonder when we’re all going to realize how terrible we are, and decide to do something about it. When are we going to decide life could be a little better if we tried to be a bit more like Sweden? Is that ever going to happen? I worry about the fact that none of us seem to be concerned with the embarrassing and shameful conduct of our country.

Speaking of that shame and embarrassment… tomorrow we’ll be talking about racism. George Zimmerman, Paula Deen, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare Act…get ready. This Angry Feminist Killjoy is coming for you.

Cinderella Ate Her Daughter

I recently finished reading Peggy Orenstein’s book Cinderella Ate My Daugther: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. This NPR interview with Orenstein offers a solid introduction to and overview of the book.

This book was an interesting exploration of the sickening media frenzy and marketing circus that now dominates childhood- especially girlhood. I loved the small facts that are sprinkled throughout the book. Did you know that Disney Princesses, when they appear in a group, never make eye contact with each other? Princesses don’t have friends! Creepy. Orenstein charts the origins of Princess Culture (guess what, it was conceptualized by money-grubbing dudes) and the steady rise of young girls’ obsession with all things pink and sweet.

But for some reason I haven’t quite pinned down yet, I had a difficult time making it through this book. It’s short, not even 200 pages of text, but I had to renew it from the library twice. One chapter entitled “Wholesome to Whoresome: The Other Disney Princesses” toed dangerously over the line of Slut Shaming in its judgments of Disney media moguls. (Or, as Orenstein called them, “mogurls”.) Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Hilary Duff, Melissa Joan Hart, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez were all dissected as examples of good girls gone bad. But instead of critiquing the culture that created and sexualized these young women (guess what, WE did that to them) Orenstein vilified and shamed their choices. In a chapter on cyber-bulling, she brushed off young women’s suicides as the result of their previous mental instabilities, not the torture they were subjected to. Throughout the book, I felt like Orenstein was flirting with slut shaming and victim blaming in a way that made me very uncomfortable.

Furthermore, while I think the marketing and media blitzing aimed at little girls and young women is terrible, I’m skeptical as to how much our childhood phases really impact the people we’ll become. For most of our lives, my sister refused to wear dresses or to allow the color pink to exist in any of her belongings. She spent most of her time wrestling and breaking her bones. Conversely, I am sporting a heavy pout in my preschool photo, because my mom forgot it was picture day and sent me in pants. I was devastated to be photographed in a moment when I wasn’t wearing a dainty dress. I played with dolls, took ballet classes, read all the American Girl books. And wouldn’t you know it, my sister is married and fully entrenched in domestic life while I’m an angry feminist killjoy busily bucking all sorts of trends.

If you never leave the Princess vacuum, that’s clearly problematic, but I think most of us grow up to be people who don’t much resemble the various months we spent obsessed with one thing or another. I did once know a young lady who, in our first year of college, wore an inordinate amount of Disney gear- a Disney World bracelet, Snow White t-shirts, and the like. That was disconcerting to me. She was so invested in the Princess plotline that she was incapable of initiating or maintaining interpersonal relationships. Turns out in the real world, being a Sleeping Beauty isn’t a great way to win friends and lovers. Because you’re, you know, asleep. But I still think this was a rare case.

Rather than shunning all popular trends, we should probably just emphasize media literacy more. If we learn how to gain a critical consciousness around the media that’s produced and mainstreamed in our culture, we’ll be better equipped to examine how it functions in our lives, and what role we want it to play in our lives.  Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to participate in lots of the popular culture my friends reveled in, because my mom didn’t think pop culture was appropriate. She was absolutely right, but this resulted in some really awful ostracization and exclusion from my peer group. Rather than rote banning, I think it would have been more productive if my mom and I had conversations about why this media was popular and why it was objectionable.

Ultimately, I’m glad I read this book. Aside from the interesting facts, I wasn’t introduced to any new positions or ideologies I wasn’t already familiar with, but it was nice to see this topic taken on publicly. I imagine I would feel much differently about the book if I were a mother, or happened to be considering motherhood. At this point in my life, the contents of the book were interesting only in a detached way.  I was moved to side with and defend the young women (those “other” Disney princesses) rather than to outright ban the color pink from my life.

Disney’s Brave: White Feminism Strikes Again!

I generally try to avoid Disney entirely, because I have pretentious tastes and because Disney is every kind of problematic. The princess movies are especially frustrating, as they gleefully celebrate tired sexist and heteronormative narratives. Plus, I’ve never understood America’s obsession with princess narratives. Isn’t this nation’s origin story wrapped up in leaving monarchies behind? Despite my aversions, I watched Disney’s Brave while recovering from surgery last week. I’d heard that it was actually wonderful, and by day four of bed rest, even Disney seemed more appealing than staring at my ceiling.

Like most Disney movies, Brave is filled with only white people.  It also draws on Scottish folklore, featuring magical wisps and spells cast by the classic old witch. There’s probably a lot of cultural appropriation and inaccuracies tied up in the depiction of the clans and their histories. However, the movie did a nice job of exploring and challenging the traditional princess tale.  In the film, Princess Merida doesn’t want to wear the clothes her mother chooses, learn the ‘feminine’ skills her mother tries to teach her, or act like a traditional princess in any sense. When three suitors arrive to compete for Merida’s hand, she is not pleased. She ultimately competes for her own hand, out-shooting all three suitors.

That’s awesome! This all happens quite early, and the betrothal line takes a backseat for the rest of the film. I was glad to see the movie abandon the usual ‘She doesn’t want it now, but she’ll be gushing in love by the end!’ way of these stories.  Ultimately, this isn’t a story about gender roles. It’s a story about familial relationships, especially the mother/daughter bond.  This was all explored within the framework of the traditional Prince/Princess setup, but it was nice to see the storytellers manipulate that in productive ways. Hopefully, we’ll eventually reach a point where strong, independent young women aren’t shown as rebels and rule-breakers, but we’re moving in the right direction.

I was feeling pretty pleased with Brave, only to immediately hear about Disney’s redesign of Princess Merida. Before Merida could be officially inducted into the Disney Princess membership club (why is this even a thing? Honestly, why?), some official decided she needed to be sexier. Yeah. 16 year old Merida just wasn’t sexy enough to be an official Disney Princess. Even though it’s antithetical to her entire character, Merida was stripped of her trusty bow and arrows, stuck into a fancy dress (the exact kind she literally tore off her body in the film), her wild hair was tamed, and she was made much skinnier. This is why we don’t get along, Disney.

Here’s where things get interesting: there was a huge public outcry! The sexed up version of Merida was not receiving any kind of approval. Disney has been petitioned, the film’s director expressed anger, and it seems like the entire internet has been yelling, so much so that Disney replaced Sexy Merida with Original Merida on the official website. Unfortunately, it sounds like Disney is still planning to use Sexy Merida on their official merchandise.

I think this public response is great. Really, I do. I can’t help but to feel frustrated, though. Because this isn’t the first time Disney has redesigned a Princess. It’s kind of their MO, honestly. When Mulan became an Official Princess, her weapons were taken away, too. Not only that, they made her white. That’s right. They changed her race. And it’s not just Mulan. Jasmine and Pocahontas? Also suddenly white.

Yes, it’s wickedly annoying that Merida was completely changed into a sexy cartoon. We should be frustrated by that. But where were all the petitions and outcry when this exact same stuff was happening to Princesses of Color? I mean, really, white feminism? Really? It’s anti-feminist to care about issues only when they pertain to people who look like us. That is wrong-headed in so many ways. I’m happy that Brave has been received so well, that people are excited about a princess who breaks out of the traditional roles.  But by getting angry at her redesign and not the same problematic redesigns of her fellow princesses, we’re not doing any better.

Feminism has an utterly unsavory history of excluding women of color, lesbians, the working class, basically anyone who wasn’t white, straight, and rich. I don’t want to be a part of that feminism. So if we’re going to have a canary about Merida, we need to have canaries about Mulan, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and while we’re at it, let’s talk about how Tiana, the first black princess, spent most of her movie as a literal frog. We need to stop caring about all of Disney’s problems only when they pertain to white girls.

Actually, let’s stop caring about Disney entirely! That might be asking too much, but it seems odd that we keep celebrating a company that consistently makes overt racist, sexist, and heteronormative choices. If you really can’t kick Disney, check out this great blog called Feminist Disney. We have to challenge our media. All of our media. Not just the parts that cause white tears.