I find myself very confused by today’s music. I used to be able to hear the first note from a performer and tell you exactly who he or she was, but not now. Admittedly, at this point, I only listen to my playlist of old school soul and R&B, Motown classics, and a little neo-soul. I’m also trying to decipher classic jazz. So keeping up with modern sound and trends is not my top priority. However, I have noted the highly sexual nature of the modern musical landscape. Especially popular music.
Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga are all seen by some factions of feminist thinkers as symbols of the feminine empowered. Whether or not we can agree on the quality of these women’s talents, their work ethic, discipline and ambition is undeniable. Because of these qualities they are at the top of their games. How they market themselves, I’m assuming, is their choice.
Any advertising executive will tell you sex sells. it’s just that simple. So I do not question some of these women’s decisions to capitalize on what are essentially assets in the world in which they dwell. Breasts, ass, demonstrations of sexual activity, more than a few people pay to see that alone. No it’s not their decisions that concern me. It’s the categorizing of those actions and decisions by some as empowering. Empowering to whom? It may be empowering to the performer, financially at least, but what of their female consumers? What of young impressionable girls watching and concluding that this is not just a form of power but the only form they know and trust. It is imperative that they know the difference between a marketing ploy and true feminine control and responsibility.
While a woman’s right to decide includes the sexual and the consequences of sex, it is far from exclusively about sex. A woman who chooses to put her body and sexual prowess on display is not necessarily empowered or empowering. I know there exists a double standard when it comes to men being overtly sexual and women doing the same. I understand that this double standard is a by- product of ideas about the roles women are supposed to play versus the ones they choose to play in this society. So much of the power women in western society have fought for and gained has centered around their right to choose to do and be who they choose to do and be. Understood.
But when did we lose sight of the difference between challenging harmful social constructs and displaying genitals and breasts for the purposes of selling a product. There is a difference. And this recent trend of accusing anyone who seeks to argue the difference as a “slut-shamer” is not helping the debate. There are myriad forms of feminine expression and some of the most powerful have nothing to do with sex. I think it has been firmly established, in a large part of western society at least, that women can express themselves sexually and not be considered whores.
Part of establishing that fact early on in the feminist movement involved women demonstrating that being overtly sexual was not the exclusive domain of men nor should it be. In the sense that they were challenging oppressive and limiting social beliefs they were empowered and empowering. You don’t hear men saying, “Did you see how I thrust my pelvis at the women in the audience? I felt so empowered.” It’s not groundbreaking, pioneering, or even shocking at this point. Not in America. Hell there are many examples of women wielding sex straight to fame and fortune in this society. Women should feel free to express themselves in whatever way they choose. But let’s be very clear about what is empowering and what is simply a form of power wielded.