Tag Archives: chimamanda ngozi adichie

Female Bodies: Endlessly Contested Obsessions

There have been a few things on the internet this week that made my spidey senses tingle, reminding me that women are first and foremost things for people to judge and argue about. Never mind that they are also humans that work and breathe and make completely autonomous decisions on the reg. As far as our culture, especially digital internet culture is concerned, they should always be pretty and ready to be appraised.

Mean-Girls-GIF-Regina-George-Rachel-McAdams-You-Think-Youre-Really-Pretty

This week Calvin Klien launched a new campaign. It’s typical for them, black and white and slick. But there is something different, although when I first saw the photo I myself didn’t notice it.

CKmodel

That’s Myla Dalbesio. She’s a model. She looks pretty great in that simple black lingerie. NBD.

A Twitter-storm erupted when Elle tweeted:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.24.00 PM

Because some people think that a size 10 isn’t plus size. I would agree. And some people say ‘Well it’s fashion and for the fashion industry she is large.’ And yea, I guess. But ew. And of course there were a range of other lewd and vapid comments, but what stuck out to me is this need to define what she is. I mean, can’t she just be a model? Like, a beautiful model? I of course agree that we need to see a wider range of body types in the media, but it’s about so much more than that. Because redefining beauty is not just about expanding the range of sizes a woman can be while still being hot.

And then, well, then there was Kim.

kimsbuttcover

She ‘broke the internet’. She ‘did it again.’ Kayne tweeted his support:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.29.43 PM

And everyone has an opinion. Some shamed her, because she ‘is someone’s mother’. Which is ridiculous cause babies are made with sex. Right? That’s not new news, is it? And some people are sick of her, and I’ll admit I am sick of her. And I’m sick of how her butt is always emphasized, and I’m uncomfortable with the racialized history of this type of photo. And the amount of photo shopping that I’m guessing happened here, to tip this photo over the top, is also problematic.

boredalec

But it’s not new. Is it? I mean, the whole shoot was recycled ideas the photographer already did. And haven’t we seen this before, in general? Is this so shocking? Is it really necessary to argue about what she should be doing with her body, if mom’s can be sexy (duh), if she has no talent (duh), etc? Why can’t we look right past her (I know, I know, ‘that ass tho’) and talk about the culture we all perpetuate that allows this photo of this actual famous person to exist? Because this photo, of a sexualized backside and a shiny shiny white-ish woman, this is what we push as an ideal of beauty. This is what we encourage young woman to aspire to.

growup

Quick, name a female scientist (that is alive, not Marie Curie.)

I’m gonna go with Emily Graslie, seen here reading her mail and talking about gender gaps in STEM fields.

Now name a female novelist (again, who is alive.)

Here are two dope women writers, chatting with each other and positively thrilling me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian American novelist, and Zadie Smith is British and too smart for me.

Quick, think of 3 female role models that aren’t role models because they always look perfect and seem to have it all (this unfortunately leaves out Beyonce although her work ethic makes her worthy of role model status in my humble opinion.) Feel free to leave your pics in the comments.

thinkingjack

Because one of the important things to remember is that no matter what else we require of women, we require them to be beautiful. And I get it, we all like to look at beautiful things. But people aren’t things. And men don’t have these same kinds of standards. They can be professional or smart or powerful or parents or hardworking or famous or entrepreneurial, without also having to look flawless all day every day. But women must always exist in these contested spaces. Is she pretty enough? Is she a good mother? Can she be a feminist icon while also being sexy? Is she too sexy? Too crude? Can women be funny?

The topic of ‘is she good enough’ is always up for debate.

shutup

All of this chips away at women’s humanity. We are not objects to be argued over. Our bodies are our own. So too are the choices we make. If Kim wants to get lathered up with baby oil and let them photo shop her waist so she can continue to make money off her ass, that’s her choice. I don’t wanna talk about it, but she’s allowed. And she should be allowed without all the subsequent chatter. Like the photo or don’t, but remember that she is an actual human, with a family, with friends, with a real life. Same goes for Myla. Why should she have to deal with the ‘is she or isn’t she plus sized’ conversation? Plus sized is a made up thing. It’s not real. People are just people, with bodies of different shapes. Who. Cares.

whocares

And before the ‘they put themselves out there to be judged’ brigade starts in, I will remind you that these kinds of arguments do not happen around men. Even male models, who make money off of their body and image do not occupy the contested spaces their female counterparts do. We do not pick apart male actors or celebrities in the same way. Because we don’t feel ownership over male bodies. We don’t feel entitled to enjoy or critique male bodies in the same way we do with female bodies. This entitlement contributes to the endless arguments, it contributes to internet harassment and street harassment and rape culture. And I’m sick of it. It’s exhausting.

tayexhausting

 

Here is a newsflash: adding your voice to the endless debate over who is beautiful and who is worthy will not end the centuries of violence and control enacted on the female body. If we spent half the energy we expend on judging women on thinking about how we could change the conversation and change the world, then we could actually get down to the work of making this world a better, safer place for  all those that are currently being disenfranchised by ‘the man’. Stop staring at Kim’s ass and arguing over which number size is too big for models, and let’s make our voices heard about the stuff that matters.

Advertisements

JGL: Comes Out as Feminist ! (GASP!)

We all remember Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Yes.
Yes.

Child Star treasure. Teenage heartthrob.

This movie stands the test of time.
This movie stands the test of time.
Precious.
Precious.

We remember collectively experiencing shock and awe while watching Inception, thinking ‘When did Joseph Gordon Levitt turn into such a MAN?! And is this real or in a dream???!!!’

That hair. That vest. That jawline. Em. Yes.
That hair. That vest. That jawline. Em. Yes.

Well, he’s officially blown my mind again by going on Ellen and boldly claiming the title feminist.

If lip synching on Jimmy Fallon didn’t already have me swooning, this sure did. I mean, it shouldn’t be such a huge deal, but we still live in a world where celebrities are avoiding the title feminist like it’s a fucking plague. And to have JGL in our camp, we’ll that’s just unreal. He is handsome, smart, majorly talented, funny and cool. People think he is a cool guy, a nice guy, a guys guy. It’s still the case that many people align with feminist goals and values but don’t use the word. Maybe even some of you. But let’s use the simple and wonderful definition from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (that Beyonce features in her song ***Flawless!) “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” When you break it down like that, it’s hard to understand why more people don’t come aboard. Or, is it?

He gets it.
He gets it.

The media has done a lot of work to paint feminists as angry, man-hating, fun-sucking, ever so serious and ever so hairy ladies. This is basically false, other than sometimes being angry (because some aspects of our culture should make us all angry) and hairy (because everyone has body hair… duh.) One day, I envision young pop starts and box office busting actors saying ‘Yea, of course I’m feminist! [insert charming joke here.]’ Because it’s not really radical to want a world where people are treated like people first, and where women and men don’t treat each other like separate species.

Tie. Vest. Tousled hair.
Tie. Vest. Tousled hair.

A few years ago there was this article in the New York Times Magazine about how women’s issues were the moral issue of this century. I still believe that, and I think we are going to need more brave folks like JGL to step up and speak out about their feelings, and to wear the feminist badge proudly. If JGL, all charm and coiffed hair and vests, can claim the badge and retain his like-ability and cool factor, there is hope yet.

One more. Because I can.
One more. Because I can.

‘Yonce All On His Mouth Like Liquor ;

First post back and I’m about to go hard about what has already been well tread territory for a few weeks now: the goddess Beyonce and her surprise new album. Lots of people, especially the feminist media, have weighed in, and now it’s my turn to add to the convo.

Here’s the thing about this album. We could talk about how brilliant it is to drop it with no notice (because she is BEYONCE and needs no introduction), to create a visual for each song because she understands how visual the current technology driven culture is, how those videos further give her control over her image and brand (a control which she is often criticized for, but which I think is incredible and empowering), and how generally savvy this move was.

But that’s not why I’m so hype.

We could argue about how enraged I become at some of the criticism leveled her way. That she is too cold and controlling, when a woman so completely in control of her public image is actually quite a slap in the face to patriarchy and the male-controlled music industry at large. That she doesn’t write her own songs, and so she is an ‘entertainer’ not an ‘artist’. First of all, she does write. Second of all, writing songs vs performing as the marker of true artistry is a completely arbitrary distinction. It is not the case that one is more authentic or difficult than the other, and to say so reeks of all kinds of weird prejudices.

But I’m not here to argue. I’m here to talk about why we should all be amped about this release.

I’m hype because she continues to be a dominant female force in a world where many females, even if they seem dominant, and largely puppet-ed and exploited. I’m hype because she is a black woman creating a cultural moment that is undeniable, demanding of our attention, a show of total strength, control, and confidence.

And I’m hype most of all because this album is dripping with sex. But its not the kind of sex we usually see. When you look at other sex kittens of our time, from Brit Brit to Katy and even Tay Tay (though her whole appeal and genre are in a different category), the sexuality that is created and consumed is strikingly adolescent. These are images of young girls, who even when they are no longer teenagers cling to that aesthetic. Katy prances around amongst candy, with huge innocent eyes and lyrics about ‘teenage dreams.’ Brit came to rise in a school girl outfit and continues to wear skimpy clothes without convincing anyone that she is enthused about it (or about making music in general.) The music is about flirting, about boys and first love mistakes. And I like it. But this is the only kind of sexuality we are shown in pop culture, and it is stunted. Even Taylor, who I would argue pulls no punches and speaks truthfully about her experiences (which she is criticized needlessly for) is still talking about young love. She doesn’t really come off as in control. And there is never real talk about what women want, sexually, from men. It’s all batting our eyelashes and wondering what he’s thinking and does he like me and am I good enough and I’m totally the best girl for you look at how shiny and fun I am! To be fair, the portrayals of male sexuality are not any better (BLURRED LINES UGH) but that’s another topic for another day. This body of work that Beyonce has created is a different kind of sexy. She is a woman. A woman over 30. A mother. A wife, to a black rap icon/mogul. And she is at the peak of her sexiness. And she is owning it. This is nothing less than completely revolutionary. Sure, you may say, she is still trying to be beautiful and fits mostly within the confining and un-diverse beauty standards we force on women. But this isn’t entirely true. Her body isn’t typical, the variety of looks she can pull off isn’t typical, and the use of feminist voice overs and unapologetic strength while still being almost painfully sexy is not typical. Unlike the other ladies I’ve mentioned, there is nothing girlish about her. Her demands, and her ass(ets) are undeniable, forceful, and unapologetic. Complaining because she still looks amazing is to ignore the fact that she is still trying to sell a product in an industry whose main currency is image. But she is EXPLOITING this. She controls her image in a way that artists like Miley only claim to do. I don’t believe for a second that Miley feels totally in control of her career, her body, or her image. She is a kid making mistakes and trying to find herself, and that’s fine. But when the feminists come to her rescue against the slut-shamers while ignoring the ways that taking your clothes off is still problematic and so is appropriating black culture, they are missing the point. Beyonce lets you hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie define feminist in the song Flawless. Are you listening? (Ok I can only find the preview which doesn’t have the voice over cause she HANDLES HER CONTENT so enjoy)

 

 

That voice, over the image of her dancing fiercely and declaring herself flawless from the moment she wakes, is a fucking powerful statement. Moreover, her sexuality in the context of her marriage is extremely powerful. White feminists aren’t seeing the whole picture when she deride her for using the ‘Mrs Carter’ name. Black woman are statistically less likely to get married, and live in a world that portrays them as animalistically/dangerously sexy, single mothers, or as raising other people’s kids. You can’t separate her identity as a woman from her identity as a black woman, and in this context her marriage and motherhood are powerful cultural symbols. They don’t symbolize settling or limiting herself, which is crazy to even say BECAUSE FUCKING LOOK AT HER. She is at the top of her game. This is not a case of internalized misogyny or a lack of self awareness. She knows exactly who she is, and to come out with this album as a married women demanding to be idolized, fantasized about, and satisfied by her man, is so amazing and sex positive that I can hardly watch the videos without exploding from joy. This is truly a woman claiming and in control of her sexuality and sex life. Watching other artists prance around scantily clad and claiming to feel empowered looks silly after seeing this album. Hearing stunted claims like ‘Oh I got what you want, I got what you need’ is laughable after watching her expose herself, and be vulnerable, while demanding satisfaction. This is the kind of sexuality I want to see more of, and it should be celebrated. It is bold, and brave. It’s  fierce. She is setting a new standard for black female sexual empowerment, and we should all take note, listen, and admire. After all, she demands it.