July 26, 2013

I Am A Woman, And I Am Empowered By Degrading Music

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What is the issue?

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about the song “Blurred Lines,” and more specifically, how we should stop telling women what to be offended by — including songs like that. I (and other women I know) had been labeled “un-feminist” or expected to apologize for enjoying it, and I found the whole ordeal to be — if somewhat expected — extremely condescending.

And while the response to that article was largely positive, I did receive several comments (both online and in real life) along the lines of, “But don’t you know that song is so degrading to women?” And the truth is, I didn’t. I had not noticed that that song — or the myriad other songs whose lyrics largely describe the sexual appeal of a woman and the sexual tension that is felt while dancing — was degrading. Because, at least to me, for something to be degrading requires a feeling of being actively degraded. These songs, beyond not upsetting me, actually make me feel quite positive as a whole. Perhaps they are degrading for some — and each person has that choice to make — but there is nothing about them that makes them universally negative for women.

This past weekend, I was at a club with my best girlfriend. The music was good, we got some free drinks, and it was just one of those essential girls’ nights that affirms friendship and the feeling of total liberation. At a certain point, “Sexy Bitch” — a song whose lyrics are undeniably as base and sexual as lyrics can be — came over the speakers, and we started grinding and laughing, completely unfazed by anyone who might have been around us. It was a moment in which I felt vibrant, and free, and wonderfully female. These songs, the ones we grow up dancing to, whose vulgar lyrics we barely even pay attention to, are an almost circus-like celebration of the hypnotic beauty of the female form. In that moment, so many of the girls on the dance floor were laughing and dancing together, feeling like the “sexy bitch” in the song and not finding it the least bit insulting.

In fact, I find these songs more amusing than anything else. The points of incoherence to which our sexuality and femininity can drive musicians and artists is simply astounding, and the songs which portray men as completely stupefied by the booty shaking in front of them, seem to reflect more poorly on the men for whom they speak than anything else. To take the lyrics in this song, to own them completely and say to oneself as a woman, “Yes, we are sexy and appealing. You do wish you could be with us. And maybe, if you play your cards right and we decide we like you, we’ll let it happen” is an experience that I and I believe many other women find incredibly empowering. When I hear 2 Chainz musing about how much he loves them strippers, I can’t help but agree with his tastes. Seeing a woman completely in control of her body and her sexuality, dancing to songs that were meant to objectify her but only end up highlighting the power of her autonomy, is viscerally attractive.

Of course, not every woman is going to feel as I do. There are going to be women who hear “Back That Ass Up” and feel immediately repulsed or degraded. And that is completely understandable — not everyone has the same relationship to these words or these ideas. But that is a choice for every woman to make on her own, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying that song, or any other.

The important is that we all find what makes us feel happy and respected. And sneering at what might be part of that journey for another woman helps absolutely no one. Of course, part of the reason I feel that I am able to so thoroughly enjoy these songs is because I feel respected and affirmed by all of the relationships in my life — I never question my worth as a woman and as a human. I realize that this is a luxury, but it does not detract from the fact that the enjoyment of these songs can exist in tandem with a life that is fulfilling and intellectually satisfying. We can all discuss art, philosophy, business, and politics — only to get up and dance when “Pull Over (That Ass Too Fat)” comes on. While searching for respect and love is imperative for every woman (and every human), there is no rule which states where the feelings of joy and fulfillment can come from. If someone is happy shaking their tush in a club to “OMG” by Usher, good for them.

If someone has made it their job, even, it is not our place to judge them — there are plenty of undesirable jobs in the world, and making money for being beautiful is far from one of them in the grand scheme of things. If a video girl or a model or stripper makes her living (and well) by dancing to songs that you perceive as degrading, you might be likely to tell her that it’s a shame, or that she should be doing so much more with herself. But to all of the people who work in dangerous, extremely low-paid, menial jobs — who will never be respected or viewed as a truly useful part of society — we would never render moral judgments on their character. Video girls don’t need your pity any more than construction workers or coal miners or late-night cashiers do. We are all getting by in this world, and doing it in a way that uses your skills and your advantages is nothing to sneeze at.

To be honest, there are songs that I personally find degrading as a woman. I am repulsed by The Beatles’ number which starts off with the delightful lyrics “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” My eyes roll out of my head and up through my sinuses when I hear yet another Taylor Swift oeuvre that portrays women as completely incapable of being the agents of their own destiny. I recoil on hearing acoustic numbers which so clearly rip into an individual relationship the musician lived through, which exists purely as a hatchet job to humiliate one’s ex. All of these, to me, seem more damaging and more immediately insulting to our collective intelligence, but that is a matter of taste.

The point is that it would be unfair for me to uniformly label any of this music as “degrading,” even if I find them to be on an individual level. If another young woman feels good and affirmed and happy listening to Taylor Swift, and finds nothing objectionable in the ideas it presents, it is not my job to slap the proverbial ice cream cone out of her hands. I’m not here to ruin her fun, and I’m not here to impose my taste level on her. Because to insult another woman for enjoying what she enjoys, or for being empowered by what feels good to her — for whatever reason — only serves to reinforce the idea that there is a “right” and “wrong” way for us to be.

Those of us in the corner dancing to Robin Thicke, laughing our heads off and feeling supremely feminine and awesome, we’re doing just fine. You don’t need to worry about this music hurting us or tricking us with its catchy beats. If we need your help, we’ll let you know. Right now, the DJ is about to put on Ke$ha and we have some tables to dance on. TC mark

image – Robin Thicke/VEVO
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