First it was Robin Thicke and his buddies cavorting with naked women in his video for Blurred Lines, while a sign on the wall behind him informed us that he has a big d-ck (his words, not mine).
Then, this past Wednesday, Justin Timberlake debuted his third single Tunnel Vision from his album 20/20 Experience. The video starts off promising (at one point JT even looks at the camera with -- dare I say? -- a sense of reverence and worship for the woman he's singing to), but it all quickly deteriorates into an ocean of boobs. Waves and waves of boobs.... So much so that Justin's face is, at times, superimposed over these women's breasts, because they've taken over THE ENTIRE SCREEN!
It's enough to make you shake your head in amazement.
Because, as a woman, it's exhausting to constantly point out the obvious sexism around you. It's tiring to have to explain to some people why you find such things offensive. It's exhausting and exasperating to wonder why 50 per cent of the purchasing population (I'd actually venture to guess that females account for even more than half of the buying public when it comes to pop music) is consistently treated with so little respect and dignity. It's tiring (and insulting) to watch video after video of fully-clad men sing, while naked and semi-naked ornamental women gyrate sexily around them. Like decorations. Like baubles. Like the tinsel on a tree....
What's another word for "decorative"? Non-functional. Serving absolutely no purpose... other than the obvious one, of course.
A few years ago, The American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report in which it confirmed what most of us already know: Women are more likely than men to be portrayed in the media in a sexual manner. Women defined solely by their sexuality are no longer a threat; they become one-dimensional and have no place in the halls of power. Their focus, it is implied, is no longer on attaining power, but on attaining a man who has the power.
The answer to who has the power in these videos is blatantly clear.
We're the ones constantly depicted naked or semi-naked, in hyper-sexualized "biting-our-lips, batting-our-eyelashes" demure, weak and submissive poses. It's a position that signals vulnerability. You can't be naked, while everyone else is clothed, and be in power. You can't be naked and be the one in control. You can't be naked and be the one choosing. To be naked is to be exposed; to be weak. Ultimately, it's to be powerless.
Even when women are sold the story that their beauty is power over men, it is a deceptive and temporary truth. It's baseless power. It is the kind of power that only exists in relation to a man's desire. In this equation, women are defined only in relation to the men in their lives; only to the hard-ons they can incite. In these videos they're always the cheerleaders to the male ego, standing on the sidelines, prancing around in panties, smiling with a come-hither, non-threatening look, while the guys (all suave, all aloof, all "manly") get to be in on some inside joke.
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And that message of powerlessness is everywhere if you just open your eyes to it...plastered on the front pages of magazines, dripping from the words of men who feel that women discussing their reproductive rights is somehow synonymous with promiscuity, and staring at us from outlandishly-tasteless advertising that treats women as objects to be sold, bartered and gawked at.
Examples are never hard to find. Society continues -- in ways subtle and not so subtle -- to always define and ultimately limit what women are and ultimately can be.
There's a line in that wonderful documentary "Miss Representation" that states: "you can't be what you don't see", and if that's true, what are we presenting as options to our young girls? How are we defining them, and ultimately how are we limiting their worth and their value?
It would be tempting for some to dismiss these complaints as overly-sensitive feminist ranting. After all, we live in a society that revolves around consumerism, and we all know sex sells. Throw a few scantily-clad women together, and you've got the makings of a hot new cutting-edge video. What's the big deal in that?
The big deal is that it's blatant (and may I add, extremely lazy) sexism. And it sends a message women (and the men who love them) can no longer afford to receive.
Author Naomi Wolf once said that "to live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren't is to learn inequality in little ways all day long."
Look at Blurred Lines with a critical eye. Naked women, women on all fours, women having their hair brushed like little girls, women meowing like domesticated cats. And breasts everywhere...So much footage of breasts, one has to wonder if the sole purpose of these videos was nothing but shock value and YouTube bans, resulting in even more coverage.
Because, if truth be told, I found both videos tiresome half-way through. How many minutes of non-stop footage of breasts can one look at before you get bored? I mean, I have them so I don't need to look at them all day. And most men (with the exception of teenage boys probably playing those videos on constant loop) have seen them too. After all, "erotic" is in the mind and in the half-seen. Never in patronizing displays of full frontal nudity, with women who appear to barely have an understanding of their own sexuality. Both videos end up descending into parody. They're shocking for their blatant and gratuitous overuse of nudity, but they're not sexy.
And besides, my problem isn't with the nudity at all. I lived in Europe for years, where topless and nudist beaches are nothing out of the ordinary. There's nothing wrong with the human body and I'm not prudish about it at all.
I love the female form. It's a thing of beauty. I get why men (extremely visual creatures to begin with) have a fixation with it. They're not alone. Women find the female body beautiful too.
And no one's denying that women are sexual beings and that they like to be desired. But women are much more than the sum of their perky breasts and their butts hanging out of their thongs as they clumsily -- for the most part -- saunter around in a video while a bunch of highly arrogant men serenade them with lyrics like "I know you want it" and "I know you like it."
Did anyone else notice those two eerily-similar lines appearing in two completely different songs? At a time when we are fighting so hard for young men to understand what clear consent means, is it necessary to be bombarded with such questionable "rapey" lyrics?
Both these singers have gorgeous wives who are in the industry. If there's nothing wrong with the way women are depicted in these videos, why aren't they included here? Is it because it's a cheap, crass, undignified way to depict women and they would never insult their spouses by showing them in this light?
So why are they so willing to insult the rest of us?