Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Objectification is not liberation

Note: Title and content have been edited. Please see bottom of post for details.

Beyoncé has just released an album that is blowing up the charts and shattering digital sales records. Some people are calling it brilliant and groundbreaking. In an article for the New Statesman, socialist and feminist author Laurie Penny gives the singer a big bravo for projecting an image that she believes means good things for girls and women everywhere. But there’s something very problematic going on in the contemporary feminist movement, a variety of pseudo-feminism that casts the likes of Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé Knowles as champions of female empowerment in a way that prevents any discussion of the ethics surrounding the equating of objectification with liberation.

Penny incisively explains here that while not all men hate women, they all benefit from sexism by virtue of enjoying the privileges of being a man. Unfortunately, she stops short. Penny adopts choice feminism as a platform to defend Miley Cyrus’s antics without addressing the racist fetishism with which she oppresses women of colour. Nor does she feel that Cyrus is transmitting a damaging message to millions of young women. On the contrary, she insists that female celebrities flaunting their sexuality empowers girls to feel that they can do whatever they want without being judged for it, and that anything that might challenge this entitlement amounts to slut shaming. Does a super famous, hyper-sexualized pop starlet give girls the wrong idea about what it means to be a responsible, conscious and self-fulfilled woman in this society? We’re not allowed to talk about that, apparently.

Whereas Western women are often quick to assume that the burqa and even the hijab are tools of oppression in Muslim societies, choice feminism sends the pendulum swinging to the other extreme. When Lorde criticized Selena Gomez’s song ‘Come and Get It’ as bearing an inappropriate and unhealthy message for young girls, Gomez retorted that Lorde’s comment was anti-feminist because she was “not supporting other women”. The individualistic posturing of choice feminism turns the concept of solidarity on its head by taking for granted that everything that women do is okay, especially if we’re (presumably) doing it of our own volition, and we should never hold each other to account – even if that means trying to protect young women whose most direct experience of patriarchy is the objectification of their bodies. Writer Meghan Murphy nails it when she asks, “Since when is nonjudgmental the descriptor of a movement based on achieving collective freedom from oppression and exploitation? What if the choices being made perpetuate patriarchal ideas?”

It’s totally counterintuitive that having Miley’s T&A constantly thrust in their faces should make young women feel better about themselves. This actually has the effect of encouraging youth to idolize celebrities and thus strive to be like them – thin, famous, rich, brash – rather than to be happy just being themselves.

Miley isn’t the only celebrity whose behaviour stirs controversy. What’s really interesting, though, is how some female celebrities manage to shamelessly flaunt their extravagant wealth, supersized egos, and pornstar bodies, all while escaping scrutiny. Public opinion suggests that while Rihanna is trashy, Beyoncé is sexy but classy. That image is undermined by her newest set of videos. Partition, for example, has her writhing around, spreading her legs and bucking her hips in what can only be described as an exotic (I hate this term) dance performance. I anticipate some people countering that she’s older (and therefore more self-possessed than Miley) and may have a slightly older fan base but here’s the dead giveaway: if there’s any doubt about who holds the power as far as this song is concerned, consider the lyrics.

“I just wanna be the girl you like, the kinda girl you like.”

– Beyoncé in ‘Partition’

In this video, Beyoncé isn’t asking us to respect her or even to recognize her talent and intelligence. All she’s saying, in words and images, is: Desire me. Fuck me.

Since when did turning our oppressors’ tools against ourselves become a strategy for liberation? I don’t see this as being the same as say, homosexuals reclaiming the word ‘queer’. This has the effect of draining the term of its power to degrade and ostrasize by acknowledging that while homosexuals may be different in the sense that they haven’t been considered traditionally mainstream, there’s nothing wrong with that. This directly counters the notion that there’s something deviant or immoral about them by applying a truly positive interpretation. But when women like Beyoncé become sexual objects, which in this context are essentially commodities or products to be consumed, they’re not in any way challenging the idea that they’re sexual objects. Nor do they explain how pimping themselves out negates the pimping.

Slut shaming isn’t cool. I should be able to walk around wearing what makes me feel comfortable and happy without worrying that I’ll be judged and devalued. I should be able to sleep with who I want to, and with as many people as I want to, without being subjected to double standards that would see men admired for the same behaviour. All I’m suggesting is that we approach this with balanced thinking. We’re not just talking about a woman who simply happens to be beautiful and is wearing clothing and dancing in a way that accentuates her beauty. Sexiness is not the issue. What is the issue is that imagery and behaviour approaching pornography is ubiquitous in our culture and never seems to be expressed via male bodies. So the question comes back to this: is this really appropriate? Nicki Minaj, Ke$ha, Britney Spears – when they air their crotches out in public, they’re not doing it for our liberation. And when boys and men see this, they couldn’t care less what philosophies might be underpinning it. They’re getting exactly what their male privilege tells them they are entitled to, and they further rationalize that entitlement based on the fact that women are more than happy to oblige that fantasy.

In another new video for the song ‘Superpower’, Beyoncé struts in a pair of spiky heels wearing a headscarf and a khaki-coloured miniskirt while her breasts peek out from underneath her halter top. The video depicts her catwalking with her posse through riot scenes, which include cop cars ablaze. Perfect hair. Perfect makeup. Perfect nails. So Beyoncé fancies herself a human rights activist now, huh? Did she conjure this vision up from her gated mansion while bathing in a vat of liquid gold? Give me a fucking break. Are we really going to pretend that there’s nothing wrong with one of the most powerful (as perception would have it) women in the world perpetuating this culture of narcissism and money worship, by exploiting, no less, the struggles that she has never cared to voice support for despite her influence as an international celebrity? In case anyone needs reminding about what this luxury-loving diva was doing in NYC during the Occupy Wall Street protests (which her hubby slammed but used anyway to make a buck), she was out shopping. I can’t bring myself to look up to a member of the privileged, wealthy 1% who capitalizes off the 99%’s fight for a fair economy. I don’t care what her gender, religion or skin colour is.

My formative years coincided with the Riot Grrrl movement. I listened to L7, Lunachicks, The Cranberries, 7 Year Bitch, Sleater-Kinney, Tori Amos, even Hole. I didn’t admire the divas, the models or the pretty pop stars. I liked the gritty, unapologetic realness of women whose defiance was neither manufactured nor forced. It was the smeared lipstick, the pride in embracing one’s imperfections, and the unmitigated gall of staking out territory in a predominantly male genre that encouraged and empowered me. That was about 20 years ago. These days, I wonder if we’ve been beaten into submission by the corporate patriarchy such that we’ve so deeply internalized its methods that we don’t even realize we’re doing it to ourselves.

Self-determination and individualism are not the same thing. Feminism should be, and will only succeed, as a collective struggle for the eradication of male privilege and gender bondage. Anything less is just another obstacle.

***

Post edited: This post was originally entitled, ‘Beyoncé is no Ani DiFranco’. I’ve removed anything that makes mention of Ani DiFranco in order to stop the issue I’ve chosen to discuss here from being co-opted by an entirely unrelated, albeit important, issue. If you’re unfamiliar with Ani DiFranco, she’s an American indie folk artist whose career has spanned decades and who has gained a huge cult following for her prolific music and strong support for the rights of immigrants, people of colour, women, the LGBT community, etc., both in her music and in the work that she does in the community. Shortly after publishing this post, I learned that Ani had become the subject of criticism due to a recent announcement that she would be hosting a music and writing retreat on Nottoway Plantation along with several other artists. It’s perfectly understandable that many people have taken issue with the fact that a white artist who has until now been celebrated as a feminist and anti-racist failed to appreciate that holding an event on a former slave plantation could be considered not only as incredibly insensitive, but also as further validation of the claim that mainstream feminism excludes women of colour. While I recognize that this is a complex issue that will elicit a variety of opinions, it is unfortunate that for whatever reason, neither Ani nor her record label, Righteous Babe Records, have addressed these concerns (as of December 28th). The ethical and appropriate thing to do at this time – at the very least – would be to issue a formal apology and explanation. I’ve expressed this view to both parties. Now, with regard to this post, it did not focus on Ani; I had quoted her twice and gave a brief synopsis of her career. The purpose of bringing her up was to contrast the school of feminist thought that is critical of objectification as a tool of patriarchy (as expressed by Ani) with the premise of choice feminism that supporters of female pop stars use to defend them. Although the content involving Ani, notwithstanding the controversy, would still support my argument above, it has become clear that the mere mention of her is being interpreted as an invitation to go off on a tangent. The comments were beginning to devolve into insinuations that Ani DiFranco is a racist, which at any rate is irrelevant to the topic of choice feminism. Strangely, the controversy over the retreat was also somehow being leveraged to discredit my analysis of choice feminism generally and Beyoncé specifically. Again, totally off the mark, and not fair. Therefore, I decided to remove mention of Ani and did not approve some comments that discussed the retreat. As always, reasonable and relevant discussions are welcome. I may address the issue regarding the retreat in a future post. [Update: I’ve delved into the issue here]

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Filed under Eastern Philosophy, Feminism & Gender, Politics & Society

Hippie 2.0

People often call me a hippie – but the fact is that most people who do have no idea how far I take it. I might cover that topic at a later date, but for now I’d like to delve into what a hippie truly is – or isn’t.

The popular conception of hippies is that they’re slackers, stoners, ill-groomed, unreliable and naive. Like, say, Cheech and Chong, or the last person you saw who looked like they time warped from Woodstock. Sort of like this:

But hippies have evolved. Hell, they’re even on Twitter. Here’s the thing: mainstream discourse has always failed to grasp the legitimate movements behind hippie culture. While there’s an obvious link between a subculture of people who question widely accepted viewpoints and those who are overt dissidents, there are a whole lot of people who exist in a grey area. I’m one of them. Sometimes I’m not even sure where the boundaries lie and I probably cross over and back many times. This leads me to my next observation about hippies: sometimes you can’t recognize them for what they are. For example, I’m sure former Fear Factor host and UFC commentator Joe Rogan wouldn’t tag himself as a hippie, or at least as just a hippie. But a lot of his ideas are decidedly anti-status quo and are always based on the principles of thinking for yourself and questioning society. You don’t have to be high to enjoy the following mind bomb, but I dare you to come away from it not feeling rocked on some level:

We’re a prolific bunch. And the counter-intuitive reality, believe it or not, is that people who are often referred to as hippies, liberals, progressives, etc. are actually all about being conservative. Oh yes. Not conservative as in, say, Republican notions about gay marriage or reproductive rights. What I’m talking about is how we approach the issues that affect everyone, particularly the most vulnerable. Hippies are conservative in the sense that they reject waste and the ensuing chaos and suffering caused by:

  • Environmental pollution and the over-exploitation of natural resources
  • Rampant materialism that encourages people to consume more and more stuff – justified by a ‘need’ to keep the economy rolling, and supported by the belief that our identities are commodities (as is everything else for that matter, apparently)
  • Unrealistic, moralistic and ineffective policy responses to poverty and crime (which of course are inextricably linked) – the disastrous war on drugs being a huge case in point
  • Agricultural policy (e.g. subsidies) driven by corporate lobbyists (e.g. Cargill and Monsanto) and the crusade for profit – not the need for healthy, nutritious food, or long-term yield, biodiversity and the humane treatment of animals
  • Laws (especially income tax laws) that reflect the interests of large corporations and the wealthy (one in the same, really), and which are designed to be obtuse and non-transparent so the general population is largely unaware of how these decisions affect them
  • A medical establishment focused on the management (vs. treatment) of symptoms, not the core causes, and which is bankrolled and educated by the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries – a system which arguably sickens more people than it heals and provides particularly worse care to women, First Nations and other ethnic minorities

A key point here is that we don’t even have to appeal to spiritual or ethical frameworks for manifesting justice on this planet – because what is practical is ethical.

So while I’m proud to be a hippie, I’m much more than just that. I’m a joker, a punk, a metalhead, a geek, a dreamer, a realist. Nobody fits into a neat little category. We can do away with labels – they only serve to limit us. Like people who think and act like environmentalists, for example, but refuse to call themselves environmentalists. Call it what you will, but ultimately we’re all capable of thinking critically, opening our minds to new paradigms and living more meaningful, conscious lives.

You can dismiss any given person as a hippie or anything else for that matter, but what you probably don’t want to admit deep down, if you’re not the sort of person who embraces it, is that somewhere inside you is a being who wants to just be who they are – free from the constraints of dogma, poverty and emotional bondage. It all starts with taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. This takes a great deal of courage when our views don’t reflect those of our employers, lawmakers, families, religions, etc. – but it’s the only way we’re going to find enough common ground to tip the balance of power and end the insanity of a global regime that refuses to accept reality. It starts with being honest with ourselves:

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Filed under Health & Environment, Politics & Society