Sex & Gender

op-ed: are we harming the feminist movement without realizing it?

March 6, 2014

The 2010s have summoned a new wave of feminism; one in which we’ve finally begun to acknowledge the fact that sexism and objectification has (not unlike racism) shape-shifted into less obvious but no less menacing disguises. More than ever before we’ve been waving the red flag at Rape Culture, and finally standing up to the chauvinistic tendencies of mainstream media, especially with the backlash of stunts by artists like Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus. Black Feminist scholars such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have been granted recognition in pop culture and the Western World has become more aware of the alarming frequency of violent crimes against women in countries like India.
I wanted to draw attention however to some of the ways that people who generally mean well are inadvertently fuelling Rape Culture and the many tendrils that spring from the term -and what better place to start than at the top.

By Tash Vals, AFROPUNK Contributor *

The music industry has long been a portal for creative license to roam – a portal that chauvinism found a comfy home in. The 90s pioneered a new movement however in which females such as Foxy Brown and Lil Kim were expressing a frankness about female sexuality – a torch which has been passed on through the ages and has ended up in the clenched fists of artists like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. The once refreshing ‘no damns given’ approach of Rihanna’s Loud was soon overcast by the Talk That Talk era which showed us that all Rihanna pretty much knew was how to pussy pop, throw Twitter shade and get Insta-high. A very anti-climactic outcome to what started off so promisingly. An even worse example would be Miley Cyrus; who has taken it upon herself to up the sexual ante with performances that made even Ri-Ri raise an eyebrow. You can’t help but wonder why nobody who loves her has stopped her in her tracks and informed her of other ways to show the world she’s ‘grown up’. Where was Disney? Billy-Ray? JESUS??

We can speak in her defence by saying she’s a grown woman and artist in her own right who can use said rights to be as sexually liberal as she wants. But is throwing that in our faces always necessary? Take her videos for example; ‘Wrecking Ball’ is lovely and vulnerable and repentant…so why does she have to be naked? What does the destruction of a relationship have to do with licking a hammer? All with the aid of Terry Richardson who is his own brand of sleaze but I won’t even get started on him!

While it’s great that we’re applauding feminine sexuality, very little is being done to upheave the image of the female as being able to offer little more than their bodies.

Even Feminist icons like Beyonce can get it a little bit wrong sometimes. She is probably the most celebrated pioneer for Feminism coming from a musical standpoint yet, on her chart-topping single Drunk in Love, her husband quotes the infamous ‘Eat the cake Anna Mae’ line from a domestic abuse scene in a Tina Turner biopic. Was Jay Z referencing What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ as a way to compare himself to an abusive partner? Probably not. Maybe (as has been popularly speculated) it was a sexual reference. The point is that the term originated from a negative and violent source and it’s disappointing that he couldn’t come up with any other alternative line under the sun to fit into that verse. The more we sing along, the more we become desensitized to a reference that originated from a horrendous situation.

‘Eat The Cake’ domestic abuse scene:

When it comes to the topic of women and sexual entitlement, it would seem that many women have worked themselves into such frenzy to prove their equality that all sense of selectiveness has gone out the window.

They say that Feminism is both our right to say no and our right to say yes (a definition that rightfully condemns both rape and the grating friend zone label) but we forget that Feminism is also our right to make up the rules as we go along. I’ve seen so many friends throw their bodies to the wind in the name of liberation and it is this behaviour that is ever reflective of our generation’s incapacity for patience or restraint. We do things because we can. We think that being sexually liberal means eschewing all restriction when it comes to our momentary urges when this isn’t the case at all. We all fall victim to spontaneous acts of passion but you really don’t have to sleep with EVERYONE you take a shine to. Feminism is your right to be picky. To take a man home after one night and then make another one wait for months and not have to explain why. We need to be careful not to let our own sense of entitlement eat away at our self-discipline and regard for our worth.

Even little things that seem harmless are setting us back. I used to give my number to guys even when I wasn’t interested, either so that they would leave me alone or because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

By giving in out of exasperation though, you are giving men the go ahead to keep pestering women in hopes of wearing them down. I’ve found that the overbearing types can be targeted in the following steps:

    1. Sorry I’m flattered, but no thanks.

[persistent mumbling]

    2. I’m really not interested please drop it.

[Mumbling gets even more persistent and whiney]

    3. You’re beginning to make me feel uncomfortable.

[He may begin to insult you/call you a bitch, etc.]

    4. I will scream for help in a minute.

[Only a fool would call you on your bluff]

    5. Help!

[He’ll run, I promise]

They’ll probably leave you alone after number 3.

If you give in to guys out of pity, you need to woman up. Be polite but assertively so. If he was confident enough to approach you, he probably does this a lot anyway. You’re not the first girl who’ll have turned him down, and you certainly won’t be the last. He’ll live.

I mean, If we keep feeding the very same habits we complain about to our friends, how can we ever expect a change in the norm?

The Feminist movement has undoubtedly come a long way and it goes without saying that there are still people out there whose ignorance keep this a cause worth fighting for, but what we don’t consider is those among us who do stand for the cause but reverse any steps being taken to fight it without realizing. From the stars down to us humble folk, it’s the little things that we don’t realize that leave the big imprints.

* Follow Tash on Twitter @ohlookitsTash