If there’s one thing that screams “empowerful,” it’s visible buttcheeks.
Stand aside, hairy-legged femi-Nazis, because there’s a new feminism in town. And it’s wearing some really tall heels.
Parents looking for role models for teenage daughters: Finally there is a show for you.
“Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll,” which is to have its premiere on Tuesday night on the CW network, may look like just another reality show with attractive, slinkily dressed women preening for the camera in the hope of a shot at stardom.
But “Pussycat Dolls Present” is about female empowerment, the show’s producers explained to a group of television writers and critics here in January.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with women dancing in their underwear. But we aren’t living in “theory.” We’re living in a society wherein women in their underwear on TV are there primarily for male pleasure, and to remind all other women of our inferior status — and to make a lot of money for male-run enterprises. And in our supposedly post-feminist society, spending a shitload of money on make-up and fancy lingerie, tottering around in toe-pinching high heels, and twisting your body into painful — but, lower back be damned, sexxxy! — positions is now empowerment. According, of course, to the dudes who are making a lot of cash from “empowering” these women.
For the uninitiated, the Pussycat Dolls are a female singing group whose six members slither through their music videos dressed like Barbie’s nasty cousins. In their best known song they ask the musical question: “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?”
Dismiss immediately whatever pornographic inferences such a performance might bring to mind, said McG, the music producer and film director who is an executive producer of “Pussycat Dolls Present.” The Dolls, McG said, are simply making a heartfelt inquiry: “It’s just like saying, ‘Don’t you wish your girlfriend could be free and comfortable in her own skin and do her own thing, like me?’ ”
Here are the lyrics to Don’t Cha (which, full disclosure, is one of my favorite songs to listen to while I run on the treadmill). No, it is not about being comfortable in your own skin. It is about — surprise, surprise — a big ole catfight, wherein the Pussycat Dolls are in competition with another (less freaky, less “raw”) girl for a man. Groundbreaking shit, right?
When one reporter said his 17-year-old daughter looked at the group and their antics as a giant step backward for women, the Pussycat Dolls’ founder, Robin Antin, became defensive, invoking female role models who follow the Dolls.
“There’s a reason why people like Scarlett Johansson, Gwen Stefani, Cameron Diaz have all been so interested in what Pussycat Dolls is all about,” she said. “They feel that it is empowering to get up there and dress up like a Doll. It’s fun, and it’s something that every girl in the world — she may think one thing, but I think inside every girl in the world wants to do it.”
She might think it’s bad for women, but we all know that it’s a waste of time for women to use their puny lady-brains. Deep inside, she wants nothing more than to be a porno Barbie.
Now, I think there’s something to be said for the fun of burlesque, and I think there are ways that burlesque shows can be done which aren’t necessarily feminist, but also aren’t straight-up anti-feminist. The Pussycat Dolls are not that show. “Dressing up like a Doll” does not sound particularly powerful. And yes, many people — myself included — think that playing dress-up can be fun. I think it can be fun when a woman performs a burlesque show, or when a woman performs male-ness, or when a man performs as a woman, or when we show that gender and “sexiness” are largely performances. Pretend. Dress-up. Ways to emphasize that both femininity and masculinity are the result of a lot of effort, and men and women are made rather than born.
But the creators of the Pussycat Dolls show aren’t about dress-up or gender-fucking or making a statement about how thoroughly false the entire thing is — and how that falsity can be turned into a pretty good time. They’re about making this an identity, about further equating female sexuality with pleasing men and being a toy (they are “dolls,” after all).
When another male writer asked what kind of women truly aspire to the Dolls’ aesthetic, McG responded: “You must understand the fundamental paradox of a gentleman of your age asking that very question.”
He added: “Being a step backwards for women suggests it’s in the service of men. Under no circumstances is this in the service of men.”
On the contrary, he said: “There’s even a position to take if this is, frankly, third-wave feminism.”
“Under no circumstances is this in the service of men.” That is a mind-fuck so thorough that I’m not sure where to start with it.
I love it when non-feminists decide that they will define “feminism” in order to suit their own aims. Third-wave feminists have enough trouble trying to explain that “sex-positive” doesn’t always mean “totally ok with all pornography and traditional female subjugation.” The backlash is in full swing, and part of it involves using feminism to suit your own, non-feminist aims: Selling sexist shit as “empowerful,” fear-mongering about Femi-Nazis, arguing that feminism created the mainstreaming of pornography, or deciding that a woman is a real feminist if she embraces every requirement of traditional femininity. When conservative writers and talking heads complain about “feminism,” they take one of two tacks: Either they emphasize the non-conformity aspect and harangue hairy-legged femi-Nazis for trying to ruin it for the mens, or they blame feminism for things like Girls Gone Wild and the sexualization of girls.
Now, we all know that the Pussycat Dolls phenomenon is backlash politics at its best, not Third Wave feminism. I think you’d have a hard time finding an actual feminist who thinks that the Dolls are a sign that the revolution has come and we won out.
I am deeply troubled at the use of feminist language to promote things that are decidedly anti-feminist, and that only serve to keep women in their place as either virgins or whores. But I’m further troubled by some of the feminist response to that phenomenon, as exemplified by books like Female Chauvinist Pigs. That response seems to be, “blame the sluts.” Which isn’t particularly helpful.
Younger women may have more choices today than ever before, but we still don’t have a full array. Younger women are presented with an image of male-defined “sexiness” as the best way for them to be attractive, fun and desirable. Dancing on the bar or flashing their breasts secures them the positive attention that they probably wouldn’t get from being the smartest girl in class. It’s the new way to prove that you’re “fun” and “independent” if you’re “doing it for me.” And while men are fully permitted to be both sexual and serious, and otherwise possessive of complex identities, women who seek male attention are pushed into the sexbot role. The Pussycat Dolls are making a lot of money — certainly much more than they would make if they wore long pants and button-downs. I would guess that they’re making more money than most Congresswomen or lawyers or businesswomen. They aren’t stupid, and they’re rational actors. This benefits them. They do it.
It also benefits the dudes who put groups like this together, market them, direct their videos, and profit from their record sales. Those dudes get to earn the cash without having to get their chests sliced open and a hunk of saline jammed in so that their bodies can be adequate play-toys. They get to earn the cash without politicians, writers, parents, and feminists telling them that they’re horrible immoral sluts. They get to earn the cash without the threat of being replaced by the next girl who’s willing to go a step further, who looks a few years younger, who’s better at shutting up and doing what she’s told.
But it’s easier to blame the girl who’s shaking her ass for money than it is to blame the guy who’s paying her to do it, or the guy who’s profiting from it. And it’s easier to shout “feminism” in order to give your misogynist endeavors some credibility than it is to actually evaluate them, cut the “empowerful” shit, and at least admit that what you’re doing is thoroughly and unapologetically using women’s bodies to please men and to make things a little bit harder for the rest of us.