Select Page

There has been quite a bit of cyber-ink spilled recently about the shameless new Shakira/Rihanna video and its faux-lesbian posturing.

Regardless of whether or not faux-lesbians (or Shakira) are your thing, the video is just, well, disappointing. To make matters worse, Shakira made basically the same video with Beyonce a few years ago. It was far less sexy, far more artistic. So, to do the same thing over again, covering up a lack of craft or complexity with lesbian posturing, is really more sad than anything else.

However, there was another incident of hyper-sexualized women that I think is a little more complicated. This article discusses the rampant sexism in recent Super Bowl commercials, specifically targeting Victoria’s Secret. And while I agree that some of those commercials are cringe-worthy, I also think that they raise an interesting question about gender and sexuality in our twenty-first century.

Shira Tarrant writes:
In the Super Bowl ad, the Victoria’s Secret model dances around in her panties, takes selfies in bed and nibbles a little piece of food (possibly her lunch). Obviously, this is how all women spend our time alone: We dance around the house in slow motion, wearing bikini underwear and kissing photos of ourselves. I can’t believe they let this secret out. (Kidding!) The problem is not the treacly slo-mo camera work. I refuse to slutshame women or girls, and I don’t hate underwear. The problem is that naked is one of the few ways we repeatedly see women displayed. During Super Bowl ads, we rarely see men in states of undress, never while dancing, and if we do, the guys will be buff, in the gym, or it will be a joke. It’s hard to think about women as presidents and CEOs when we’re so used to seeing them relatively powerless in panties. After all, lingerie does not convey messages of strength, authority and capability—except as all this relates to sexual fantasy.

Whoa. Easy there, Ms. Tarrant. I’m glad you’re not slut-shaming (I don’t either) or hating on underwear (because I love it).

But look at those Victoria’s Secret commercials. I mean, really look.

Those women are WHORES through and through. That’s what Victoria’s Secret is selling. Sure. Whatever. They’re dressed in skimpy clothing. And we all know what women who dress like that do. Cue a million stereotypes and archetypes and tropes and whathaveyou. I’m not going to get into that here.

But they’re also bullet-proof, invincible, heroic. They are not Shakira/Rihanna singing about men they can’t forget about. There aren’t any men pulling their hair, dominating their lives, or controlling their actions. There are no men anywhere, in fact.

Whereas a woman might see a whole lot of silly seductiveness and brain-dead posturing, what a man sees is Ishtar, goddesses who can reject and destroy just as easily as they seduce and entice. The thrill of Victoria’s Secret is not the submission of woman but rather the giving of herself by a woman who is too good for the man watching. These women are not, unlike Shakira and Rihanna, cheapening themselves.

While I agree that men can be simple, and that their conclusions may often stem from some kind of base primal instinct (sorry, guys), I am also hesitant about the idea that seeing brain-dead sluts leads to fewer female CEOs. In my (unsubstantiated) opinion, when men fight women in the workplace, the main reason this is happening is general sexism or ignorance (or that the woman happens to be a pain in the ass or that the guy is a douche), not because a man cannot mentally compartmentalize and process a sexy lady in a lingerie ad.

Beyond that, equality for numerical reasons alone, amongst sexes, races, and orientations isn’t important to me, nor do I think it should be important to anyone, as there are very real differences in style and taste amongst groups, and those may naturally lead to differences in employment patterns. So to argue based on numbers alone is a shaky argument. And to eradicate the pleasures of sexuality and sensuality as collateral damage is a shame.

Now, just to clarify, every so often, you’ll see a woman who wants to be something that’s typically done by men. She wants it very badly. She’s very good at it. She’s willing to get looked upon as a little odd or different. She likes breaking a boundary, so other people’s opinions don’t bug her. She doesn’t want to be celebrated or honoured — she just wants to work. And deserves it! But she isn’t allowed to. The answer is no. The walls are up. To me, that’s where feminism should be inserting itself.

If only 1% of the world’s CEOs are women, who cares? But, if there’s a single woman who deserves to be a CEO, and she isn’t because she’s a woman, that’s a world crisis. Escalating things above that level — trying to have everything be 50/50 just on principle — creates so many social, cultural, and economic problems (all of which negatively impact women) that it doesn’t seem worth it. And I don’t think lingerie ads are what is holding her back.

The specific problem I am addressing here is that it this kind of reactionary response, this kind of simplistic reduction, of trying to level the playing field by eradicating sexuality and gender authenticity, results in women trying to be men and men trying to be women and a hell of a lot of mainlining and dilution and confusion and posturing for the sake of eliminating difference.

In sum, I don’t think women recognise how very de-masculinised so much of the world has become, nor the fact that truly sexist/abusive behaviour emerges not from a celebration of maleness (a la the Super Bowl) but rather from the prohibition of celebrations of maleness. These prohibitions create a pressure-cooker situation in which men either become wimps (which women don’t like) or abusers (which all people should dislike).

At the end of the day, I believe that women should have a “no comment” attitude toward the Super Bowl (despite its sexist appearance) just as men should have a “no comment” attitude toward Sex In The City (which strikes me and most men as deeply and profoundly anti-male, if not in its stated desires, but rather in its implicit gender critique).

Or maybe, even more radical, women can revel in the beauty of other women in sexy lingerie without having to resort to the cliche of faux-lesbian posturing. After all, women can be sexy for other women and other women can enjoy it without needing to be gay. Without needing to fear the repercussions of a sexy bustier. Without needing to resort to cliche and crassness.

It’s okay for men to be men and women to be women — and maybe we’re better off in the end if we give ourselves the permission.