Or, How My New Music Video is Smashing The Patriarchy for the Good of All Your Sons and Daughters, You’re Welcome.
OK so, yeah, I made a music video of myself lounging in various corners of a mansion while hot men wait on me hand and foot. And yeah, it was fun. And sure, maybe it happened to satisfy a number of my personal fantasies.
But I also believe that making this video was a radical act of revolutionary patriarchy-smashing moxie. It was a brick thrown through the window of The Man’s corner office, and I’m proud of it.
Because, my friends, most of the TV and movies and music videos we’ve been imbibing throughout our lives, despite the pleasant buzz, are full of objectification. And that’s not just a Women’s Studies jargon word, it’s Evil Poisonous Bullshit. And regardless of your gender, it’s ruining your ability to think, talk, and ever have decent sex.
Evil Poisonous Bullshit Idea #1: Women’s bodies are for looking at.
On TV, all the women are beautiful. The heroines are beautiful and the villains are beautiful. The love interests are beautiful and the ninjas are beautiful. The leading ladies are beautiful and so are the extras. The moms, the daughters, the check-out girls, and the mean ex-wives are beautiful. The only women who are allowed to be less-than-beautiful are the comic relief: the fat friend, the crazy neighbor, and the grandma.
Thusly, we learn from TV that if you’re a woman, regardless of your other roles in life, your #1 job is to be beautiful at all times. Your only choices are between kinds of beauty: are you cute or lovely? Are you hot or pretty? Are you a Carrie or a Charlotte?
If you’re a man, on the other hand, you can choose from an array of jobs. You can be beautiful, sure. But you can also be strong, competent, funny, evil, brilliant, kind, foolish, geeky, gutsy, witty, or rich. Male characters are frequently endowed with the gift of complexity, female characters aren’t. Male characters are allowed to be unattractive, even if they are a lead character; female characters are not.
The implication is: if she’s not beautiful, at every moment and from every angle, how will we know that we like her?
(Good news though: TV is changing. Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, the makers of Orange is the New Black and others are dismantling this bullshit as we speak, with panache. It doesn’t matter if you like those shows, they are improving your daughters’ futures, you should thank them.)
In other words, your main job as a woman is to be a decorative object. This is called “objectification”. Because that’s a jargony word, I’ll explain it more thoroughly.
There are at least three problems with living inside a body that is a decorative object:
1) If your body is for looking at, it is not for doing things with.
A male body is a tool with which he can manipulate the world; a female body is a pretty thing for other people to look at.
And as Ani DiFranco pointed out, life imitates TV. Try to count the number of times you hear a female child being called “cute” or “pretty”, versus a male child being praised for a physical action like “fast” or “strong”. The difference starts young, and the contrast gets turned up as the kid ages. I believe this is at the root of why many women believe that we are inept at driving, lifting heavy objects, fixing mechanical things, killing bugs, etc.: we have been taught that our bodies are for looking at, not for using.
Here’s a partial list of other things that we believe a female body isn’t for:
- Contact sports
- Motocross racing
- Smashing the patriarchy.
If, by chance, a woman on TV is allowed to use her body for one of these activities, the need to be beautiful trumps the need to do that thing well. One of my favorite recent instances was the movie “Jurassic World”, wherein the female lead (Bryce Dallas Howard) runs from a series of life-threatening dinosaurs, through rainforest and rock quarry, for the duration of the two-hour movie, all while wearing high heels.
It’s as if the director was saying to us: remember girls, even when threatened by a velociraptor, your #1 job is to be beautiful.
2) “It is better to look good than to feel good.” I stole that from a mid-80s Billy Crystal skit from Saturday Night Live, but it’s a perfect description of this problem. If you’re focused on how you look on the outside, you’re not focused on how you feel on the inside. (This concept is beautifully illustrated in Peggy Orenstein’s newest book, Girls & Sex, which I could not recommend more highly.)
If you’re talking to someone, and you’re thinking about how your lipstick might look on your mouth, you’re probably not deeply processing the words being said. If you’re having sex, and you’re thinking about how your cellulite looks from this angle, you’re probably not noticing the sensations inside your body.
It’s difficult or impossible to focus on both at once; and if you’re a woman, you’re programmed to prioritize how you look. In other words,
3) Being a decoration is distracting. When it’s my job to look pretty – which TV would have me believe it always is – it’s harder to concentrate on a problem or task in front of me. This phenomenon has been studied and documented, and it only works on women.
The study linked above shows that when women are asked to solve math problems in a swimsuit, their math performance suffers significantly. When men are asked to do the same, theirs does not. That means our poisonous programming has been so successful that we can no longer turn off the sense that if we are being watched, we must make it our top priority to improve our physical presentation.
Add to that the stereotype about women and math, and you’ve done stupefied more than half of the human population. Nice work, The Man.
In Vim & Vigor, I attempt to create a scenario where male viewers of the video can have a taste of how objectification works. Ie: we objectified the male bodies in the video, and avoided objectifying the female one (mine). The men in the video are improbably hot and muscled because I want male viewers to question their own physical fitness and attractiveness. I touch all the men’s packages in the video, because men’s penises are one of the only physical attributes they are culturally programmed to be insecure about (as women, on the other hand, we are programmed to feel insecure about literally every part of our bodies – from the volume of our hair to the size of our “thigh gap”).
I want male viewers to feel that they are being sized up physically, and may not measure up. I want them to wonder, “am I thin enough? Strong enough? Handsome enough? Do I have a big enough dick?” I want them to feel that tremble in the pit of their stomach, and to wonder whether they are worthy of a woman’s attention. I want them to think they might be dismissed, ignored, or humiliated, simply because of the shape of their physical form.
It’s not that I’m a sadist, though. It’s all in the interest of creating empathy. I want you to feel this way, gentlemen, and I want you to recognize that this is what it feels like to walk through the world as a woman, every fucking day.
Evil Poisonous Bullshit Idea #2: A woman’s value is based on how desirable she is to men.
As TV would have it, any female character worth a damn is some dude’s love interest. This applies to superheroes as well as house wives, and it’s hazardous to our health in a variety of ways (it gives us a weird and tragic sense that a single woman is a worthless woman, for example). For now, I want to focus on just one aspect: on TV, a character’s value is correlated with her sexual desirability.
This is what it means to be a “sex object”; we believe that our value is based on our usefulness as a tool for men’s sexual pleasure. There are at least two major problems with this one.
1) We are unwilling to do or say anything that might make us less desirable.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why do we need to train men to ask for consent? Shouldn’t women be able to say that they don’t want sex?” this is the reason. And believe me, I am at least as frustrated as you are. Tragically, this particular poison has rendered many of us speechless in situations that involve suppressing or interrupting a man’s desire. We’re taught to believe that our value as a person is linked to our desirability, so if you want us, that’s good! If we say “stop”, and you lose your boner, we have just downgraded our desirability, and thus, our value as human beings.
Again, big thanks to The Man for that one. Really nice job.
Date rape aside, though, it’s worth noting that our need to be desirable to men applies to ALL MEN, even those we are not attracted to, don’t want sexual attention from, or don’t like. We feel driven to maintain a backlog of male desire, or we start to feel worthless. This is why many women won’t say “no” or “leave me alone” or “fuck off, drunken douchebag” to a drunken douchebag who is harassing them in public. We are taught to believe that all male attention, even drunken douchebag male attention, increases our value.
Less crucially but still worth noting: it’s is also why many women don’t like to eat in front of men, or wear something unflattering, or fart, or mention that we take shits. We are supposed to be sex objects, like a porn cartoon or a blow-up doll. And sex objects don’t take shits (unless that’s the kind of porn they’re appearing in).
2) We prioritize men’s pleasure above our own pleasure.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: women like sex just as much as men. There is no biological reason for women to be less interested in sex, or less turned on, or less easily sexually satisfied. I repeat, NO BIOLOGICAL REASON! (And don’t come at me with the latest evo-psych, either, because this particular crock has only been served for the past couple centuries. Before that, the crock was that women were insatiable hysterical sex animals. So which is it, science?)
Regardless of our libidos, we’ve been poisoned, since birth, with a hallucinatory drug that makes us believe that sex is something we do for the benefit of men. And who’s going to tell us otherwise? The men believe it, too. Our own desires get buried deep beneath our many concerns about the pleasure and satisfaction of our male partner, or even an imaginary male witness.
It’s not that we don’t like sex, it’s that we’ve don’t get asked to consider what we like. It is not our job to have desires, let alone pleasure or satisfaction.
Conversely, in Vim & Vigor mansion, my desire is the only desire that matters. The men who surround me may or may not desire me; that is beside the point. I don’t care to titillate or satisfy them; I don’t even allow them to display desires of their own.
This was a thrilling and mind-bending point to discuss on set. When talking through our roles in each scene, any suggestion that involved a man looking turned on or pleased had to be quashed immediately. If anybody was gonna do “blowjob pose”, it was gonna be me (and, it was me, thank you).
I wanted my value and power as a character to come from something other than my desirability to men, and I wanted my own pleasure and satisfaction to be prioritized 100% of the time.
In this case, my value as a character comes from the fact that I am the queen and owner of this mansion, and every man in it, and I can do and ask for whatever I want. My value had nothing to do with how many men want to fuck me. Quite the opposite, in fact: the men are only allowed into my mansion if I want to fuck them. Otherwise, they are worthless.
In other words: “I don’t give a fuck if you find me foxy.”
This very statement, my sisters, is a battle cry. I hope you’ll put on your favorite ugly outfit, take a messy bite out of giant cheeseburger, and say it with me. We don’t have time to be a pretty object or a sex toy, we’ve got a patriarchy to smash; grab a brick and join me.
Special thanks to:
Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein
Dietland by Sarai Walker
The whole cast & crew of Vim & Vigor for executing my vision selflessly and without ego, especially director Andrew Rozario.
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