Beyonce, why is baring skin female empowerment?
I WONDERED how long it would be before something like this would happen. Just before the 2013 Grammy Awards, host broadcaster CBS put out a wardrobe advisory memo telling female artistes to be sure that buttocks and breasts are adequately covered.
As a woman, it was embarrassing to read that CBS had to do this, but I can perfectly understand why.
Female artistes have become so raunchy in the choice of their outfits in the pursuit of attention on the red carpet, on stage and in music videos that the line between porn and music has been crossed.
Artistes like Beyonce, Gaga and Rihanna say their music and their clothing reflect female empowerment. Pray tell, how does writhing around on stage suggestively with streetwalker outfits show us women that we are empowered?
It has become so much a butt of jokes that even E! News’ Fashion Police has got a segment called Starlet or Streetwalker and often it is the female artiste that is mistaken for a streetwalker.
The unfortunate thing is that while we still see women being shown as sexual objects in hip hop and R&B videos, a new study shows that women artistes are now just as much perpetuating this image as well.
A 2012 study by two researches from the University of Missouri has found that female artists frequently turn themselves into sex objects in their own videos.
“It has been known that music videos featuring male artists often sexually objectify women, but our study shows that many female artists are objectifying themselves in their music videos,” said Cynthia Frisby, an associate professor of strategic communication in the university’s School of Journalism.
Unfortunately, the study also found that female pop artists were portrayed in sexualised dance more often than those in the hip-hop/R&B videos.
Surprisingly, Pussycat Dolls Nicole Scherzinger, when asked about the CBS wardrobe lockdown said: “I like that they’re doing that. I don’t see any problem with it because (at the rate it’s going) eventually everyone is going to be coming in bikinis and showing nothing but skin ... Women can be beautiful and sexy without having to show everything. Keep it sassy, but classy!”
Then there was the recent Superbowl performance by Beyonce, which has also earned her brickbats because of her raunchy moves and lingerie-style outfit. The Superbowl’s target audience is men aged 18-35. It was the same event a few years back which saw Justin Timberlake rip off Janet Jackson’s top to show to reveal a “wardrobe malfunction” that revealed a breast clad only in a sun-shaped “nipple shield” in front of some 89 million viewers.
Often times, these artistes evade being called role models, saying they reflect a character when on stage.
Yet they know they have a great deal of influence. Beyonce was a big part of the UN’s social media campaign for World Humanitarian Day with a moving video called I Was Her aiming to reach one billion people to do a good deed.
Last year Gaga launched her Born This Way Foundation to educate youth about bullying and to make the world a more kind and loving place.
Rihanna meanwhile has come out stridently against being called a role model and that she “just wants to make music”.
Most of Rihanna’s fans are between the ages of 18 and 24 with research showing that 18.13 per cent of them male and 41.94 per cent of them female. These young women don’t differentiate between Rihanna the person and Rihanna the brand with the lifestyle and raunchy outfits.
They are happy to accept awards and accolades about their “influence” on popular culture but are uncomfortable being role models.
But even within the female artistes there is dissension - especially coming from stars in the UK.
Adele — the multi-Grammy winner — spoke to the UK’s The Sun newspaper about some of today’s pop icons using their sexuality to promote their music.
“Exploiting yourself sexually is not a good look,” she said. “I don’t find it encouraging ... To sell more records I don’t need to do that. I just stand there and sing. Pop stars don’t look how they do in magazines or videos. I have seen them up close.”
Rebecca Ferguson — the UK’s X Factor runner up in 2020 — came out publicly to criticise Rihanna.
Insisting the pop star lifestyle comes with responsibilities, Ferguson said “whether you like it or not, these pop stars are role models”, she argued in an interview with OMG Yahoo.
“They can say 'I’ve got no kids,' but if you want that lifestyle and you want that money, ultimately you are influencing generations and you have to remember that. They will copy you. Pop stars should think of their audience.
“I wouldn’t let my daughter watch her. As a woman, I want to teach my daughter that a man should love you for who you are.
“They should love you for you as a person, not for how you dress — and you don’t have to be a sexual thing to a man.”
Artistes like Beyonce, Gaga and Rihanna make great hits, but while their music may espouse female independence and empowerment, they are relentlessly conformist by regularly appearing in underwear type outfits in magazines and music videos, and bump and grind dance moves which perpetuate a hyper-sexualised image of women.
The bottom line is this and I refuse to tiptoe around the issue. These women are saying what they need to say and do to make money. We should not put them on a pedestal as icons of women’s empowerment.
There are plenty of powerful women all over the world who don’t bare skin to show they have self respect and brains.
The CBS memo was a long time coming. What is sad is that when women have long fought to be recognised for their brains, the biggest female pop stars in the world — with their far-reaching influence — roll back decades of efforts in changing the face of an empowered woman.
FARIDAH HAMEED is a speaker and trainer who specialises in the Language of Power and the Language of Leadership for Women. Connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn
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