“Provocative stage acts, where stars aggressively assert their sexuality under the guise of girl power and new wave feminism, have become a common staple of girl pop bands and high profile celebs.”
– Gee Thomson, author of Mesmerization: Why we are losing our minds to global culture.
Notable female performers are adopting the aesthetic of less is more; on stage, underwear is now outerwear. These performers are freely adorning what was once considered erotic clothing. Does the combination of fetish inspired attire and gyrating dance moves equate the contemporary female role model? There are journalists who openly express their fear of these notable female performers sexualising young children because of how much praise and attention these performers receive from this impressionable demographic; but why are there so many young women so charmed by these international sex symbols? Could this simply be a form of female empowerment, otherwise commercialised as ‘Girl Power’?
Many female performers, who are widely regarded as role models, promote the message of ‘Girl Power’. The Spice Girls coined the phrase as their slogan and endorsed it through the 90’s and early 2000’s. The group of female singers advocated female empowerment, an integral reason for their international success. In a BBC News special report in 1997 it says, “according to the band [Spice Girls], ‘girl power’ is about a positive attitude to life, getting what you want and sticking by your friends.” The majority of their songs featured the theme of friendship. The song “Wannabe” topped the charts at number one for seven weeks and then went on to have number one success in charts all around the world. As a girl band they were representing girl power; which signifies empowerment, confidence and friendship whilst asserting their sexuality.
As mainstream media is becoming more sexualised it appears as if scantly clad pop stars are at the forefront. Sexual behaviour and provocative clothing has gradually becoming more acceptable in today’s society. In turn we see more sexual imagery appearing on prime time television. Behaviour that was once confined to strip clubs has become ultra commercialised; pole dancing and ‘twerking’ has been endorsed by these trend setting female performers, which inevitably leads to influencing an entire generation of young women.
Rihanna is a pop star that hits the headlines for being overtly sexual in her performances and during her sexually suggestive songs. When questioned by Christa D’Souza for British Vogue on her provocative music videos, Rihanna responded saying she does not want to be a role model. However, she has a large female fan base; women look up to her. “See, people – especially white people – they want me to be a role model just because of the life I lead. The things I say in my songs, they expect it of me [being a role model] became more of my job than I wanted it to be. But no I just want to make music.”
Rihanna projects this persona of sexual dominance and it has lead to a large number of young men using her as a stimulus for their male fantasies of the psychosexual sense. However what if the male gaze is removed? How do women perceive Rihanna’s sexualised behaviour? The Dame of The-Dame.com, is supportive of Rihanna’s overtly sexual behaviour. She looks at this particular argument as well. “I mean, we know what it is when it’s an idea in a man’s head… But what about sexy for us [women]?” It must be understood that sexualised music videos do not stand-alone; they are part of a popular culture that is sexualised in different ways. Music videos and songs are the mediums used by artists to communicate trends and messages to their fans. Rihanna’s fans are predominantly female, and although she persists that she is not a role model she is still sending messages to her fans through music, messages that are being heard loud and clear.
Miley Cyrus hit fame as a pre-teen television star. At the age of fifteen she was subject to controversy when she posed ‘nude’ for Vanity Fair, an obvious display of Sexualisation. Miley looked youthful, and vulnerable when wrapped up suggestively in a bed sheet. Now at the age of 20 Miley is asserting her sexuality in her own way; cutting her hair short, dying it bleach blonde, donning spikes and stubs, whilst posing aggressively. She has left her sweet ‘girl next door’ persona well behind her. Recently Miley has taken every opportunity possible to ‘twerk.’ The Internet definition of ‘twerk’ is to move the body in a sexually suggestive twisting fashion. In her video “We Can’t Stop” Miley is seen numerous times rolling provocatively on a bed and ‘twerking’. Is Miley empowered because she is making what we presume to be her own choices on how to portray her female sexuality? Perhaps, but perhaps not. As Gee Thomson explains “…empowerment for one is an impossible dream for millions.”
The view that these celebrities exploit their sexuality to achieve success and sell records cannot be ignored. Rihanna’s music videos continue to be banned from being broadcasted on television in several countries because they are regarded to be sexually explicit. Articles are written describing her in negative ways, such as the Daily Mail article that even described her figure as “dangerous”. David Cameron, the Prime Minster of Britain has suggested putting an age rating on music videos; in a BBC news report the only images used to demonstrate sexualisation in music videos were those of women. The acceptance of female sexuality could well be the dream of every female fan of these raunchy role models, however with the lack of progression towards the social acceptance of sexually assertive women, are they any closer to fulfilling their dream of empowerment?
Raunchy role models exist because of their fans. Young women buy their music, watch their videos and go to their concerts. They do not have the view that their gender is being exploited, they feel empowered. The slogan “Girl Power” campaigns for female empowerment. The reason it was popular with fans is because it was capitulating the hopes of a large number of young women. Being able to display your sexuality as a female whilst having power is what these raunchy role models stand for. Every woman who looks up to these performers and supports them is standing for it too. However, with the negative reaction and backlash against these pop stars from society, the media and acclaimed authors it is hard to see it ever being accepted. But perhaps these women are stating that sexual power is just the beginning; and total female empowerment is only a step closer to gender equality?