By Andrea Plaid
It’s Pride Month, and I want to kick it off by feting a queer Black woman who’s a truly underappreciated musical genius: Meshell Ndegeocello.
Last week, Jennifer Lopez scandalized Britain with a “raunchy” performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Not only did viewers flock to social media (as you do) to complain about JLo dropping it like it’s hot in a French-cut one piece and thigh-high boots, but British TV regulator OfCom confirmed that it has received complaints about the broadcast and is assessing the matter, but not investigating it.
For helpful context, here is the performance–labeled “disgusting” and “shameful” by some critics–that provoked an “assessment” of whether a competitive reality show violated the bounds of decency.
In my humble opinion, the only thing indecent about that performance was the tepidness of the dancing and the awfulness of the song. (But, hey, maybe it’s not for me. I’m an old–actually the same age as JLo–and I don’t spend much time at the club lately.)
I suspect the assessment of Jennifer Lopez’s performance is influenced by both race, size and age bias. But you know I’m conspiratorial that way, so I asked Andrea, my homegirl and fellow editor at the R to weigh in.
Tami: When I heard all the crowing about this performance, I recalled Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance earlier this year., which also prompted cries of outrage.
Both of these performances seem astonishingly tame in the face of criticism. “Disgusting” is a pretty strong word to describe booty shaking in a body suit. Folk are generally cool with sexy (and sexist) Go Daddy commercials during the Super Bowl, but Queen Bey causes parents to “shield their kids’ eyes.”
I think the response to these performances is very much influenced by racial bias. Brown and black bodies are routinely sexualized. Latinas bear the weight of the “spicy” and “exotic” stereotypes. And those stereotypes have dogged Lopez throughout her career. The nickname “J. Ho”–a reference to the singer/actress’ alleged promiscuity and mercenary character–even has a spot in the Urban Dictionary. And I should point out, these accused character traits seem to be based on little but the skewed way this culture views Latinas.
Lopez herself told US magazine of the controversy: “I think people are so much raunchier than I am. I feel like I’m so tame. [I] wore it at Billboard and Britain’s Got Talent said they wanted exactly the same. So I thought I’d wear the outfit in black. No one complained at Billboard. I think people just like to talk. It was a bodysuit. A lot of performers wear that these days. It is standard stage clothes. I’m not going to walk down the street like that!”
JLo’s act does not seem markedly different from any other pop spectacle–no different Britney Spears’ iconic performance at the 2000 VMA’s or what this Britney impersonator did during an audition for…wait for it…“Britain’s Got Talent” in 2011.
Andrea: I agree, especially about the relative tepidness of Lopez’s performance and the non-scandalousness of her outfit.
What I think is at play here is Beyonce and Lopez are doing dance moves that are, whether done with Beyonce’s exuberance or with Lopez’s tepidness, sexy moves that they thought of and/or approved of. In other words, they’re expressing their sexual agency. However, that’s a major no-no in a society steeped in the sexist ethos of “I can touch you, but you can’t touch yourself,” which has a long structural history in the lives of women of color due to slavery and colonization.
And this “what about the children” reasoning as to folks’ disgust with the two women’s performance brings up not only women of color doing that stereotypical thing of ruining people’s sexual “innocence” but also something of–how shall I phrase this?–an unspoken notion of the influence of images not only affecting how a person will be “brought up” to express their own sexuality but also the kind of person their brain will be hard-wired to be attracted to. If the child–and let’s be really real, kids are indeed sexual beings–is connecting their erotic feelings to seeing a woman of color dancing like Lopez and moreso like Beyonce, the parents may be thinking that their child just may act upon that attraction and–gasp!–fall in love and–clutch the pearls!–bring “such a woman” home as a spouse.
Tami: And here’s the other thing: Jennifer Lopez (and Beyonce) are not only women of color, they are also women known for having curvy body types, which are often associated with Latinas and black women and are larger than the current ideal for celebrities. Unrestrained fleshiness and jiggle reads differently than hard and trim; Physical abundance is often mistaken for wantonness.
Media wrote about Lopez’s “bum-baring” performance, but the singer’s booty is covered; her outfit was less revealing than typical beachwear. Could the rub be that JLo’s rear is big and round vs. tiny and tight?
Andrea: I think Lopez herself has pointed out how her body shape get framed in this society: “People equate sexy with promiscuous. They think that because I’m shaped this way, I must be scandalous–like running around and bringing men into my hotel room. But it’s just the opposite.” To me, Lopez shouldn’t have had to say such a thing–her body, however it’s shaped, is hers to do with what she wants with nary a comment to the press. However, the burden of the stereotypes about Latinas and Black women keeps us defending our reputations in the public space in order to, as Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry says in her book Sister Citizen, keep our bearings in the face of the socially constructed crooked images of ourselves.
But we’re not only defending our reputations that folks assume comes with our bodies; we also need to defend our bodies, literally, as seen by the clip of Beyonce whipping around and firmly telling a white-appearing concertgoer in Denmark that she’d have him removed because he smacked her butt–and this happened last week!
This brings me back to what you said about our bodies being routinely sexualized. It’s not just that bodies of color are routinely sexualized; it’s that our bodies are furthermore seen–still–as public sexual property to be discussed and publicly contested to be the figures that people shouldn’t aspire to desire sexually, though I’ve heard quite a few non-Black and non-Latin@s say that Beyonce and Lopez inspired them to “love their curves” and/or “embrace their booties” in light of the contested reality that Beyonce’s and Lopez’s curves are seen as a physical and sexual ideal.
Tami: Lastly, I think age is a factor in this discussion as well. Western culture worships youth. Women past a certain age aren’t supposed to sexy; we are supposed to cover up. Madonna is routinely told to put it away. And, to hear some folks tell it, Janet Jackson’s biggest sin wasn’t showing booby on primetime television, but showing over-40 booby. Sexy dressing may be fine for the 20-somethings, but for women north of 40, it is unseemly.
Andrea: *Sigh* I think part of this is the association of age and motherhood. Lopez and Beyonce are both mothers. Forty-something women especially (Bey is in her 30s) are cast as matronly–whether or not we have children–and being sexually attracted to a woman of that age is seen as MILFing, which, as the phrase states, is all about desiring a woman old enough to be (some)one’s mom, who are always constructed as non-sexual beings in this society. (Thus, the porned-out “shock” of the attraction.)
But, as we talked about in an earlier conversation, pop is relentlessly marketed as the “music of youth”–and “youth” is relentless hyped as the desired, if not ideal, stage of life, partly because of its able-bodied physicality–that very few people have a career in pop music in their late 30s and especially in their 40s and beyond, especially women of color. The brilliant singer Cassandra Wilson can enjoy a long career in jazz. Jill Scott can stay a neo-soul singer for a good long time, especially since she can always cross over into jazz (which she has). Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops will have longevity in the alt-country/bluegrass scene. Tina Turner, who had a string of pop hits in the 80s, is idolized as a rock icon who here lately rocked out as as torch singer. Grace Jones is lionized as a black proto-AfroPunk goddess who can shame all pop performers with a hula hoop. And I highly doubt any of them would get whapped on their asses at their concerts.
No, it’s pop goddesses who are so deeply degraded when they aren’t meeting the physical ideals of youth, like, well, getting older. And it’s Black and Latina pop goddesses–like Beyonce, Jackson, and Lopez, who’s still fondly remembered as one of the Fly Girls for In Living Color–who are degraded so roundly and so publicly.
By Andrea Plaid
Transgender Studies has far-reaching implications across many academic disciplines, including not only gender and women’s studies, sexuality studies, and LGBT Studies, but also social sciences, health, art, cultural studies, and many other broadly defined fields. The development of transgender studies also makes a politically significant intervention into the lives of trans community members with tremendous unmet needs, by changing what and how we know about transgender issues.
This project began in 2008, when we were invited to co-edit a special transgender studies edition of Women’s Studies Quarterly. We received more than two hundred submissions for publication, yet we could only publish twelve of them. We knew then that it was time for transgender studies to have its own high-profile publications venue. Five years later, there is still no place to accommodate the kind of conversation we want to foster on transgender issues. Your support right now could change that.
You have the opportunity to be part of this historic moment. Once the journal is launched in April 2014, subscriptions will eventually cover the cost of publication. To subsidize the cost of publishing the journal, we need to raise at least $100,000 in start-up funds. We’re already more than halfway to our goal, and would now like to invite you to invest in the next stage in the development of transgender studies, by helping us complete our fundraising for launching TSQ. Your support will help us create a first-rate platform for publishing peer-reviewed transgender-related scholarship—something that can only benefit the entire field of gender and sexuality studies.
There’s 13 days left to donate, so please kick in what you can and spread the word!
By Arturo R. García
If you’ve got a little less than 10 minutes to spare, the short film The Language of Love is worth your time, as 17-year-old writer and performer Kim Ho navigates young Charlie’s coming to terms with his own sexuality when asked to write an essay describing his best friend.
“What the f-ck is happening to me?” he gasps after confessing to the viewer how he really feels. “Like, my heart beats faster when he’s around. And I can’t think of anybody else. I don’t need that. Especially not in a French exam. But, I can’t help it. I can’t control it.”
The film was produced as part of The Voices Project, part of the Fresh Ink development initiative organized by Australian Theatre for Young People. Now in its’ third year, Voices began as a way with a stage show involving various monologues dealing with the subject of young love. Ho’s piece follows in that tradition; it began as a monologue and was adapted into film format after winning a competition.
The language in the film gets a little NSFW, but overall do give this a shot. The film, and a look at the making of it, are both under the cut.
By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at The Feminist Wire
Fifteen years ago, the stardom of then-23-year-old Lauryn Hill had peaked when she released what would become her defining musical legacy. After rising to popularity as part of the hip-hop trio The Fugees, with fellow members Wyclef Jean and Pras, she later released her solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which went on to garner multiplatinum sales and five Grammy Awards for the recognizably brilliant singer-rapper. Such accomplishments made her the first female artist to be nominated for and to win the most Grammys in a single night and her album the first hip-hop-themed work to win the Grammy’s top prize of Album of the Year.
Interestingly, the same year of Lauryn’s solo album debut, a 16-year-old who would later be known only by her first name – Beyoncé – also emerged on the pop scene when Destiny’s Child released their self-titled debut album. And in a curious one-degree-of-separation of the two icons, Destiny’s Child’s collaboration with Wyclef on their song “No No No” led to the group’s first successfully released single, which topped R&B charts.
In retrospect, it seems easy to trace what would become a commingled narrative: one star rises while another one declines. One star (Ms. Hill) presumably declined a starring role in the Hollywood faux-feminist blockbuster, Charlie’s Angels, while the other star (Beyoncé), along with fellow group members, provided the necessary “girl power” anthem – “Independent Women, Part I” – for the movie’s soundtrack. One star virtually disappeared from the mainstream media while the other star appeared ubiquitously, covering every magazine from Sports Illustratedto Vogue to GQ to the feminist publication Ms.
One star proved a lyrical genius – rapping and crooning on politics, love, religion, and the resistance of corporate media – while the other preferred more superficial fanfare concerning clubbing, looking fabulous, and having her own money to spend as she fends off heartaches and trifling lovers, while occasionally championing women’s empowerment. One star refused the pop-culture make-over, preferring instead to rock her natural hair and bask in her dark-skinned beauty, while the other has made a signature look out of blond weaves and other variations on white beauty standards that her light-skinned beauty can more easily appropriate.
Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid
Since Tami, Womanist Musings’ and Fangs for the Fantasy’s Renee Martin, and I noticed the dearth of Black folks and other people of color in the episode, we had to compensate with the above photo of actor Teyonah Parris, who plays Dawn on Mad Men. In the meantime, we chat about Don’s continued dick-swinging and its bad aim. So y’all know how this goes: Spoilers and thangs.
Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid
It’s a minute after Dr. King’s assassination, and the Sterling Cooper Draper Price gang are back to business as usual: Don does his usual dick-swinging; Pete fails in coming for folks far more grown than he; Roger Sterling goes after a woman young enough to be his daughter. And Joan and Peggy…well, check out what Tami and I, along with Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs For The Fantasy, said about those two, complete with spoilers.
Tami: Oh, Pete…naw! He was totally creeping on Joan. I think we all realize that Don Draper is a horribly broken human being, but what is it that makes Pete feel so much more objectionable? Is it just that he is soooo bad at being the alpha? Is it that his privileged disdain for most everyone seeps through in every interaction? You can just feel him feeling he is better than you. Is it that he rarely–save the occasional monologue on racial equality–shows a shred of human decency? The bank guy compliments Joan on being an effective CFO; Pete makes it about the man “wanting” her. Ugh.
Renee: For me part of it is that Pete is a rapist. As bankrupt as Don is, he has never raped anyone. Like Pete, Don has had his moments of basic human decency as well. For me it comes down to how low each individual man is willing to sink.
Andrea: Renee, Don did use sexual coercion to make an ex-lover, Bobbie, get in line. So there’s that.
As for Pete…I think his leering is more along the lines of his always angling for a moment to lord something over someone than creeping on Joan specifically. Coming for Joan was his latest lording attempt. And, as you and I have discussed before, Tami, Vincent Kartheiser possesses that physical trait that creeps you the hell out: the baby head on a man’s body. (Cf: Leonardo DiCaprio.) So, Pete looks like a 12-year-old trying to get shitty with grown-ass Joan. As always, my reaction to Pete’s attempts is, “Really?”