Questioning Rihanna Isn’t ‘Slut-shaming’

Rihanna_(7037170657)I was on Twitter when I saw a link from the talented writer and editor, Roxane Gay. The link led to Rihanna’s newest music video, of which Roxane simply said:

Roxane Gay
‏‪@rgay‬
There’s…. a lot going on here: ‪http://www.buzzfeed.com/azafar/rihannas-twerking-every-which-way-in-her-new-video-and-it-is …‬

So I clicked on the link, and saw what you will see when you watch it for yourself. Detailing the contents of the video is easy — we have a modern rap/pop song in the background, a particularly boring and redundant one in my opinion, although I love much of Rihanna’s music — with a bunch of strippers and Rihanna acting as a stripper, meaning she is stuffing money in her g-string crotch while there is a close up of her rubbing her crotch area with a drowsy, stoned look on her face. At the end of the video she twerks (or humps, which is how my brain saw it) the ground in her g-string. Complications begin when the interpretations begin. My own interpretation brought a surprising anger out of the readers that Roxanne retweeted my response to — surprising to me, who is not used to having any opinion that pisses off my circle of the internet. I suppose like many people I surround myself with like minded thinkers, and as someone who mostly writes about what I like, vs. what I don’t like, I don’t get under much skin because I’m not doing much criticizing, other than in generalities:

Maggie May Ethridge
‏‪@fluxcapacitor74‬
This is the music video of a girl who goes back to the boy who abused her. That’s what this is. ‪@rgay‬

The reaction to my tweet was, in sum, that I was attacking the victim, or shaming her for her sexuality, what now is extremely unfortunately called ‘slut-shaming’ Rihanna. Slut-shaming is defined similarly wherever you look. Wikipedia says:

Slut shaming is defined by many as a process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct, i.e., of admonishing them for behavior or desires that are more sexual than society finds acceptable.

This new slang is part of the problem, and I don’t believe that inserting a term where we call ourselves a derogatory name based on shaming women for their sex life is a great way to break free of the patriarchy.

I’m glad for the tweets I received in response to my own, because it made me take a step back and think. My tweet was in part the almost instantaneous result of the fear and sadness that came over me watching Rihanna’s video. I’ve followed her career — musically and in interviews — since she came out with Umbrella, a song I adore. Her interview with Oprah last year made me feel sad also, because she made it clear through her words that she felt defensive and protective not of herself, but of the men that had hurt her, namely her father and then Chris Brown, with the incident so infamous I don’t need to recount it here, the one referred to.

Being a feminist who had a tormented, ultimately broken off relationship with my own father, and who spent my teenage years in one long desperate attempt for male attention, and now being the mother of two daughters, one who is a pre-teen and taking all of this in, I have a deeply personal reaction toward young women artists who curate their entire image around a male centered checklist of female sexuality.

Take Rihanna’s video, for instance. A quick list of things that don’t bother me about this video: that Rihanna is exposing a lot of skin, that Rihanna wants to display sexuality, that there are strippers on poles. Rihanna is a gorgeous, sexy woman, and in the beginning of the prime of her physicality — a beautiful thing. She posts many Twitter pictures of herself, and from those and her videos we come by our view of how Rihanna wants to be seen. What strikes me first about those images and videos are that all her hallmarks of sexuality are man made: the g-string, the close ups of her butt humping, lipsticked pouty lips opening and closing, an occasional curled tongue, close ups of her barely covered crotch while she simulates masturbating with — and this is a key salient point — a disinterested, disconnected, almost bored look on her face. Just the glint in her eye is there, and it seems to say ‘ I know I’m turning you on’, much more than it says, ‘I’m turned on.’

This is the opposite of slut-shaming, or what I call in much less sexy terminology, the shaming of women for their sexuality. I am not worried that Rihanna is more sexual than society (or myself) finds acceptable, or that she is breaking some code, but instead that she is acting out male dominated sexuality without true integration of her own desires. When I wrote ‘the girl who goes back to the boy who abused her’, it was this that I meant: when women are disconnected from exploring their desires and replace those with constantly acting out a fantasy of male desire, they become hungry for, above all, male lust. Desiring male lust becomes a paltry substitute for desire itself. How many girls have I known who, from a young age, sculpted their entire identity around obtaining and keeping the sexual advances of men, often regardless of how desirable those men actually were to the woman, or how the man treated them? So many. Too many. In place of a multi-faceted woman there becomes a one dimensional sex object. To break free of that can be the work of a lifetime.

And it is in this perfect storm of the music industry’s expectations and Rihanna’s own father’s lessons that I believe there ends a woman — talented, bountifully blessed, beautiful and sexy — who is sexualized without being sexual, who is bold without being brave, who ends up being treated badly by men, perhaps repeatedly. A woman who in childhood watched her father beat her mother and then abandon their family, a woman who presents herself in Tweets of body parts, and acts out male created ideals of female sexuality, a woman who while acting out sex acts, looks detached. Roxanne Gay said, ‘that’s one interpretation’ to my string of tweets explaining my position, obviously being sarcastic and clearly disagreeing entirely with my suppositions.

There are many female pop stars whose entire identity revolves around sex and aggressive sexual images, but no male pop stars. That alone tells us that something is wrong. Even the more sexual male pop stars do not have entire Twitter feeds full of them in sexual positions, barely dressed. When male stars have music that revolves primarily around sex, that music is all about what they want, and how they are going to get it. They assume power and often, they objectify women. That’s what many feminists say, ad infinitum, how we are objectified by men in music, in porn, on the streets. How can it then not be objectifying to have your entire public image revolve around the fact that you have breasts and a vagina? Not only that, but what about how many young girls are pushed roughly into a sexual image they are not ready for; Rihanna, for all of the posturing and nudity and crotch rubbing, said in an interview, when asked about her sexual image: “I had to fake it until I make it. That’s what I had to do. I had to pretend that I was comfortable, I really was not. I’m 24 and now I can experiment and figure myself out.”

As a recent Thought Catalog piece stated, sexuality is messy, and an experiment, and there needs to be room for women to make mistakes. That is important. It is also important that there are more female role models of sexual expression than the ones who choose an entirely male, hand-picked catalog of sexual behaviors, and who seem to know more about what men want than what they want. What collage of female sexuality is Rihanna pulling her experiments from? Her own fantasies and desires or the world she sees around her in music and pop culture, that same world that she is now contributing to? Is she experimenting with her sexuality, or presenting herself so overwhelmingly as a sex object, in all mediums of expression, that she is diluting herself from a whole woman to a series of graphic images and ‘oh yeah, she sings, too.’ When male musicians let an image take over their music in the cultural consciousness, it doesn’t reduce them to simply sexual prowess. Even the Rolling Stones, who arguably come close to being as famous for their sexual life as their music, didn’t themselves make all their imagery (covers of magazines, videos) focused entirely on that subject. I would love to see more women in positions of cultural power rejoice in and embrace their sexual selves without allowing that self to become The Self in the public eye.

My opinions surely wouldn’t matter to Rihanna, but hopefully the subject matter would. Slut-sharming (difficult not to italicize) is no more a feminist response to any of this than is determined support of women’s sexual actions no matter what the source or effect of them are, and I don’t want to be a part of either reflexive response. I don’t have this down- this public discourse on the sexuality of public women. I don’t have all the answers. I do know that it’s important that we talk about all of this, and I don’t know how to make these points without making these points. To say that any discourse of opinion on women’s sexuality is slut-shaming is to stop the conversation, and this conversation needs to occur. This is all of our culture, the culture our children are growing into, and we shape it with our words as well as our views, clicks, likes and money. I think we can discuss this without being cruel or attacking and that is my attempt here. My tweet was a kind of victim blaming, although I did not mean it to be. This isn’t a theoretical pursuit, it’s a deeply personal issue for me and many women, and I regret that I tweeted what I did. Next time I hope I count to ten before tweeting! My emotion and thought and intention was to connect the dots between women who let themselves be dominated or even hurt by men, and a sexual expression from a woman that engulfs all other parts of her and is based on male fantasy. As I told a friend, I want my daughters to learn about having an orgasm before they learn how to give one and I don’t want them to be thirty before they realize, say, that they hate g-strings and never want to have sex in public.

Maggie May Ethridge is a writer and novelist completing her second novel. She is mother to four kids ages two through 19 years old and while a Southern girl at heart, lives in San Diego, CA. More of her work can be found at Role/Reboot, Huffington Post, Diagram and her blog, Flux Capacitor. Connect on Twitter or Facebook.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License/Eva Rinaldi

  • Finally, someone has expressed what’s wrong with the term “slut-shaming” and what’s wrong with the whole attitude behind it. Thanks for doing that. This is powerful and important thinking, and it needs to be shared with every woman who questions another for calling women on the objectification of themselves.

  • Leslie it’s a complicated issue, I struggle with it and think about it a lot- as it relates to my own actions, too, as removed as they are from music video twerking 🙂

  • Thanks so much for your extremely thoughtful take on this. It’s somewhat similar — in my mind, at least — to the debate that’s still raging about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV awards; you’ve managed to articulate issues that I’ve been struggling with. I greatly appreciate it.

  • I was thinking about Miley as I wrote some of this. She’s obviously feeling very empowered, but what is really going on…not sure.

  • DRG

    This piece confused me in a good way – a lot to think about. I think the key thing is to educate each other that the goal in making ourselves the center of our work and public persona is that we need to remain the subject and not the object. In this is there true sexual power. Objectification is a slippery slope – there may not be a way to maintain control over putting ourselves on the shelf as a product, because once we are sold, we are no longer in our own hands. While I do feel like the term slut-shaming has some serious implications and might be overused by a few, the action of slut-shaming is indeed overused by far more people.

  • ‘remain the subject and not the object’
    well damn.
    that’s it.

  • I wish someone would explain to me the point of that video. Is there a message? Is it supposed to be entertaining? Who would be entertained by it exactly? I recently watched Britney Spears’ latest video (would love your thoughts on that one) and of course there was Miley’s performance. I have plenty of thoughts about both of those (none good!), but this one affected me differently. Watching it I felt profoundly sad.

  • It made me feel profoundly sad as well. I recognized something there from myself as a young girl and from other girls I’ve known.

  • Wendy Ellis

    You suggest that your opinions may not matter to Rihanna–but I think they would. They certainly matter a great deal to me. Thank you for engaging and pushing this conversation forward.

  • I’m glad you dealt with this subject and that it’s still making the opinion rounds.

    It saddens me to no end to see these beautiful and very talented women have to do what they’ve done to advance or keep their careers relevant.

  • Mary Ethridge

    Our understanding of people or things is first instinctual and then intellectual. The instinctual response is very immediate and primal and frequently tells a deep truth. The question is, is it a truth about the object of our response or a truth about ourselves. Twitter is a prime mover for the instinctual response and therefore very, very dangerous grounds for a writer. Two things can happen, you can edit yourself to the point where you are no longer honest in order to engage with Twitter in the moment (as the medium requires you to do) and still be safe, or you can “put it out there” and ride the whirlwind. In choosing the whirlwind a window can open to a deeper intellectual understanding, and can tap into, and bring in to the light, an aspect of a singularly difficult issue. As the mother of two daughters long since grown, I know that in a free and open culture this issue of female sexuality will always be with us. The debate is more important than a resolution, which we will not get in our lifetimes anyway. The debate is the mechanism for talking to our sons and daughters and engaging them to think about difficult problems, from a place of safety, while the issues are still “out there”. When we give our children the gift of discussion we give them power to choose for themselves. To the author I say “Very well done!” Love, Mom

    • Mom! Brilliant.

      • Mary

        I have a question for you. When a person behaves badly in public, how do we know they are behaving badly? You can behave badly but break no law. You can behave badly and it can be funny and somehow not offensive (think two year old temper tantrum maybe?). You can behave badly and irritate everyone around you but not offend them… My point is this is an endlessly subjective discussion. Our current “simplistic” cultural norm is to dumb down all response to even the most complex issues such as human sexuality to the lowest common denominator, and there you have “slut shaming”. Very bright people become afraid to speak out and say “they recognize people behaving badly when they see it” for fear of the endless round of circular debates about whether or not you are slut shaming. Having lived through the 50s as a child and the 60s as a teen and young adult I saw women burn their bra’s and men burn their draft cards. Both were effective methods of protest against laws and public censure that were constricting to our developing modern culture. So is there a difference between an action for the purpose of affecting needed change and an action designed to generate attention and eventually income to performers? Is it ok to agree that someone who has the public eye and ear is impacting the public climate we all must raise our children in? If a person’s behavior becomes part of the public domain what does that mean?
        “The term public domain did not come into use until the mid-17th century, although as a concept “it can be traced back to the ancient Roman Law, as a preset system included in the property right system.”[3] The Romans had a large proprietary rights system where they defined “many things that cannot be privately owned”[3] as res communes, res publicae and res universitatis. The term res commune was defined as “things that could be commonly enjoyed by mankind, such as air, sunlight and ocean.”[3] The term res publicae referred to things that were shared by all citizens, and the term res universitatis meant things that were owned by the municipalities of Rome.[3] When looking at the public domain from a historical perspective, one could say the construction of the idea of “public domain” sprouted from the concepts of res commune, res publicae, and res universitatis in early Roman Law.[3] (Wickipedia)”
        I read the above to infer that behavior that is deliberately intended to impact and become part of the public domain may be construed to be subject to current cultural behavior norms. It gets tricky then when our cultural behavioral norms are rapidly changing. Many people who are raising children might agree that there are some things going on in public that do not help us raise our children and I would agree they are right. History tells me that we are in a period in which we all, as individuals, have to push back publicly, even to the point of bearing public censure ourselves when we see behavior that may be pushing boundaries to a point where the environment literally becomes physically dangerous to our young boys and girls. To criticize a performer’s actions that occur in the public domain is not the same as criticizing the person. We create the public domain choice by choice, and unsaid thing by unsaid thing, just like a young adult creates the person they will become – choice by choice, day by day.

  • Interesting piece and definitely has me thinking. Slut-shaming as a term may be overused, but so is the act of slut-shaming…so it’s a tough call.

    I touched it on in my piece (who’s pluggin’?) on Miley today.

    http://www.celebstoner.com/blogs/beth-mann/2013/10/09/why-you-really-hate-miley-cyrus/

    The differentiation I made? “A woman either owns her sexuality or allows it to be owned by others.”

    I didn’t see Miley as the same as Rhianna. I see Miley as a woman in the beginning of owning her sexuality, with some slip-ups. I think the over-the-topness in her VMA performance bordered on the comical performance art whereas this Rhianna video seems like the same-old, same-old sex sell-out.

    • It does feel differently. I don’t know what to think, but I do know I can’t watch Miley do her thing without feeling gross. You know that thing where you feel embarrassed from someone in a novel or on TV?

  • Well said. These videos evoke more sadness to me than anything else- a very short term empowerment. While disapproving of slutty behavior is the opposite of celebrating it, it is bolder than ignoring it. People have a right to be offensive and we have a right to feel sorry (or even offended by) artists who go to a level that seems to do the opposite of what most women wish to represent. This stuff has become mainstream and it trickles down to our young ladies like a germ. It is becoming harder and harder to keep kids from growing up too quickly. NICE job, once again.

  • Taymar

    Actually, I think that there is a hyper-sexualizing of both young women and young men in media today, and men are starting to become increasingly uncomfortable with their bodies, just as women have for the past century. Men are now shaving and waxing their bodies, developing eating disorders and body image issues at a disturbingly increasing rate.

    Your comment about the woman who goes back to the abuser speaks to a deeper issue. I haven’t read the negative reactions to your tweet, but I imagine that the reactions came from a deeper place than just defending Rihana.

    Our media is a reflection of our culture, and as such, it is a broken, dysfunctional reflection. I don’t know how we protect our children other than to teach them to be critical thinkers and to remind them daily that we love them just as they are.

  • Thank you Stacey!

    • Oops wrong reply, sorry. Thank you Taymar. And the conversations with our kids are the most important thing- besides our own actions.

  • Jakob

    Rihanna is expressing her sexuality. Lots of women love to shake their ass. They love to know they have a desirable body. Like the siren they love the fact the lure men in like mindless dogs to the shake of their hips. Also, some people like to get other people off. And yes, Rihanna’s self pleasure is just as important but frankly I don’t think she’s expressing her sexuality her, and her personal desires. She has what she wants. She is luring in an audience. She is saying ‘I’m super hot, come and get me, buy my music, and when you’re in the club girls and this song comes on, get sexy.’ It’s like my feelings about female stripers. It’s not the women who are being degraded but the men who mindlessly lap up sex like animals. Women should be free to express or to not express their sexuality as much as they like, and no woman should be condemned for expressing a strong sexual appetite (unless it seems to be endangering her). (lastly, in terms of being a role model. People who mindlessly follow musicians and try to replicate them need to have some self respect and figure out who they are. )

  • ” no woman should be condemned for expressing a strong sexual appetite (unless it seems to be endangering her). ” well i can’t disagree with that!

  • julian

    Well this was a piss poor read.

    You could just as easily have written “Stop being a skank” and you would have expressed the exact same ideas.

    This is why I don’t get feminism. It’s entirely arbitrary as to which women are being ’empowering’ and which are ‘pandering to the patriarchy.’ And to make it even more ridiculous, you all seem to be able to read the minds of complete and utter strangers. Miley Cyrus is exploratory and therefor empowering even when she’s co-opting Black culture and passing it off as her own invention, where as Rihanna must be pandering for male attention because, well, because somehow strangers are psychic and know what she’s doing better than she does.

    • Julian I didn’t say anything about Miley Cyrus. For Rihanna, I based my thoughts off of her actions and own words, ie her interview with Oprah, her taking back Chris Brown ( who was still on destructive path, as in his many physical outbursts such as on the morning show where he broke a window, etc ) and her videos and Twitter feed. That is not arbitrary.

  • Wow, finally someone who artfully articulated how I feel about all of these new artists and their intense sexualization! I’ve felt caught between two ends of the spectrum, not quite sure how to express my frustration with the intense sexualization of young women, without being slammed by my feminist friends for “slut shaming” — I know others reading this will see the care in which you took on the topic. It’s complex, messy and hard to talk about and you nailed it.

    • Lindsay thank you for seeing ‘the care’ I took, that’s gratifying, because it is messy and complex, and there isn’t ONE ANSWER- but that doesn’t mean it’s not very important to discuss. More so.

      • thewirefan

        Maggie,

        As a black woman who is also a fan of Rihanna’s, I was disappointed by parts of your article. Firstly, this:

        “I am not worried that Rihanna is more sexual than society (or myself) finds acceptable, or that she is breaking some code, but instead that she is acting out male dominated sexuality without true integration of her own desires. When I wrote ‘the girl who goes back to the boy who abused her’, it was this that I meant: when women are disconnected from exploring their desires and replace those with constantly acting out a fantasy of male desire, they become hungry for, above all, male lust.”

        How much of Rihanna’s music/lyrics have you listened to? I ask because she has many songs where she clearly articulates HER own desires. She does this on songs like Only Girl in the World, Rude Boy, Skin, Cockiness (I Love It), Watch and Learn, etc.

        I was also bothered by this question you asked: “How can it then not be objectifying to have your entire public image revolve around the fact that you have breasts and a vagina?”

        Does Rihanna’s “entire public image” really revolve around her breasts and vagina? Like, you really think that’s all there is to her public image? Wow. You cannot be serious. Either you don’t know much about Rihanna/didn’t do your research, or you skimmed a couple of her tweets and Instagram photos, and formed an inaccurate conclusion.

        Muna Mire wrote a brilliant article defending Rihanna and the video. I think you should read it. Here’s the link: http://thefeministwire.com/2013/10/rihanna/. In the article, she discusses the fact that there are no men in the video, AND how Rihanna positions herself in relation to the sex workers.

        On a final note, I will say that I am very tired of reading articles by white women who “feel sorry” for Rihanna. It reeks of Colonialism 101 and the White Saviour mentality.

        • Mary

          I was nodding my head in understanding of your comments, if not in total agreement with them until I hit your last comment in which you decided the author was guilty of “colonialism”.
          Definition of Colonialism: Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and between the colonists and the indigenous population.
          I suspect neither the commenter nor the author can be accused of colonialism since neither is probably a part of the American indigenous population.
          Possibly you may be guilty of a racial slur which can be defined as the use of an offensive name to refer to another race. Typically playing on invalid stereotypes and degrading terms.
          I think if the author is guilty of anything it is being willing to engage publicly in discussions that bring about just such comments. That takes courage and determination.
          You could have made your very valid points without the insult.

          • thewirefan

            Mary,

            Your comment made me laugh out loud. That is the narrowest definition of colonialism known to man. I urge you to learn more about the other definitions/interpretations of colonialism before you suggest that I’m guilty of a racial slur. You’re showing your naiveté/ignorance by providing that very literal, “bare bones” definition of the word.

            Colonialism also involves the spread and belief in the superiority of Western ideas on gender (and race, class, class, sexuality, ableism, etc.). Colonial feminism DOES exist whether or not you choose to acknowledge it. I’m black and Nigerian (so I’ve experienced it from both a racial and ethnic perspective). Examples include: how “shocked” and “horrified” my grad school classmates were to learn that my mother had been circumcised as a teenager (by her mother), and how they tried to convince me that it wasn’t circumcision, but “female genital mutilation”. That they wanted to (re)write the narrative/experience for my mother is colonialism under the guise of feminism. Another quick example is when Western feminists express their and sympathy for women who are Muslims, who wear the hijab or burqa. Because, you know, these (Muslim) women are purely victims of patriarchy and religious fanaticism. They couldn’t possibly have agency. *rolls eyes* Where’s the nuanced perspective? I mean, it’s so patronizing and offensive. AND COLONIALIST.
            After reading Maggie’s article, I was disappointed; so were other black feminists AND white intersectional feminists (they expressed their disappointment on Twitter). Seriously, how do you write an article about Rihanna, a black, non-American pop artist without offering a more nuanced perspective? Maggie did not bring up the fact that Rihanna is black, Barbadian, grew up working class. Those things matter. Those things affect how she views her body, and how her body is viewed, how she displays her sexuality, and how the display of her sexuality is perceived. Maybe Rihanna’s “feminism” and how that influences the ways in which she uses her body are different from Maggie’s “feminism”. That doesn’t mean she should be patronized. Or that we should feel sorry for her because she went back to “the boy who abused her”. Like Rihanna is a poor, naive little girl, who doesn’t know any better, and is in need of saving from Chris Brown, and her submission to “male lust”. Again, *rolls eyes*.

            So, Mary, in the future, do not speak of that which you do not know. Please, and thank you.

        • When a black person attacks me as a white woman, a writer who writes about modern issues for a living, for having an opinion on a black woman who is powerful and posits herself as a cultural, public figure, to me, that is what is racist- not my opinion. The only thing I”m sorry for is that you feel I’m not allowed to have a public opinion about Rihanna because our skin colors don’t match.

          As a woman who, as I said in the article, has serious issues with men growing up and now has two daughters, I passionately care about women’s sexuality as represented in our culture.

          I own R’s last two CDs. I have read many articles and interviews on her, viewed her Twitter feed for the last year, as well as follow her FB page. Yes, I am familiar with her and her representation in public.

  • And I can’t believe that me NOT bringing up the fact that Rihanna is black is one of your accusations. Do you even read what you write?

    I am from the South. I went to school where I was one of only four white kids in the entire school. On my block, I WAS the only white girl. All of my friends were not white, save one. My grandfather Ethridge was on The Supreme Court of Mississippi and one of the first and only white men in that position of power to fight for civil rights. My grandmother was a lawyer and fought for civil rights alongside her clients.

    Maybe it is YOU who should take in to consideration MY background when forming your opinion. If you think I am patronizing Rihanna, what do you think you are doing when you put quotes around feminism when talking about my opinions, and reducing all of my care and thought into a Colonialist? You disagree with me and so you degrade me.

    • thewirefan

      Maggie,

      When you get a chance, please read Ambyr’s comment (above). As she said, it really does not matter how many black people you spent time with growing up, or how involved your family was in the Civil Rights movement. When I say it really does not matter, I am referring specifically to this issue about Rihanna. I can’t believe you brought that up to defend yourself. You’re not black, so you will never understand the perspective of black people even if you’ve been around them your whole life, or even if you’re married to a black person, etc. You sound like one of those white people who say, “I’m not racist! See…I have black friends! I listen to hip-hop! I voted for Barack Obama!” Has no one ever told you that bringing up the whole “But I grew up around black people…” as a defense tactic is offensive and insulting TO black people?

      • I am sorry that bringing up my actual experiences offends your opinions.

        • thewirefan

          Sigh. Did you read what I wrote? Your actual experiences are not the issue. It’s that you used them to explain why/how you can understand the perspective of a black person.

    • thewirefan

      You are absolutely allowed to have an opinion on Rihanna even though she’s black and you’re white. If you think I have an issue with your article because you’re a white woman writing about a black woman, then you’ve totally missed the point. I’ve read articles written by white feminists about Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna that haven’t offended me. Also, I’ve read articles about black women written by white feminists that offended other black women. However, the difference between them and you is that when they were called out, they apologized, and opened themselves up to understand why black women were offended by their words, and what perspectives they failed to acknowledge in their essays. You, on the other hand, couldn’t bring yourself to do the same. You’re more concerned with being thought of as racist instead of questioning why black feminists on Twitter expressed their disappointment with your article. Aren’t you curious to know why they felt that way, even though they’ve agreed with other white feminists’ opinions/critiques on artists like Rihanna? Believe it or not, there are white intersectional feminists who “get” it, but unfortunately, you’re not one of them.

      • So your problem with me, to clarify, is that I am a white woman writing about a black woman who does not agree with you? If I had agreed, and apologized, then no offense.

        And I know what the argument you are referring to. I am not curious because I am already familiar with the thoughts.

        • thewirefan

          Again, did you read what I wrote, or do you just want to pity yourself, and play the victim? I don’t have a problem with you being a white woman writing about a black woman. I have a problem with being a white woman writing about a black woman, and not acknowledging/mentioning her perspective on her sexuality based on her race/nationality, and how that may differ from yours. You can disagree and avoid the obvious, but it is what it is. There was no intersectionality, and it was problematic. Again, this is why many black feminists (not just me) were disappointed with your article.

    • thewirefan

      You do not sound/write like an intersectional feminist. Part of being an intersectional feminist means that you have to take into account the race, nationality, class, etc. of the women you write about. At no point in the article did you acknowledge your limitations as a white American woman writing about a black woman, especially a non-American black woman. To not account for Rihanna’s race and nationality in your article, to justify it by bringing up your experiences with black people, and to insert your bias as a white American woman (knowingly or unknowingly) in an article about a black, Barbadian female artist are all problematic and disappointing.

      • I think my entire last paragraph addressed the point that I do not have nor am claiming a title of Insufferable Know It All on this issue. As for you, if the crown fits, wear it. I wrote this with the intentions stated in my last paragraph, and you attacked me. In no way were you concerned with educating me or enlightening me, but ripping me a new one, calling me names, and humiliating me into submitting to your opinion.

        • thewirefan

          The only thing you mentioned in your last paragraph is how you don’t have all the answers about female sexuality, etc. You could have mentioned how your position as a white American woman differs from Rihanna’s position as a black, Barbadian woman on female sexuality. Maybe you’re misinterpreting some of her actions because you don’t know what’s driving them. But you wrote as if you did. And you wrote like a white woman/feminist who doesn’t value intersectionality.

          Also, you said I humiliated you? Didn’t you do the same towards Rihanna?

          “She ends up being treated badly by men, perhaps repeatedly?” And you know this how?

          “A woman who presents herself in Tweets of body parts, and acts out male created ideals of female sexuality, a woman who while acting out sex acts, looks detached.”
          Hmmm…that’s all she tweets about? Are you sure about that?

          “What collage of female sexuality is Rihanna pulling her experiments from? Her own fantasies and desires or the world she sees around her in music and pop culture, that same world that she is now contributing to? Is she experimenting with her sexuality, or presenting herself so overwhelmingly as a sex object, in all mediums of expression…?”
          Maybe she’s drawing on her own experiences living/growing up in Barbados? Have you seen interviews where she’s talked about how female sexuality and sexuality in general is very different in Barbados than it is here in America? If you did, then you may have had some answers to the two questions you asked above.

    • thewirefan

      On a final note, it is impossible for me, a black person, to be racist towards you, a white person. Reverse racism is a myth. You can say I offended you with my words, but to say, I’m being racist is silly and ridiculous at best. I’ll leave you with these words from one of the fabulous feminists, @EvetteDionne, I follow on Twitter. She said this yesterday about reverse racism: “Can I offer this though? *Whispers* People of color can’t be racist. *Gasps* You know why? Racism confers an unequal balance of power. So, people of color can reproduce White supremacy. Women can reproduce patriarchy. But we never get the power associated with either.

      • If you judge my knowledge, experience and perspective from the basis of the color of my skin, you can call it whatever you want but it still stinks. It’s lazy thinking at best and incredibly insulting and demeaning at worst.

        • thewirefan

          How’s this?: “If you judge Rihanna’s knowledge, experience and perspective WITHOUT acknowledging the color of her skin or her nationality, you can call it whatever you want, but it still stinks. It’s lazy thinking and writing at best and incredibly insulting and demeaning at worst.”

          Funny how you’re upset that I “judged” you, yet you judged Rihanna. Oh, please. And my comment about reverse racism still stands. It may stink. It may be insulting. It may be demeaning. But you can save your tears. If you can’t take it, don’t dish it. And if you must dish it, do it well. Otherwise, have several seats.

        • thewirefan

          Oh, and one more thing. You’ve shown your white female privilege throughout this entire exchange. You’ve shown how limiting and rigid you are in your thinking, and how much your feminism lacks intersectionality. You’d rather play the victim and hold others accountable without holding yourself accountable first. And then, you wonder why many black feminists don’t trust white feminists.

  • Wow, Maggie. You hit the nail on the head. I think we have similar history, and I, too, have a preteen daughter who takes all of this in. What you said about the look on her face- that bored, waiting-for-it-to-be-over face – is exactly what bothers me as well. She is not using her body or sexuality to empower herself, but to please men. I can’t help but think of a young Madonna, shocking the audience with her (fully clothed) performance on the VMA awards show. That was a woman in charge of her sexuality. As you said, Rhianna is a sad girl who confuses abuse and love.

  • Ambyr

    Maggie, I do not think “thewirefan,” was attacking you because you are a White woman writing about a Black woman. What she is saying is that you DO have a biased opinion on the issue. Rihanna is a Black woman and you will never understand where she is coming from, at least not from that perspective. It doesn’t matter that you and your family have been close with Blacks because that still does not give you first hand perspective. Modern society tries to pretend that we are all the same but we are not and there is nothing wrong with that. Different Races and Ethnic groups come from cultures that are very different from American Whites our culture plays a huge part in what shapes us into the people we are as well as sets values that are sometimes in opposition to the standard White American values. Also, as she points out, Rihanna is not American. She is Barbadian which further removes her from your American morals. Last, different social classes have slightly differing opinions on what is acceptable as far as morality and values go. Obviously, opinions will differ among the people within these groups but the fact that you cannot understand Rihanna from the perspective of any of these groups (except possibly social-class) makes your opinion biased. This is all she was pointing out. She also gave a very good explanation of what she meant when she responded to Mary. While I do not agree with such practices as she talked about (female circumcision or practices imposed upon women in the name of religion) I would sound silly judging them when I am American and non-religious and cannot understand their perspective. Maybe you have a right to feel degraded because she put quotes around feminism in regards to your opinion. However, you should realize that perhaps your opinion offended her and many others by imposing your one-sided view on someone that she can more closely identify with than you can. She is very accurate in saying that your opinion reeks of colonialism (not to be confused with Mary’s very basic Wikipedia definition). There is nothing entirely wrong with it, we are all guilty of it. Although, there is something wrong when we cannot acknowledge it and agree to disagree. Perhaps both of you are guilty of that. Originally, I wanted to totally agree with you because, in all honesty, I do agree with your opinion. I do not like Rihanna because I think she is a tragic case who is a horrible example for young women for many reasons. My opinion of her is probably a lot harsher than yours, but when I read wirefan’s argument I had to check myself. I appreciate her standing up and forcing people to be aware of the issue even if it is not always welcomed. It doesn’t mean my mind will necessarily be changed but people (myself included) need to be aware that what they know to be true is purely relative. Your opinion is certainly valid but so is hers and maybe even more so. Writing is very personal, so I completely understand why you would be offended but maybe a cooling off period, a second reading of her posts and an attempt to understand why she may have been offended by what you wrote would be beneficial. Women from different races and/or social class will not usually agree on issues within feminism because there are too many different influences that shape our lives and what is important to us but squabbling among yourselves without attempting to understand the other doesn’t solve anything. If anything, it adds to the problem. You say, “To say that any discourse of opinion on women’s sexuality is slut-shaming is to stop the conversation, and this conversation needs to occur. This is all of our culture, the culture our children are growing into . . .,” and I think that her response was on point with your opinion. America is home to many different cultures and a combination of them will shape the culture our children grow into even if some of those cultures do no parallel your own. It is up to parents of these children to teach their children what is right or wrong in their eyes. pMaggie, I do not think “thewirefan,” was attacking you because you are a White woman writing about a Black woman. What she is saying is that you DO have a biased opinion on the issue. Rihanna is a Black woman and you will never understand where she is coming from, at least not from that perspective. It doesn’t matter that you and your family have been close with Blacks because that still does not give you first hand perspective. Modern society tries to pretend that we are all the same but we are not and there is nothing wrong with that. Different Races and Ethnic groups come from cultures that are very different from American Whites our culture plays a huge part in what shapes us into the people we are as well as sets values that are sometimes in opposition to the standard White American values. Also, as she points out, Rihanna is not American. She is Barbadian which further removes her from your American morals. Last, different social classes have slightly differing opinions on what is acceptable as far as morality and values go. Obviously, opinions will differ among the people within these groups but the fact that you have no idea where Rihanna is coming from the perspective of any of these groups (except possibly social-class) makes your opinion biased. This is all she was pointing out. She also gave a very good explanation of what she meant when she responded to Mary. While I do not agree with such practices as she talked about (female circumcision or practices imposed upon women in the name of religion) I would sound silly judging them when I am American and non-religious and cannot understand their perspective. Maybe you have a right to feel degraded because she put quotes around feminism in regards to your opinion. However, you should realize that perhaps your opinion offended her and many others by imposing your one-sided view on someone that she can more closely identify with than you can. She is very accurate in saying that your opinion reeks of colonialism (not to be confused with Mary’s very basic Wikipedia definition). There is nothing entirely wrong with it, we are all guilty of it. Although, there is something wrong when we cannot acknowledge it and agree to disagree. Perhaps both of you are guilty of that. Originally, I wanted to totally agree with you because, in all honesty, I do agree with your opinion. I do not like Rihanna because I think she is a tragic case who is a horrible example for young women for many reasons. My opinion of her is probably a lot harsher than yours, but when I read wirefan’s argument I had to check myself. I appreciate her standing up and forcing people to be aware of the issue even if it is not always welcomed. It doesn’t mean my mind will necessarily be changed but people (myself included) need to be aware that what they know to be true is purely relative. Your opinion is certainly valid but so is hers and maybe even more so. Writing is very personal, so I completely understand why you would be offended but maybe a cooling off period, a second reading of her posts and an attempt to understand why she may have been offended by what you wrote would be beneficial. Women from different races and/or social class will not usually agree on issues within feminism because there are too many different influences that shape our lives and what is important to us but squabbling among yourselves without attempting to understand the other doesn’t solve anything. If anything, it adds to the problem. You say, “To say that any discourse of opinion on women’s sexuality is slut-shaming is to stop the conversation, and this conversation needs to occur. This is all of our culture, the culture our children are growing into . . .,” and I think that her response was on point with your opinion. America is home to many different cultures and a combination of them will shape the culture our children grow into even if some of those cultures do no parallel your own. It is up to parents of these children to teach their children what is right or wrong in their eyes. Again, I’m not attacking you, in fact I agree with your article. But I do realize that while I am Black, as a college educated American who grew up middle class, my perspective will not always align with other Blacks the same as your view will not always align with all women. I think wirefan opened up a great discussion opportunity, although maybe not for this particular article. I also don’t think her intent was to call you a racist.

    • thewirefan

      Ambyr,

      Thank you so much for your very thoughtful response. I’m glad you were able to understand where I was coming from. Sometimes, I get very heated and can be harsh when I’m discussing an issue I feel strongly about. So, thank you for articulating how I felt in a cool and calm way :). Seriously, thank you.

    • Mary

      Since you do not like the provided and traditional definition of colonialism please provide your definition, just for clarity in the discussion. Thanks!

      • thewirefan

        And since you’re only capable of interpreting definitions literally, then perhaps you should work on that before you add your two cents. I can’t believe you actually thought I was referring to the traditional definition of colonialism. Seriously?

        • Mary

          So explain it to me. I am really curious.

  • Candis

    “I want my daughters to learn about having an orgasm before they learn how to give one…”

    Outstanding comment! That would absolutely define women’s psychological liberation from the role of submissive sex object. Women are harangued by men for sex AND for having sex. It is not a system designed for us to win. We need to quit playing it.

    Now on to colonialism:
    The wirefan’s comment: “your position as a white American woman differs from Rihanna’s position as a black, Barbadian woman on female sexuality. Maybe you’re misinterpreting some of her actions because you don’t know what’s driving them[ sic].” Suggests RiRi’s act cannot be analyzed by a white woman. Since when does being black and Barbadian mean sexuality is somehow interpreted differently for females? Control of females (and our sexuality) has been managed by solely men for thousands of years for their convenience and pleasure–it is a truth UNIVERSALLY acknowledged. I don’t care how colonial or Western or parochial I sound. A hijab or burqa? ANY religion that enforces “uniforms of modesty” for women and not men is just another brick in the wall of male fear, domination, control. Twerking? Let the boys perform.
    Yes, I dare to speak about women outside of my cultural experience.

    • thewirefan

      “Suggests RiRi’s act cannot be analyzed by a white woman. Since when does being black and Barbadian mean sexuality is somehow interpreted differently for females? Control of females (and our sexuality) has been managed by solely men for thousands of years for their convenience and pleasure–it is a truth UNIVERSALLY acknowledged.”

      You sound extremely ignorant and not very bright. This is why it’s important to stay in school. You actually think that sexuality is interpreted the same for “females” (you said females; you do realise the word “female” is an adjective, right? but, i digress) everywhere in the world? Sigh. Of course you don’t care how colonial or Western you sound; most racist, ignorant white people don’t care how Western or ignorant they sound when they make stupid comments like the one you made above.

      I grew up in Nigeria, and female sexuality is interpreted differently there than it is here. A good example is the fact that some ethic groups still circumcise women for reasons that are tied to female sexuality. To my knowledge, women here in the States do not get circumcised.

      “Yes, I dare to speak about women outside of my cultural experience.” LOL. You said that like you were really saying something great/important. Sis, please. Have a stadium full of seats.

      • Mary

        First you say that we all have to be understood in context of our culture, and then you say that white Western people do not have the cultural context to be able to comment on Rihanna. You do seem to feel free to comment extensively on white western people even though you, by your apparent admission, do not share that cultural context.

      • Candis

        “I grew up in Nigeria, and female sexuality is interpreted differently there than it is here. A good example is the fact that some ethic groups still circumcise women for reasons that are tied to female sexuality.”

        This is precisely why I do comment outside of my cultural experience. What is the purpose for female circumcision if not to dull pleasure? No, don’t bother to explain because there is no rationale you could provide that would make plausible such a practice. Do some ethnic groups in Nigeria remove the glans of the penis for reasons that are tied to male sexuality? I thought not.

        And yes, I am aware that “female” is an adjective; so is “arrogant,” but one needn’t say “arrogant dilettante” to convey my impressions of one so presumptuous as you. You are free to apply relativism to any cultural environment you wish. As for me, I will continue to cry foul when any woman denied what is rightfully hers–a seat at the table, rather than simply serving those who have already been seated for millenia.

        And I am a black American woman with a master’s degree in rhetoric, a Bajan mother-in-law, and a Nigerian father.

  • thewirefan

    You can claim to be related to everyone in Africa for all I care. It means nothing. The difference between the two of us is that I AM Nigerian; I grew up there, and my experiences are firsthand. Yours aren’t. So you can “comment out of your cultural experience” all you want, but you’re just going to end up sounding ridiculously uninformed. At least on this issue. I mean, feel free to find another non-Western issue to comment on, oh ye wise American. One that you’re actually qualified to speak on. Cos this ain’t it.

    Seriously, you think because you have a Bajan mother-in-law and a Nigerian father, I’m supposed to be impressed? Or that somehow makes you qualified to speak about the experiences of non-Western women? Especially when you’re operating from the position of a black American woman who has an arrogant and patronising attitude towards non-Western women’s sexual experiences? Really? You can’t be serious.

    You know nothing of how female sexuality was/is “managed” pre and post colonialism. Did you know that, in many African countries, women were circumcised because their colonisers didn’t want them to get pregnant, so they could work more effectively as servants and slaves? Did you also know that both men AND women are/were circumcised because their genitalia is thought to have excess skin that is/was considered “dirty”? Also, in case you don’t know, in precolonial Africa, sex and gender did not necessarily coexist; the roles of women and men were not as rigidly defined as they came to be during the 19th and 20th centuries. For example, pre colonialism, it was not uncommon for women to have multiple husbands/lovers/partners. Did you know that? Of course you didn’t. Are you also aware that with colonialism, came Christianity, Islam, patriarchy AND the control of women and their sexuality? So, we can actually blame your Western brethren for the “universality” you speak of. I’ve accounted for roughly 200+ years of women’s sexuality being controlled by men, as you say. What about the other “thousands of years” you speak of? The thousands of years pre-colonialism? When many African women’s sexualities were not being controlled, as we’ve come to find out? Please account for those years. Or are you too busy being an arrogant, ignorant Westerner to do so?

    Before you attempt to impress me with your “knowledge” that really passes for ignorance, do your research. Just because you may have taken a Women’s Studies class in college, have a Master’s degree, read one book, watched one documentary about female circumcision or follow a couple of feminist blogs online does not mean you are qualified to speak on the universality of female sexuality over the course of thousands of years.

    The truth is, this conversation is not really about cultural relativism, female circumcision, or even how Muslim women should dress. What it really is about is the arrogance that comes with American imperialism and being Westernized. I don’t blame you for adopting your “superior” attitude or even thinking that it is a universal truth that men have controlled women’s sexuality for thousands of years. That’s the beauty of being American. You get to create universal truths, and determine what’s “right” and “wrong” with the world.

    Do yourself a favour, and go read about the roles of women in pre AND post colonised Africa. You’ll realise how ridiculously misinformed and ignorant you are. Start with “The Invention of Women” by Oyeronke Oyewumi. Or “Male Daughters, Female Husbands” by Ifi Amadiume. You might actually learn a couple of things that will stop you from talking out your ass. Who am I kidding, though? You won’t read them. It’s better to remain in your comfort zone, where the roles of women and their sexuality are universally accepted, and have been the same across the world for thousands of years. I wish you well.

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