When Rihanna dropped her sexy, NSFW video for her song Bitch Better Have my Money I hear a lot of, “WTF, women complain they don’t want to be treated like a sex object, and then they parade around naked!” Don’t even get me started on Nicki Minajs’ Anaconda. People totally lost their shit over that.
And lads, I get your confusion. You hear us ladies speaking up against being treated like sexual objects and then you find us stripping naked for music videos. I would be confused as well, in fact I was – in the beginning. The thing is, something like this is hard to explain, because it is so subtle. It’s hard to tell someone that when Nicki Minaj was bouncing around her video Anaconda, it comes from a place of power, but when you see Robin Thicke treating women like objects in his video Blurred Lines, it’s sexual objectification – literally. For many people, all they see are half naked girls prancing around.
So let me break it down for you
Where the power lies, something to keep in mind when viewing these videos, music, movies, shows etc. It is a fine line that is also blurry, so we crisscross often. Women have been fighting for our sexuality and their right to have one, for ages. We’ve gone from “Don’t give men anything! All they want is sex!” to “It’s my body, I’ll do as I please!” to “I can have sex and not be a slut!” and now we’re all over the place. Even amongst ourselves we can’t make up our minds whether we’re empowered or objectified.
As I watch these videos, I notice that there’s a subtle power dynamic shift. When I watched Rihanna strut her stuff in her new NSFW video, I didn’t inwardly cringe, instead I felt her raw sexuality, her control, her ‘don’t-give-a-fuck-ness’. I felt the message was, “This is for me. This isn’t about you.” Because it wasn’t about you. Or me. It was about her. This goes for Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and, I dare say, Miley Cyrus. Their sexuality is about them feeling good and comfortable about themselves.
Most men are so used to women catering to their sexual needs and desires that they don’t recognize when sexuality is shown for the pleasure of the woman. All they see is, “This woman is half naked, this must be because she wants to fuck me/she’s a slut/she’s asking for it/she’s obviously an attention seeker/etc.”
I know that many women throw around the whole, “I’m doing this for me! Not for you!” line, while not really embodying it. So again, yeah, it can be confusing. But we’re slowly getting to that space, where women are coming into their sexual power and truly are dressing for themselves. That can be by wearing ‘man-repellent’ clothes, or by feeling so comfortable in their bodies that they want to show it off. Or it could be that they want to be sexual because they are sexual beings – but that doesn’t mean they want to be sexual with you. Or that they’re doing it for you.
Back to the videos
I feel we need more strong, sexual videos like these. The type that exemplifies the female gaze rather than the male one. Videos where female sexuality leads the way, rather than being sexy in a way that is calculated to turn on men. You’ve seen those, and if you’re anything like me, you can feel how it’s not really about the artist. It’s about the people watching them.
When Beyoncé is singing about being a Grown Woman, her dancing (after minute 2:40) is not sexy in the conventional sense, but it most certainly is sensual. This is about her. She is allowing you to see her sexuality in as far as she wants to give it. This goes for Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, and a few other female artists.
Here’s a simple illustration drawn by artist Ronnie Ritchie that you can refer to if you’re not sure if it’s objectification or empowerment: