No. A summer’s day is not a bitch. New Girl, Series 1, Episode 23 - ‘Backslide’
I have to say that, overall, I see the culture we live in as an enlightened one. Feminism still has points to enforce, racism and homophobia are still rife in places, and ignorance is something we still have to constantly battle against. But, overall, I’d say that we’ve progressed over time - in terms of equality and simple understanding.
As a result, I was pretty surprised when I contemplated how arguably regressive the media has become in its portrayal of women, certainly in the last ten years. Watching ‘Mel C’s Best Number 1’s of the 00’s’ on 4music today, I’ve been enjoying watching the music videos of ten years ago. My sister remarked that many of the starlets of those days wandered around in jeans and belly tops in their music videos, while today’s singers are decked out in all kinds of weird and wonderful creations. The natural ‘girl next door’ look, to borrow the cliché, definitely seemed preferable to the weird, other-worldly looks Lady Gaga favours today. Now, I’ve got nothing at all against Gaga - I think she’s wonderful. It is interesting, though, that one of the most successful female artists of our day is so notorious because her character, figure, and even her voice are famously and perpetually draped with layer upon layer of artifice. Whether it’s her “antic disposition” (cheers, Hamlet) of apparent madness, her bizarre yet fascinating sartorial choices, or her producers’ use of autotune (not that she needs it), Gaga is never seen or heard in her fully natural state. My question is, does this mean that for a woman to be successful, she must, by necessity, be artificial?
I hear a great outcry from Gaga’s “Little Monsters” coming, but don’t worry, I’m not calling your hero fake. She seems to be, by contrast, a wonderfully open and multifaceted person. Yet, simultaneously, her character, and the success attributed to it, is rarely depicted as something natural. Just like Beyoncé Knowles, another of today’s musical icons, has to become her alter ego “Sasha Fierce” to achieve superstardom on stage, Gaga has to morph into “The Fame Monster” in order to be successful.
We can also address this concept upon examination of the fashion trends popular over the last forty years. In the 70’s and 80’s, women had to dress differently in order to regain dominance of their own bodies and achievements. Shops and runways were full of androgynous suits and “power” shoulders, designed to make women feel not like natural females, who were powerless and subjugated, but like reinforced, successful, “iron ladies”. Yazz’s 1988 music video for “The Only Way is Up” demonstrates this perfectly in the form of Yasmin Evans’ heavily padded jacket and very short, masculine haircut. To be successful at this time was, partly, to emulate a man.
Once a comparative equality had been achieved, however, styles more appreciative of the female form and character began entering into both wardrobes and music videos. The 90’s were all about, as said previously, the “girl next door” look - you only have to watch one B*witched or Britney Spears video to appreciate the sheer love of denim and pigtails enjoyed by 90’s popstars the world over. By the noughties, more skin was on show, and the female form was celebrated in a somewhat more vulgar way - see any video of the era by either Britney Spears or Rihanna for examples! Despite the “noughtie-ness”, the female form was at this time nonetheless still being celebrated, loudly, and clearly, and with absolutely no shame. At this time, indeed, to be successful as a woman was, often, to look like a woman.
Post-2010, however, success for a woman appears to include a kind of mutation, if the depictions in music videos are anything to go by. Lady Gaga’s 2011 ‘Born This Way’ video, despite its messages of equality and acceptance, shows Gaga as a grotesque, alien figure in places. Meanwhile, Beyoncé Knowles’ first outfit in her ‘Run the World (Girls)’ video creates a bizarre hybrid of woman, bird, and metal. Here, to ‘Run the World’, and assert herself, this powerful woman must still mutate into something alien, and strange. In these music videos, the femininity of these superstars is in some ways and in certain elements being repressed, in order to make way, or perhaps make excuses, for their success.
One element of the media’s portrayal of successful females which particularly shocked me today, was found in the comparison between the treatment of one successful girlband in 2002, and another in 2012. While the 2002 video for Atomic Kitten’s cover of ‘The Tide is High’ shows a very pregnant Natasha Hamilton in the centre of every group shot, bump available for all to see as it peeks out from under a bright red t-shirt, it is common knowledge that girl group The Saturdays’ video for their 2012 single ‘30 Days’ was entirely shot from the waist up, so as to actively disguise the pregnancy of Una Healey. This, to me, is yet another example of how attitudes to femininity have changed in the last ten years.
Now, I don’t want to open a can of “if I don’t want to get pregnant/have children, does this make me unfeminine, then?” worms here. So please understand that I am not trying to imply anything of that sort. But, nonetheless, having children is for many women part of the natural essence of their femininity. As in, men can’t do it, and it’s pretty impressive.
Actually, men can do it now, can’t they? Thomas Beatie did it. That American man.
OK, so, clarification: under normal circumstances, men can’t have babies…aaaand now I feel bad for calling Thomas Beatie et al. “abnormal”.
Anyway, digressions aside, pregnancy is something naturally attributed to femininity. There we go, that sounds better. And if this aspect of femininity is disguised, especially deliberately so, in music videos, I think it betrays a certain regression in terms of attitudes to femininity in the media. If the media and the music industry demand that women become infertile, mutated, and alien in order to be successful, are we really living in such an accepting, aware age as we previously thought? I’m not too sure, myself.
I’ve just registered for next year’s modules after a cheeky flit through the rain. Some of them fill me with excitement, others with a bit of reluctant dread: John Milton, for example. Beautiful, fascinating, and extremely rewarding to study, but OH GOD THE READING. So lengthy! So time-consuming! So intense!
But hey, that’s what the summer’s for. Reading, that is. And this summer, just like last summer, and the summer before that: I fully intend to read at least three books from each of my six modules. The only difference being that this summer I will actually do so. Hopefully.
In May, I had a big revision-based panic due to the fact that I hadn’t really read enough of the ‘Renaissance Literature’ set texts. The general idea is that, over the year, you read as many books as you can, and then by the end of the year you’ll be in love with at least three texts and will subsequently be able to blither coherently about them for three hours, under examination. This year, I’d read a handful, but the lightning bolt of literary love had sadly not struck. Thus: panic. And a lot of frantic additional reading.
So as to avoid such eventualities this year, I have the above summer reading plan. At least three texts per module has me covered for the exams, before the year has even begun. This doesn’t mean I won’t go to any lectures or do any other work on other texts, it just means that stress levels will be a wee bit lower in May 2013. Ideally.
Sorry to bore you with this, but I had to rationalise it out in my head. Or, y’know, on paper. Except it isn’t even on paper. It’s on a computer. Either way, you see my point. Public rationalisation is useful, even if the public doesn’t really giveashit. Good.
If you actually do giveashit, below is a list of the modules I’m taking this year. But, again, this is mostly so I can remember what module’s I’m doing, and less for your benefit. Soz.
2) Literature of the Romantic Period
4) American Fiction
5) Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature
6) John Milton
Anonymous asked: Annoyed that you are calling the English "lazy" "greedy" and "a joke".Would you say that about any other ethnicity, and if you did, wouldn't it be racist?
I think there’s a certain allowance involved if you want to criticise your own ethnicity or nationality - so no, I wouldn’t say that about any other ethnicity. Obviously, I don’t think all English people are benefit scroungers - that would be silly. But I made that comment in response to others who were suggesting that immigrants came over, only to live on benefits and eat up the taxpayer’s money. My point was that, in the vast majority of cases, it is the English who thrive on the benefits provided by our government, not foreigners - as proved by government statistics. Sorry to cause any offence, and thanks for your question!