From ‘sex positive’ to ‘willingly oppressed’: a gradual assimilation


It happens so often it’s sadly predictable: every new Disney kid grows up to be a raunchy pop star.

Well, I say “raunchy.” Others might say “sexually empowered.”

But did you know that majority of explicit songs on Ariana Grande’s new album – songs that ask men to prove themselves sexually in order to date her, songs about staying with men (some verbally abusive) who cheat because it’s better than having no man at all – were written by men?

I don’t know if that’s relevant. It just seemed worth mentioning.

Because the above link comes from Wikipedia, it stands to reason that some sources may be listed incorrectly. Still, that’s an overwhelming number of male influences who, I’m going to assume, are probably older than Ariana, who is in her early twenties.

I don’t know about you, but I’m slightly creeped out by that.

Just forget, for one moment, that Ariana chooses to sing these songs. While that may be enough to satisfy the sex-positive crowd, it still disturbs me that this is part of the package of cementing the transition from Child Star to Adult Artist. And we, the listeners, may never know if it creeps Ariana out to sing this stuff, or if she ever gives it a second thought because it’s propelling her to stardom. It’s paying her bills. It’s making her an idol.

More than that, it pains me to know that there are people out there, men and women, who will say this is all perfectly fine. Feminists, too. We are declaring war on rape culture, on campuses that don’t take assaults seriously, on people who insist she ‘asked for it’ because her skirt was short and revealing, but we call material like this “empowering” simply because Ariana chooses to sing it. No one is forcing her to open her mouth for these lyrics – lyrics that romanticize verbal abuse and shitty behavior (from the song “Why Try”: “I’m loving the pain/ … Even when you’re yelling at me/I still think you’re beautiful”).

We’ve gone from trying to free women from oppression to celebrating women who glamorize oppression, simply because it’s their choice to do so? Am I the only one who sees a dangerous progression of assimilation here?

I call bullshit. Women deserve better than this. If feminism today is celebrating someone who is willingly oppressed, we have failed miserably. And don’t try to convince me for a second that a song about “loving pain” from an abusive partner is anything but oppression.


13 thoughts on “From ‘sex positive’ to ‘willingly oppressed’: a gradual assimilation

  1. I hate this sort of “choice feminism” the idea that if a woman chooses something, that makes it feminist. In what context is she making that choice? is what I ask. Feminism is not a monolith- there are many feminisms and you can argue til the cows come home about what “real” feminism is, but critically looking at the sociopolitical context of the choices women make is I think a basic requirement of feminist thought.


  2. Pingback: Links: Writing, Feminism, Bullying | Natacha Guyot

  3. I so agree. When a man objectifies a women, at least society knows somewhere it’s wrong. When a woman objectifies herself, society is happy to switch the argument from respect for women to freedom of expression. I’d love to get back to the original debate!


  4. I agree so much with what you are writing. I am all for women doing what they want, wearing what they want, etc. That’s why it made me angry that people claimed Beyonce couldn’t possibly be a feminist because of her VMA’s attire. However, sometimes, like with Ariana Grande, it seems so manufactured. It seems as though there are other people pulling the strings determining how “sexy” she needs to be. And there is nothing empowering about that.


    • To be honest, I don’t see Beyonce’s image as being feminist. However, she definitely seems more in control of her image, being older and a little more seasoned in the industry. So in that sense, I have no right to judge her if that’s what she wants to do. It still seems contradictory, though.

      You may be interested in reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist if you haven’t already. It covers a lot of the ‘grey’ areas of feminism, and how it’s okay to have pluralistic viewpoints as long as we’re all participating in the common goal of creating equality. I’m about halfway through and don’t agree with 100% of her findings, but it’s still a good read.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Anything that romanticizes abuse is wrong, regardless whether the person doing so chose it. This was notably the problem with how Fifty Shades of Grey was praised so much when it goes against BDSM principles. Now anything BDSM makes me personally uncomfortable but if both (of legal age) partners respect the “safe, sane and consensual” aspect of it, then I say that it is their choice. The problem is that Fifty Shades of Grey (taking this example as this is such a big hit) tosses these principles out of the window and make abuse look “cool”, “hot” and “appealing” when all of this is just creepy.


    • That book could get its own series of posts, but other bloggers have tackled it and handled it more maturely than I would. It’s really telling that several negative reviews on Goodreads are from people who do practice BDSM and say these books are dangerously inaccurate.

      Honestly I don’t blame the women who say they are against feminism because of contradictory attitudes like these. In many cases, I think the reasons are immature or poorly thought out (as was the case with the Buzzfeed article “Why I Don’t Need Feminism”) but I completely agree that the direction it’s headed is a far cry from the reason the movement was born in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

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