all up in arms about a video being too sexy, I tend to roll my eyes. Whatever. We all have different ideas about what is and isn’t sexy, much less too sexy. And these days, although we’re fine with images of soldiers and civilians blown to shreds in unjust wars, or filthy rich glitterati who value diamonds and cars over the health and education of the world’s population, Katie Perry in a corset scares us. So, forgive me for thinking our perspective is proverbially fucked.
But Rihanna’s new song, and the (spectacular) accompanying video is worth paying attention to. Because it is bringing S & M into the mainstream, and that excites me. Not because I like to be tied up and spanked, (I’ll forever leave you guessing on that one,) but because it means we get to talk about one of my favorite subjects: CONSENT, (and its offspring, empowerment.)
Let me be clear on a few things, as a baseline for this discussion.
I do not consider myself a feminist. I believe that any ideology that separates the values and worth of one group of people over another group of people is a recipe for distrust.
Sex without consent is rape. Sex with consent in boundless.
I was raped at gunpoint when I was 16. Because of that, I have a very firm grasp on the importance of consent. Because of that, you will never hear me use the phrase “sex crime.” Rape is not sex, though it uses sexualized body parts as a weapon.
Okay, back to Rihanna and her new song, S & M.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.
I have been accused of being very thin-skinned because I will not tolerate “teasing,” of other people in my presence. No name-calling, no making fun of each other. When asked why, years ago, all I could come up with is, “it feels violent.” Eventually, I came to believe that a violent act is one that causes someone to put up their defenses. That includes verbal abuse, name-calling, threats and the like. That includes the power struggles of having to “perform” for a lover or partner in order to be “allowed” to stay in the relationship.
To hear Rihanna say it, and so clearly separate it from the consensual act of “rough sex,” is just brilliant.
You cannot be mean to me. You must treat me with respect. And if you do, we can have all sorts of crazy sex. Because without trust and respect, sex can be risky – even if it’s plain-old missionary position sex with the lights out.
At its core, this is a woman being very clear about her boundaries, and that is sexy as hell. It is also empowering, and something we need more of.
Come on I like it, like it!
The best way to learn why to say “no,” is to learn what you want to say “yes “ to. Not because we are under any obligation to do anything, but because a huge part of being satisfied in your life, and with who you are, is knowing what makes you happy. And knowing that you have the right to get it, in a healthy and consensual way.
So yah, seeing Rihanna strut her stuff and say, “come on, I like it, like it” thrills me. It is okay, as a woman, to have the kind of sex you want to have. Sing it!
I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it…
I hear this as a “don’t judge me.” And she’s right. We do not have the right to judge any adult who is having any kind of consensual sex with another adult. Period.
Further, something in me feels like it’s okay to show this snapshot of a “different” kind of sex. Someone in the blogoshphere referred to it as selling sex to kids just like Joe The Camel was selling cigarettes to kids. Maybe, but there are some HUGE differences.
Just about every kid is going to grow up and have sex. Sex is a foregone conclusion. Cigarettes are not.
Sex is an innate human drive. Cigarettes are not.
Cigarettes will kill you, sex won’t – unless you’re stupid about it. And, part of being smart about it is being comfortable enough with it to ask questions, get answers, stand your ground and take precautions.
NOT being comfortable and authentic and empowered in your sexuality can lead to all manner of mental illness. Not smoking can’t.
All in all, I think that early exposure to diverse and empowered sexuality is okay. Maybe even good, if it helps someone find the spot on the sexual spectrum that will make them happy. But I’ll stop short of declaring this a PSA.
But Is It Appropriate? That’s a tougher call. It is directly and overtly sexual. To some extent, that is akin to bringing other people into a sex act, potentially without their consent, and yes, that bothers me a little. However, it’s not running as a PSA on the evening news, you have to seek it out.
I will never forget last summer when I was watching the Today Show, and Ke$ha was singing Tick Tock at an outdoor concert. The camera panned to a row of 8 year-old girls singing along, they knew every word. I was appalled – and I am far from prude!
I’m out the door, I’m gonna hit this city, Before I leave brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack cause when I leave for the night I ain’t coming back…..
Aint got care in the world, But got plenty of beer, Aint got no money in my pocket but I’m already here, Now the dudes are lining up cause they hear we got swagger, But we kick them to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger, I’m talking about- everybody getting crunk crunk , boys wanna touch my junk junk…
So, it’s okay for Ke$ha to be having a sing along with little girls singing about getting drunk, staying out all night, flirting to get guys to buy them drinks, dismissing men who aren’t hot and rich enough, and using your “junk” as a lure? That disgusts me. That is teaching girls to behave dangerously. No thank you.
What’s worse, this is the kind of latent sexualization that infects everything, but we don’t admit it. It allows sex, sexuality and sexual manipulation to become foundational, and not addressed. It is why we think it’s okay to use sex as a weapon, and not okay to talk about it.
Frankly, I am far more bothered by our society’s focus on materialism and control than an open illustration of any kind of healthy and diverse sexuality. I’ll take Rihanna, and her straight-on approach to empowered sexuality and boundaries any day.
From a visual perspective, it is absolutely beautiful. And I don’t just mean her incredible ass (in that white rubber suit, holy sweet bejeeshus.) The design is beautiful. And the “subliminal” design elements are spectacular – the media in ball-gags, Perez Hilton as her ill-mannered dog, the headlines on the newspapers….
Well played, Rihanna. You are a strong, empowered, beautiful woman who is not afraid to ask for what she wants. (My daughter can sing that song with you.)