Do any of you remember Britney Spears? When she first made her debut at the end of the 1990s, she was about 16 years old and sported both a schoolgirl’s uniform and basketball outfit with her hair in pigtails. Many of her facial gestures expressed dramatic, wide-eyed curiosity and a genius mixture of innocent and seductive smiles. Both the lyrics to Britney’s songs and choreography included heavy sexual innuendo. The nature of this sexuality sent a subtle message to her younger fans (and, perhaps, less aware fans) that she was not as much in charge of her sexuality as much as she found herself the subject of sexualization by others. Britney’s fan based ranged from tween girls and boys to adult men. Britney was beloved by the Pop music community and deemed “Princess of Pop.”
None of this, in itself, is abhorrent, but wait until I describe Britney’s reception as she grew into herself.
Eventually, Britney traded her pigtails for full, voluminous hair and began to dress in shorter and tighter outfits. Her choreography became obviously sexual, and her song lyrics had less innuendo and much more clear, sexual content. Britney’s tween fans and their parents began protesting her new presentation, reporting that she was setting a “bad example” for young girls. The same die-hard fans who once praised her at every turn now persecuted her.
So, what happened? What was the unforgivable change?
Here it is (I gave a little hint in the first paragraph.); Britney went from seemingly disconnected from her sexuality (and sexualized by others) to in charge of her sexuality and connected to it. What’s worse, she seemed to be enjoying it! (The nerve.) It was ok for the artist to be sexualized as long as she wasn’t in charge of it (with a lack of awareness, to boot), as long as it was happening to her in fact, it’s part of what made her worthy of praise. However, the more Britney took control of her sexual power the more she was seen as an abomination. Hm. The more this woman consented to her sexuality, the more it was seen as a transgressive act.
This is not the first time this kind of sexuality shaming has been thrust onto a female artist (Whitney Houston) and, surely (unfortunately), it will not be the last. Good news (not really), the same sexuality shaming happens to women and girls who aren’t in the public eye. Our community is pretty sure that it’s far more admirable to have sex happen to a woman instead of with her; more fetching is a woman who is powerless in her sexuality than a woman who enjoys it.
Perhaps, instead of perpetuating this dangerous message, “a woman’s virtue= sex happens to you; women taking ownership of their sexuality=slut=the worst thing ever” we should question why we are so vehemently attached to it in the first place and question what it is doing to and for the health of our community members. With slut shaming, sexuality shaming, and bullying dangerously interwoven into the lives of both adults and children, this is most definitely a message in favor of violence, not health and safety for our community.
Love and Be Loved,