Rihanna Is Forcing Our Teens' Heads Over the Toilet Bowl
Oct 1 2012
It's not easy being a man who longs for a woman's world. Which is why, when VICE offered me this column, I decided that it had to be written anonymously. I hope that that doesn't lead you to take me any less seriously - yours, Logan Stuart.
Rihanna is back in the news this week with her brand new single "Diamonds", a positivity anthem encouraging her many adoring fans to "shine bright like a diamond". This seems heartfelt, and I can certainly picture her production and writing team composing it with a genuine nobility of sentiment. However, this still does not deflect from my broader anxieties about the greatest female pop star of our age. Is Rihanna a good role model for modern women? As a male feminist and as a father, I remain unsure.
Her sexuality is inevitably set to "sexy". But is it, in fact, tipping over from sexy into something which is backing women into a corner, effectively forcing hundreds of thousands of women across the world to return to the long penile shadow of male oppression?
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with showing a little skin. I went on the Slutwalks. I dressed provocatively in sympathy and loudly proclaimed that there was no way a lone policeman in Canada was going to stop me or my female comrades from proclaiming our right to flaunt it if we'd got it. But having said that, there are also obvious limits to this ideal. For instance, if I were to wear the tiny, pink lace bandeau bra with a pleated skirt that she put on in July this year and stepped into a room full of boozed-up bankers, it'd be rather like walking into a den of lions with some baby gazelles sellotaped to one's derriere, wouldn't it?
It is troubling that she does so. And it is more troubling that she seemingly does so in the hope that this will attract men to her. No wonder, you might say, that she found a man as vile as Chris Brown. If you will dress like a despicable woman, then perhaps you shouldn't be too surprised if, one day, you find yourself making love to the sort of man who despises women. To her credit, Rihanna has retained a certain dignified silence over the incident – almost as if she now understands how foolish she was. However, sadly she hasn't yet changed her ways.
Of course, many will still hold her up as a totem of a liberated woman "doing it her way" and "riding the backwards-cowgirl on life itself". Fine. But for me, I'd be much more live-n-let-live with Rihanna if she weren't the most beloved popstar of your average preteen girl. That's the danger. Image formation begins at a young age. And it seems inevitable now that the generation who will come of age in the 2020s will have their heads forced over the toilet bowl by the Barbadian singer.
If Rihanna really wanted to make a "Diamonds"-style statement about how we are all equally valid lifeforms, perhaps she'd be better doing it wearing a proper frock, or even some loose-fitting jogging pants, rather than whatever cameltoe-scraping latex-spandex-durex creation she has squeezed herself into this time round. That would allow people to genuinely concentrate on what's really important – the voice and the music.
Except, of course, that her music is a cesspit of vulgar imagery and bad messages. It's about as feministic as Peter Sutcliffe. "Come on rudeboy, boy / Can you get it up? / Come on rudeboy, boy / Is it big enough?" Is this a line I want my daughter singing along to at her after-school dance club? Of course not. Yet society seems to blithely tolerate it. Why?
Before you start to think I'm some sort of pro-fem Mary Whitehouse, let me explain – I'm no prude. I've been there and "done" that, sexually speaking – from solo to BBW. And when she is old enough and mature enough, I will no doubt have to explain to my daughter exactly what it means for a "rudeboy" to "get it up", though I will obviously warn her not to fixate on penile dimensions and avoid becoming a size-queen. That's healthy. That's normal. It's a part of life and no parent should ever shirk from "going deep" when it comes to explaining the full breadth of sex to their children, however much we might instinctively flinch.
Yet the list goes on. ''Sticks and stones may break my bones / But whips and chains excite me". The sort of passivity and male-domination we've seen so much of recently, thanks to the hopelessly retrograde 50 Shades. “Not everybody knows how to work my body / Knows how to make me want it / Boy, you stay up on it.” Yet more penis-hunger references. “We found love in a hopeless place.” Yet another negative portrayal of the female organs as a "hopeless place". The list goes on and on.
I'm sorry, but encouraging tweens to go around singing lines like these is like encouraging your pet hamster to play in a fuse-box. It will not end well. And however abstractly theoretical it seems on the page, in the real world, it may end with a kid being bundled into the back of an unmarked van.
Sadly, Gaga is little better and, so long as her career remains in a slide, we are stuck with what we've got. If only there were a better role model available on the popscape. As far as I can tell, there are only two contemporary women singers who could serve as useful role models for my daughter: Shakira and Adele. And even Adele has something of a lascivious curl of the lip, a bend in the hip, which invites us to assume more than we'd perhaps like to.
The sad truth of the matter is that, unless we can educate women like Rihanna, we'll never break the cycle of fem-negative pop music. I have already tweeted her some links to various articles and a few positive reviews of Naomi Wolf's book. The reply so far? Resounding silence. It's a silence we must all break.
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