girl pop feminists?
March 25, 2004 01:47 PM

I think it's pretty easy to see feminist influences almost anywhere. Not all of them are for good. Roni asks us to think about Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera this week. Think of it as feminist comparative literature.

If it weren't obvious from my inserted comments when I posted Roni's question for the week, I don't think being skanky or freaky or anything other than specifically anti-woman disqualifies a person as a feminist. So I reject the notion that Christina might simply be too trashy to stand up for women's rights. Hee.

Are either of them feminists?

It's pretty much impossible to judge what their personal politics may be through the layers of hype and editing that surround them. The nature of celebrity is that celebrities are inherently more icon than person in our experience of them. They're ideas. Given that, sure, there are aspects of Britney and Christina's images that are at least pro-woman if not feminist. They are positive role models for little girls, basically, if in nothing else in that they're female and successful. It doesn't sound like a lot, but recognition of girls as a powerful market is also a recognition of girls' power, given the whole capitalism thing. The challenge is for girls to use that market power.

Beyond the economic test, though, how do these two celebrities stack up as feminists? Well, neither of them seems to substantially wield her celebrity to champion women's rights. Yes, they're both all about girls rocking. But, as Ms. 9 pointed out, what have they done for the right to choose? Or healthcare? Or the ERA? Or any feminist or pro-woman legislation, for that matter? Not much that I know of.

The pop princesses could be raising awareness of feminist issues in general (for instance, domestic violence, sex education, other things that might impact the demographic of their listeners directly). But they're not doing that, either, as far as I know. [Again, it's entirely possible that Britney and Christina as people are heavy contributors to feminist causes; that's just not a part of the media image of them, not part of their icons.] As politics go, these two are not feminist icons. They have pretty much zero political implications.

But there is more to feminism than laws and issues. There's the geologic pace of social change to deal with, for instance. As much as the concept of "girl power" is maligned as inactive and apolitical, I think its impact on people's beliefs is much greater than any legislation could provide. That does not mean we don't need to work both angles (the law and the minds of people). Just that there is also a place for the diluted "girls kick ass" message of pop music, Buffy, and others.

There are scads of examples of pop's dilute but positive influence, and I think Christina Aguilera is undoubtedly one of them. Take the lyrics to her song with Lil'Kim - "Can't Hold Us Down". It's supportive of young women's voices and sexuality. Is it practical? Political? Challenging? No, but it does have an unapologetic feminist slant to it, as does a lot of Aguilera's music. That kind of voice in the popular culture is useful to young women; it's bolstering.

At the same token, neither of the pop princesses really step outside of the prevailing beauty ideals. They're both super thin and busty, and generally fit all the definitions of "sexy". They may sing songs about how they're powerful women and everyone is beautiful in every single way, but they still maintain a certain image marketability. Eventually, though, they part company. Not only are Christina's lyrics more obviously girl-power-inducing, but she seems to publicly claim more of her own power.

1. Britney appears on stage with a snake, or her pants falling off. Her explanation -basically, we didn't realize it would be so provocative... I didn't know. Whatever.
2. Christina makes the "Dirrty" video, which let's get real, is one of the closest things you can find to porn on the teevee before 10pm. Her explanation - basically, so what?
3. They both make out with Madonna. Christina - yeah, I kissed Madonna. Britney - oh, no, it was MADONNA's idea.. I mean, I didn't even know... blah blah.

Basically, they've engineered their images so that Britney is the sweet girl next door whose albums every parent would let their 10 year old have (cause she's so unchallenging) while Christina is the new Madonna, queen of sexual agency and dance beats. In that respect, Christina really does seem like an icon of girl power, while Britney's image is at most a curt nod to powerful femininity.

That's not to say I'd kick either of them out of the strange bed of politics. Just as Bust's cover of Kelly Osbourne touted independence with a picture of a girl whose life is entirely a result of her daddy (but whose potty mouth and attitude have empowered itty neopunk girls the world over), I think there might be positives to selling feminism - the real, solid, political variant - with the trappings of girl power. If Wonder Woman and Madonna were entrees into feminism for my cohort, why couldn't the pop princesses do the same for young girls today?

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your wicked thoughts

i read awhile back that aguilera is in to speaking out against domestic violence and was working on a domestic abuse shelter for women and children.

these are the thoughts of stephanie on March 26, 2004 10:26 AM

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