People are often under the impression that men oppress women by making them into sex objects. Women’s rights movements place media and pop culture on the cross for encouraging this oppressive behavior, since pop culture continues this supposed oppression through its numerous portrayals of women. Women’s rights activists assert that scantily clad women are being hung on billboards like meat to be sold in the market.
Is this true? One form of feminism, espoused by some feminists like Nancy Brauer, understands pop culture not as objectifying women, but as freeing them. According to this reading, women gain more in the above situations than they lose. Women are idolized when they are hung on teenagers’ walls. Women are transformed into Aphrodites. And through this idolization, women can control their male counterparts.
Camille Paglia, a feminist social critic, maintains, “turning people into sex objects is one of the specialties of our species” (, 30). In her view, objectification is the highest human faculty which approaches conceptualization and aesthetics. To Pagilia, objectification is a good thing, not a bad one. In a study published in the Journal for Sex Research, adult film actresses – the most extremely objectified women – were found to have “higher levels of self-esteem, positive feelings…and spirituality compared to the matched group” (James D. Griffith , Sharon Mitchell , Christian L. Hart , Lea T. Adams & Lucy L. Gu (2012): Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis, Journal of Sex Research, DOI:10). Instead of feeling subjected and low, they feel great. Hence, according to these feminists, objectification does not lower women, but gives them divine status. The sensual women of pop culture are not bad but good for women.
A certain type of feminism would affirm such views. Nancy Brauer, a feminist philosopher, writes in an interview with Encyclopedia Britannica that she views this as a positive thing for feminism. Brauer calls for women to flaunt their sexuality for their own advantage and power, the same way a man might. Instead of passively receiving power, they must actively use and seek out power through their sexuality. According to this view, instead of being the docile secretary at a male-dominated work environment, women should use their looks to gain status and power within the workplace.
Lady Gaga and Ke$ha, as Nancy Brauer explains in her interview and in an article in the New York Times, achieve this. Instead of being detrimental to the feminist cause, they bolster it.
In a profile in the Los Angeles Times, Lady Gaga praises journalist Ann Powers for calling the former “a little bit of a feminist.” Lady Gaga explained, “When I say to you, there is nobody like me, and there never was, that is a statement I want every woman to feel and make about themselves.” Is it true, though, that Lady Gaga is such a feminist?
In her song, “Video Phone,” Lady Gaga tells men to watch her on their videophones instead of looking at her in real life. Lady Gaga wants men to idolize her, but she draws the line at that. They cannot touch her. They can only watch her from a screen. She makes it clear that she is the one in control. Moreover, in the video, she displays power over men by telling men what they can and cannot do. She guides the relationship. The men are the objects of her video, and she, the woman, is the subject of it.
Ke$ha takes it to the next level. She told the Los Angeles Times in 2009 that she “talks [in her videos] about men the way they’ve talked about women for years…it’s all about how women are pieces of meat. I find that stuff funny, so I want to do it back to them.”
Her song “Tik Tok” illustrates this: she parties until dawn, men line up for her, but she rejects them “unless they look like Mick Jagger.” Doesn’t this sound like a rap video where P. Diddy or another rapper goes to the club, parties hard, and then looks for women who look just right? Ke$ha moves on to speak of her intimate relations with men, and how she will slap them if they get too drunk. In any given rap song, women touch men and do very crude things. In this case, this woman won’t stand for a man who acts too drunk – she has the power. This woman is willing to stand up for herself.
This is paradigmatic of Ke$ha’s songs: most of her songs are about seeking relationships on her own terms and partying independently with her girlfriends. This replaces the stereotypical woman who lies around wondering whether some boy loves her. The protagonists of those love songs lie in wait for their lover. They are passive.
Ke$ha’s songs shift the focus and message of her music from that of a submissive female voice to an active one. In Ke$ha’s songs, she is seeking the men. She guides the relationship by controlling the men in their drunken stupor. In her songs, she calls men boys, not men. This is the same as when men call women girls.
Both of these singers get a bad rap in the public eye. They are seen as models of deficiency and decadence in modern culture. In truth, though, they get this bad rap because they challenge classical stereotypes of what women should and should not do. These women might be the harbingers of a new feminism, a feminism where women have power over men and where women can act just as sexually crude as men can. This reverses sexism and treats men like they treat women.
This might be a good thing for several disparate reasons. Firstly, men need to look into the mirror. We need to experience what women have continued to experience. For men to truly understand how wrong their sexist tendencies are, they need to experience what it is like. Experience leaves more of an impact than words.
Second, by switching the roles, the issue can be focused less on a particular gender being treated unkindly, and more on immoral action. The above-mentioned songs and videos highlight the point that no matter which gender is being subordinated, it is unjust.
There is a reason Lady Gaga freaks you out and Ke$ha awkwardly disturbs you. They are supposed to. They are uprooting stereotypes and reversing roles.