Pop stars prancing about in pants

// 11 April 2012

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Lady Gaga (for actual page only).jpg

A guest post from Kate Bellamy arguing that the pressure on women in pop to wear less tends to increase when there’s a cause to be considered.

Feminism is back in fashion. Politics, business, comedy; the triumvirate of gender discrimination and centre of feminist umbrage that regularly become “trendy” get wheeled out again like bootcut jeans in Topshop. Topically they’ve been done to death, one too many spin cycles. This isn’t about that though. I’m just fed up of seeing pop-stars popping out.

The personal is political. Unavoidably true in most cases, not when it comes to your private parts. What does it say about the feminist movement when to take a stand is to be half-naked and covered in the entire Dulux colour catalogue, a la Gaga or Minaj? Do we have to strip off to get taken seriously?

It’s fun to sometimes look at Lady Gaga like a dress up doll – one of those rudimentary cardboard ones you used to rub the clothes on to with a plastic stick, before pleasingly peeling them off again – a surrogate for our more flawed fashion choices. But surely these outfits can’t be taken seriously? What is the impact of feminism on fashion and vice versa?

Suzanne Moore wrote an article for the Guardian last week, in which she discussed issues of age-appropriate behaviour and Madonna, arguing that whilst the Queen of Pop may offer no qualms about covering up her madonna she recognises that “the one erogenous zone that women never need to cover up is our minds.”

Credit where it’s due, Gaga does draw attention to her mind as well as her minnie, recently launching a foundation for young people suffering from bullying and self-esteem issues. It champions tolerance instead of outrage, as Lady tweeted, but tolerance surely only extends so far if you concentrate on waltzing about with your woo-woo on display. And it’s hard to have empathy with a spotty teenager in a rainy English suburb when you spend your working life an American millionaire dressed as a goth-biker-telephone.

Cynics may argue the “Harajuku Barbie”, Niki Minaj, undermines her own subversion of the ideal woman by donning the trademark blonde wig of her apparent idol. But being Barbie doesn’t seem to be the point; she wore more clothes. Caitlin Moran, after How To Be a Woman has become the poster girl for pretty feminism (and must be starting to redden at repeatedly being exemplified). And then there is the aptly named Charlotte Free: unshaven legs and armpits but pretty pink hair. Feminism and prettiness need not be mutually exclusive. Clothes and society are.

Like Gaga, Minaj has ideals; “don’t allow people to knock your hustle just ’cause it ain’t something that you’re used to seeing.” Great! I agree. I like her creative flare and how she has shaped her own success. But, do you really need to have your baps out to do it?

I realise reader, you may consider me old fashioned or a prude. I know women’s magazines around the world call out, but believe me, “celebrating” my cellulite will do feminism no favours – I’ll continue to cover up. Suzanne Moore is right, women need never cover up their minds but I’d say something more than your bra and pants, at least in public, would be preferable. Fully clothed feminism, for me anyway.

Picture shows a possibly naked Lady Gaga (aside from some jewel decoration and perhaps a body stocking) lying slightly sideways on her front and looking at the camera. By Ama Lia, shared under a creative commons licence. Post by Kate Bellamy.

Comments From You

Sara Clarke // Posted 11 April 2012 at 2:32 pm

I’m wondering whether women would be as successful if they didn’t have their ‘baps out’, though. It seems odd for analysis to start and stop with women ‘letting the side down’.

Sarah // Posted 11 April 2012 at 3:10 pm

I really appreciate the message in this post. I like to think that I am not a prude either – nakedness or at least near-nakedness can be very beautiful and powerful if used in certain ways. But if feminism boils down to equality between the sexes, then this is certainly a feminist issue. You compare the amount of men prancing about using their exposed knackers to make a point, to the amount of women doing the equivalent…there is an undeniable lack of balance there. Its something I’ve been aware of since I was a kid, as my mother (the first feminist to influence me) used to ask the same question when I was watching TOTP – why did women have to come on stage in their underwear to sing, whilst men got to keep all their clothes on to do the same?

Sara Clarke // Posted 11 April 2012 at 3:45 pm

I completely agree that it’s a feminist issue. I just don’t think it’s enough to stop at criticising individual women.

Women are the sex class. We get on better if we conform to that standard.

I can wholeheartedly recommend ‘Beauty and Misogyny’ for an in-depth exploration of these issues.

IronFly // Posted 11 April 2012 at 11:26 pm

Is the point of this post essentially: feminism hasn’t been successful if it’s only promoted one particular type of choice, rather than the freedom to be either a) super-sexualised b) totally covered up, or c) somewhere in-between?

In my day to day life I simply can’t see that this [restriction] exists. Maybe this is because I don’t watch TV and don’t read magazines (of any form, not just women’s) and so am not bombarded by the media’s annoying crap. Not sure.

Practical solutions? Don’t know. More women need to be comfy in the public eye without being heavily defined by their sexuality I suppose (and then people might stop using it against women e.g. “haha, you’re old/ugly/fat now” translated: you’ve lost that thing you were using to elevate your popularity besides your talent and abilities).

SexierThanThou // Posted 13 April 2012 at 8:55 pm

One could blame society at large for this (if one were incline to thinking that there is something worth blaming for). Still, it might be easier and more enjoyable for one to blame Madonna.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 April 2012 at 2:19 pm

I don’t think anyone was trying to blame Madonna here. I also don’t reckon there’s a problem if a star “walzes about with her woo-woo on display”. However, I’d say there most certainly *is* “something worth blaming for” if, as the writer argues, women in pop have to strip off to get their causes noticed. (I realise she actually said “taken seriously” and accept this notion could perhaps be disputed.)

SexierThanThou // Posted 14 April 2012 at 6:16 pm

The Madonna jibe was just that, a joke at the expense of someone that I personally consider wholly untalented. I agree with much of the rest, but I don’t necessarily believe that women “have to” shake their money-maker for exposure. ‘Flaunting’ is a choice, and one that many male popstars also entrench themselves in, just to placate their fanbase. Hey, if Usher, put a shirt on and decided to stop perpetuating some Disney/Hallmark, designer view of teeny-bopper love, I’m guessing a good chunk of his fanbase will swiftly depart.

Anyway, I like looking at pretty people so I welcome the sex appeal, and I’ll bear the “music”.

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