Sex and Sensibility

It strikes me that the same people who think Katy Perry is a terrible terrible woman because she dresses in revealing ways and talks about sex and cocks and yet is perfectly happy in a monogamous heterosexual relationship are the similar to the people who thought Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson were terrible terrible women because they were virgins (at least at first) and yet wore sexy clothes and romped around in their videos. Both cases are failures to account for the multiple ways that (in this case, straight white cis women, which is a whole other issue, that the discussion is using them as polarities) that we embody and display our sexuality. Those who accuse certain women of “being sexy but not sexual” are operating with a narrow definition of sexuality and sexual behavior that needs to be retired.

Because wearing “sexy” clothes doesn’t mean you subscribe to any particular sexual behavior. You can wear a latex minidress and be a perfectly happy asexual. You can wear leather chaps and nothing else and go home every night to the same person you’ve been with for 15 years. You can be a virgin and and flaunt your cleavage. “Sexy” clothes are no more a signifier of sexuality than they are of sexual availability. Arguing that a woman who shoots rockets out of her bra is a hypocrite for wanting her husband to be faithful relies on the same logic that says a woman who wears thigh-highs to a bar is complicit in any sexual attack that happens that same night (or ever). Virgins are people who haven’t had sex with a partner yet. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a sexual identity or a sexuality or sexual desire that they may or may not be signaling with their clothes.

And yes, I know, at some point Britney ceased to be a virgin and that makes EVERYTHING SHE DOES SUSPECT because if you think you are going to be a virgin until you get married when you’re 15 or 16 and figure out later that you want to be having the sex, but you don’t think it’s anyone’s business, you probably are a terrible person. I actually really admire something Jessica Simpson wrote about her virginity years—that it was hard, that it wasn’t like she didn’t have sexual feelings and urges, but that she wanted to wait, so that’s what she was doing. People act like virgins are soooo uptight and repressed and that’s not necessarily true. That kind of shaming is as despicable as the much discussed “slut shaming” that is the scourge of the internets.

Maybe it’s just because I’m old, and I spent my teens listening to feminists freak out over Madonna and the horrible horrible example of womanhood she was, but I’m always a little skeptical of criticism that complains about women who don’t fit into certain stereotypes and molds and who also make music videos. At the Pop Conference a few years ago I went to the women’s discussion group, eager to talk about why female musicians get put into certain slots, the possible return of Lilith Fair, the way social media might open up ways for female artists to get more money, the lack of women in the industry overall, and even the shitty way women get treated in the local scene, man. But the burning question was “Is Lady Gaga a feminist?” And frankly I don’t think that answer lies in her work.

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