Opinion

We don’t play music with our vaginas, so why is sex still the centre piece?

Curious Rose Photography

When it comes to female pop artists, I just want to see their talent. And when I say their talent, I don’t mean their c**t

Every day for a couple of months now, I walk past a poster that angers me… This is not a reaction I have to posters in general, so when it happens that a poster annoys me this much I try to pay attention to why I’m reacting.

Let me describe it to you. The poster is dominated by a photograph of a young woman, presumably a pop musician, whose latest recorded release is described in the most minimal of text. The young woman is sat facing the camera with her legs open, and the cropping of the photograph allows for her torso – her breasts and bare, open legs – to sit in the centre of the picture, with some of her features hovering moodily above, the rest of her face cropped out.

Let me make a few things absolutely clear: I am a woman who believes that women should have agency over their bodies. I am liberal, hot for women (among other folks) and think women’s bodies are absolutely magical.

And yet here I am, staring down this poster every day – with this pop artist’s vagina at my eye level (not even kidding – it’s like: rap poster, garden gate, hedge, OH JESUS! VAGINA!) – and I am not turned on. Not even close. Because I am also a musician, and I think we need to restart the dialogue around the hyper-sexualisation of female musicians.

“But what about Gaga?” I hear you cry, “What about Madonna? These are brilliant, talented women who use sex to sell records and they are amazing! Do you have a problem with them too??”

Here’s the thing with that: CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING.

When those women came to the fore, they went out of their way to wield their sexuality as their creative tool to challenge, surprise and subvert. They were hell-bent on carving a path in their industry, and they did. They have also both been open, once they reached a certain level of success, about the levels of sexual assault, control and oppression they have been subject to within industry environments. 

I have observed that many women in this industry – my industry – are subject to the same kind of treatment and terrible pressure to “put out” physically somehow – in marketing arenas or otherwise – in order to improve their career prospects or sell their music. 

I have suffered comments like this: “It was good, but you’re beautiful and you should make more of that.” 

…which, experience has taught me, is code for show more skin and wear more make-up. Notably, this comment was delivered after I had smashed a set in front of a full house, playing four instruments, sometimes simultaneously.

As a musician, surely it’s the music that you want to be the most appealing thing you put out there. Case and point: Laura Marling, Bjork, Marika Hackman, Kimbra, Grimes, Adele, Sia, Lorde… I could rattle off examples for hours.

These women have sung about, discussed, even displayed their sexuality in different ways, but they didn’t feel the need to present me with their vagina on a poster (although if any of them had gone down the Georgia O’Keefe route, I might have enjoyed that). 

It’s not like I’m not aware that sex appeal hasn’t been linked to pop music since its existence. After all Elvis didn’t get his “Pelvis” nickname for nothing. We all want to be sexy and considered sexually attractive. 

Sex is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing. There is nothing challenging or groundbreaking about this kind of sexual imagery, it’s just consuming women’s bodies visually in a way that seems bizarrely dis-associative – a trend in the media that has been banally rampant since forever. 

It’s like: Oh look. Another bum. Another pair of boobs. Another cheeseburger. 

That’s the lack of creativity I feel I am being presented with when looking at a poster like the one I described. I’m not being presented with a person, or even a talent – I’m being presented with an assembly of body parts, positioned for my arousal. Or – if not my arousal, then somebody’s (if you don’t know what ‘the male gaze’ is, Google it now).

To wrap up, I had the pleasure of hearing marvellous former Spice Girl Melanie C muse on the topic at an industry event called Women In Music recently:

“I’m sick of seeing everybody’s bum. It has escalated… Nothing’s shocking any more. There has to be more than this.”

When it comes to female pop artists, I just want to see their talent. And when I say their talent, I don’t mean their c**t.

@iamrookes

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