Booty call-out

How did sexuality become the single most crucial way for women in pop culture to demonstrate their power?


This has indisputably been the year of the big, naked ass. 

Kim Kardashian, curvaceous reality TV star and wife of Kanye West, upped the ante last week when she “broke the internet” by posing nude for Paper magazine. One particularly meme-worthy image features the 34-year-old’s bare, greased-up backside and tiny waist, contrasted with a prim, doe-eyed Kardashian vacantly gazing back at you, dear viewer, over a perfectly tanned shoulder.

As eye-opening as the images are,  (who knew such a big arse could be so flawless?), Kardashian was just following a trend established by other bubble-butted pop stars. Nicki Minaj’s art for the single Anaconda had the rapper squatting in a pink thong, also staring back at the camera over her shoulder. “I wanna see all the big fat-ass bitches in the motherfucking club. Fuck you if you skinny bitches,” Minaj declares at the end of the song. 

Jennifer Lopez, equally famous for her rump, invited rapper Iggy Azalea to join her in some serious fleshy ass-shaking in her video for Booty.

It’s hard to think of any woman-driven pop culture gestures that don’t ooze sexuality these days, and empowerment through female sexuality is emphasized everywhere. 

Women are squatting all over Instagram, showing off their strip-club-worthy asses (previously considered a liability requiring shrinkage in order to be considered hot) to the masses. We got your class politics, we got your body politics. Got it.

But how did sexuality become the single most crucial way for women in pop culture to demonstrate their power? Since when was a woman’s fuckability so important to her self-esteem? And is this helping us find an equal footing in the real world? 

Sure, others before her paved the way, but Madonna was once controversial because she titillated audiences while also using symbolism in her work that rejected the religious shaming of female sexuality. That was around the time when feminists protested the use of words like “ho” and “bitch” in hip-hop, and the women’s power suit became so ubiquitous, even high school kids on 90210 had shoulder pads.

Women lost the fight against misogyny in hip-hop Minaj herself is calling her listeners bitches. We certainly work a lot outside the home now, albeit for 26 cents less per dollar than men doing the same things. We definitely won the fight to be overtly sexual, yet women are still accused of inviting sexual assault and harassment despite innumerable campaigns to change that way of thinking. 

We’re still not reporting sexual assault after it happens, as the Jian Ghomeshi story and its aftermath have reminded us. 

Women might not be sure about what female sexuality really is yet, seeing as we seem mostly to be mimicking what we think men want. Nor are we properly equipping kids with info about how to interpret the overt sexual images found on any device that connects to the internet. Okay, okay, so we’re working on it.

I’m not eager to return to the days of slut-shaming. But I do want to see diversity in the ways we highlight and define female empowerment in pop culture. 

Can we de-emphasize sex and underline the idiosyncratic, complex characters of all women? Can we be individuals who happen to be attached to bodies?

Can we put female CEOs on the covers of magazines even if they don’t look like J Crew models? 

I’m not saying I need Ariana Grande to be uglier. But I do want women who rate as far down on the fuckability index as, say, Pitbull, to be famous, too. In fact, in order to gain true equality, these female pop stars of the future need to be as shitty at music as Pitbull. 

In her piece for Paper about Kardashian, Amanda Fortini writes, “We’re accustomed to our performers having onstage and backstage registers, but for [Kim Kardashian] there is no division between the two. This is, indeed, the definition of a reality star. She’s not performing – that is, at least not visibly. She is being, and being is her act.”

The reason this is not true is because it cannot be true. Unfortunately, there are no women who can just be. Not only is Kardashian one of the most contrived personalities out there, but all women are either conforming to expectations or reacting against something. If they try to just be, the world doesn’t let them and asks endless gendered questions about why they are the way they are.

 “I’m sick of having to publicly explain my sexuality, my confidence, my womanhood and my power,” Mish Way, frontwoman of White Lung, recently wrote on Pitchfork. “I am sick of being asked about it in every interview, every piece of press, every review written about me and my band.”

Not until our culture celebrates many ways of being – in pop culture and beyond – and then adds more to that list so there are too many to count and ways of being are like complex puzzles impossible to figure out, can women one day just truly be

And let’s continue celebrating all the world’s asses right into 2015, too. I can’t actually see mine from where I’m sitting – it’s physically impossible for me to actually meet the gaze of a man who admires its power. But I’m guessing that’s part of the allure.

kater@nowtoronto.com | @katernow

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