“Ain’t Your Mama”… But I Can Be

I would be lying if I said that J. Lo’s “Ain’t Your Mama” isn’t exactly the kind of bass-thumping, foot-stomping, YASS-inducing summer jam that I have all intentions of blasting loudly as I drive down the shore this July. And although this fact makes me feel like a terrible feminist, I find solace in Roxane Gay’s admission that she can still “dance her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible”.

But the suggestion that “Ain’t Your Mama” has begun some kind of “female revolution” is extremely troublesome.

The song itself is rife with pop-feminism: the kind of feminism that Taylor Swift touts self-indulgently on Instagram, while strutting around with her extremely exclusive girl group and suggesting to young girls that she and her tall leggy counterparts are somehow the norm or accessible. This pop-feminism, grounded in capitalism, privilege, and celebrity, while attempting to bring important issues into the public sphere, continues to fall short over and over again. Pop-feminism is, simply, based in shallow pseudo-feminist ideas.

Lopez’s video begins with a painfully acted scene in which she is admonishing a boyfriend at a payphone and proceeds to go back to her job as a news anchor to tell women to “get mad”.

What Lopez doesn’t make clear is what, exactly, are we getting mad about? Her use of, not so much radical as accessible, quotes from famous women like Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton do little to clarify the link between Lopez being mad at her boyfriend and why women, as a population, should also be “mad”. The suggestion is shallow, and allows women to feel that getting “mad” about an annoying boyfriend or boss is equivalent to being exasperated about the real issues of feminism: the wage gap, sex trafficking, domestic violence, genital mutilation, rape culture, LGBTQIA rights, and actually inclusive gender equality in all public and private spheres.

Simply being “mad” at a man does not make you a feminist.

The video and song continue in these baseless and tired stereotypes of men and women alike. The entire backbone of the song hinges upon the idea that women, all hetero-women in fact, are tired of being “mama”s to their boyfriends. They are tired of cooking, cleaning, and “doing yo’ laundry.” The men are also presented in cookie-cutter ways: the uninterested husband, the sexist boss, and boyfriends who “play videogames”. The suggestion that men are children and that women shouldn’t have to take care of them is precisely the kind of anti-feminist rhetoric that is preventing an important civil rights and social movement from moving forward authentically.

Just like fad paleo diets and the idiots who lose a spleen trying to do Crossfit lifts made for professional body-builders, pop-feminism has become just another bandwagon to jump on. While the rising public interest in feminism is great, we must be critical of what kind of feminism is really being learned. When hyper-rich celebrities like Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez are the ones producing the “feminist” messages that are heard around the world, well-versed feminists shudder at the irony that is vapid celebrities attempting (poorly) to engage critically in important social reform.

This is not to say all feminist celebrities are vapid and feminism-illiterate: people like Geena Davis, Emma Watson, and  Matt McGorry, for example, are using their celebrity status and privilege to do a lot of well-versed and invaluable feminist work. Unfortunately, without all the shimmer and shine that stars like Swift and Lopez bring to the table, well-versed feminist work is often overshadowed by pop glitz and glamour.

Which is why we have a larger cultural responsibility to critically analyze media that is so easily and rapidly consumed. It is hard to excuse Lopez’s song as simply entertainment fluff. If Lopez did not intend to send a larger message, she would not have included quotes from influential women, or use decade clothing cliches to imply that this “mama” problem has been happening for a long time, honey. It feels an awful lot like Lopez is trying to jump on the coattails of Beyonce’s influential and intersectional anthems from Lemonade. While Lemonade also faces important cultural critiques from influential feminist scholars, as far as feminism goes, “Ain’t Your Mama” ain’t anywhere near the cultural relevance of Lemonade.

And thus we must consider the following: what will we do when young hetero-girls think that they have a responsibility, in the name of female empowerment and independence, to shun the men they are trying to build relationships with because they don’t want to “be [his] mama”? And what will young hetero-men think when they hear songs that continue to suggest that, not only are they childish, but women don’t need, or want, them and can do everything just fine without them, thank-you-very-much? What will hetero-relationships look like when they are full of resentment from both sides: women assuming men need a “mama” and refusing to be one, and men continually being perceived as, at best, childish and, at worst, unnecessary? These are destructive messages to send, especially to the young people consuming this media passively.

I am not saying that young girls shouldn’t have the confidence to be independent and do things on their own, or that they should stay in relationships that are unfulfilling. But sometimes, we all need a “mama”. “Mama”s play an important role in every person’s development – we associate “mamas” with comfort and unconditional love. Why should these be things we should refuse to give to partners in a shallow attempt at independence? It’s nice to share the responsibility of laundry when you and your partner are both tired from work. It’s nice to share in cooking dinner for each other after a long day because one or the other is just not feeling like cooking tonight. These are the tenets of a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship: shared responsibilities, give and take. Some days we may feel like giving, and some days we may feel like taking.

Hetero men and women should share in the work of being each other’s “mama” from time to time. Unlike Lopez’s suggestion, a relationship is a two way street where mutual respect and shared responsibility is an expectation from both sides. We can’t just refuse to give any of these things to our partner because we are, somehow, “too good for that”.

 

#87

privileged perspective
blankets like snow
                           heavy
                           cold
                           and white
smothering
   the roots
   the soil
   the rocks
   the bugs
   the minerals
and all the creatures
big and small
that make our earth
   diverse.

#84

the worst thing for a woman to be
is any of the following:
driven
intelligent
witty
charming
independent
motivated
bright
hilarious
unique
energetic
tenacious
self-sufficient
dazzling
elegant
interesting
radiant
unyielding

because to be any of these is to be
threatening.

in terms of self preservation —

maybe there is safety in
ordinary.

why (society says) we can’t be friends

recently, a straight married male friend and i (a straight, 20-something engaged female) were in the middle of a conversation. we were both laughing and participating in general friendly conversation about star wars or music or some other shared nerdy interest.

suddenly, as though someone has sucked all the air out of the room, he stopped talking. his smile faded as he looked out the window listlessly. he left our conversation abruptly and without warning. it was as if we had laughed too hard or smiled too genuinely and his ring, like a noose, tightened around his finger reminding him of what was waiting for him at home. which, society tells me, is probably a wretchedly jealous, nagging and shrewish, wrinkly, old, cranky, saggy wife who is ruining his life.

straight women feel we understand these kind of straight men. society tells us that these men are lost. these men are aimlessly wandering through the lonely woods of monogamy, looking through the gaps in the trees for any sense of a life outside of a forest they once willingly walked into. the patchy sunlight through the tree tops is a reminder of what exists outside the boundaries of the forest of monogamy, a reminder that there could be more. in contrast to women who are told they are worthless without children and a family, these men are taught to become weary, angry, and resentful of domestic life.

society tells straight women that we can save these hopeless men from their domesticated hellhole of a life. we can fix you! we can show you fun! we can make you happy again! we can be your sunlight! we can be happy and carefree, in spite of that nagging and shrewish, old and wrinkly wife, and breathe life back into you, you poor, sad, entitled man!

at least, that’s what our backwards societal rhetoric wants straight women and men to believe.

but what about straight women who merely want friendships with men? a shared experience? a platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex? what about women who honestly respect the boundaries of marriage and relationships, are perhaps married themselves, and sincerely want to be ‘just friends’?

the inability for straight men and women to be ‘just friends’ is the unfortunate reality of a patriarchy which describes young single women as coy and shallow manic pixie dream girls and older married women as controlling, nagging, rage bitches like skyler white. and when real-life relationships develop with people we understand in unrealistic terms, there is a disconnect between what we understand to be true and what is actually true.

women can’t hold eye contact too long, smile too genuinely, share excitement in shared interests, or begin a conversation just for conversation’s sake with these straight taken men. doing any of these things would make us the enemy to the wives and girlfriends of these men and that, unfortunately, is always in the back of our heads.  and women of american society are taught to fear and loathe other women we perceive as threatening (prettier, taller, skinnier, richer, funnier, smarter); especially when said woman is a friend of your husband or boyfriend.

when the once fun manic pixie dream girl inevitably ages into a wrinkly version of a nagging and shrewish skyler white (because women over 40 are useless, after all), men are told to search desperately for the high he had once before. he can find another manic pixie dream girl who can pull him out of this horrible, no-good, monogamous slump. after all, in a patriarchy where women are valued for fertility, beauty, and youth, straight men are painted as deserving of a woman who possesses the holy trinity of attractiveness.

but what if we lived in a world where women weren’t described in binaries: as either young and hot or old and shrewish? if women weren’t pitted against each other in competition for the nearest man? what if women weren’t described by some as harlots who use their body parts to taunt men who just can’t help themselves (says the duggar’s christian patriarchy life code)? if straight women weren’t taught to fear losing their man to another younger, prettier, sexier woman?

if we lived in a world where the sexes weren’t described in stereotypical and damaging ways, platonic friendships between men and women wouldn’t be such a cultural anomaly.

our hetero-sphere simply doesn’t have room for an understanding that a straight man and a straight woman can be friends. without sex. or sexual incentives. or any benefits at all other than those that come along with friendship. you know those silly things like trust, compassion, companionship, caring, and understanding to name a few.

our culture and media shape the way we perceive each other and our relationships to each other. when toxic stereotypes are perpetuated over and over again through media, our ideologies and understandings of each other begin to take shape. these insidious, as anita sarkeesian calls them, tropes and archetypes are perpetuated over and over again on television, in movies, books, and in music and video games.

for example, we know all too well the stereotypical man who fears engaging with other women without his wife or girlfriend around. or when a straight man’s wife or girlfriend is around he is suddenly reserved, as though he will go home and his wife or girlfriend will lazer beam him into telling “the truth” about whatever perceived relationship she thinks exists between any other woman and him. he is the man who is consistently hiding his relationships with others.

but this male stereotype wouldn’t thrive without the female counterpart: the straight female trope who is extremely passive-aggressive and manipulative. she is a cat on her haunches, her hairs on end, rearing and ready to attack, hissing and spitting with jealousy at any woman who even looks in her man’s direction. as a wife, she will kick your ass for not taking out the garbage or changing the toilet paper roll the right way. She will literally nag you to death. she is calculating, judgmental, terrifying, and scheming. her insecurities are practically oozing out of her mouth and nose, a thick green goop that can only be staunched by the vaporization of all other women off the face of the earth. despite the fact that women make up 51% of the american population, these tropes tell us that most women like their husbands and boyfriends to have very little interaction with other women.

the rhetoric of our society continues to perpetuate these stereotypes of straight men and women as reality through shows like the bachelor and the real housewives, even referring to the shows themselves as “reality tv”. but the reality is these shows tell us that women are vengeful, catty, obsessive, and will flip out if you even breathe in the direction of another woman . these shows also tell us that straight men deserve to have a woman who is young and hot, even if he is already married.

this kind of cultural ideology hurts women and men in different ways. men may come to the false understanding that their wives will not age, will not wrinkle, will not tarnish in any physical way. or they will see women as emotional messes who cry too much and can’t help but fall in love with every man they come in contact with.  conversely, women may begin to see other women as the enemy: someone to be beaten out for the prize of the man. we see these interactions played out on our screens and in our culture over and over again. the cyclical nature of these ridiculous non-truths are what continue the abusive and toxic heterosexual rhetoric surrounding straight relationships (and america’s pervasive homo and transphobia) and heterosexual platonic friendships in america.

when a society reveres women for fertility, youth, and attractiveness, women tend to view themselves as only valuable because of these things. unfortunately, when it comes to platonic friendships, women often struggle with understanding why a man would want to be friends with another woman for any reasons other than her youth and attractiveness. to combat this fear, women do whatever they can to be the youngest, prettiest, most supple-looking woman in the room. when we look critically at the narrative of our culture, it should be no surprise that american women spend an average of $426 billion dollars per year on beauty products. this harmful cultural ideology is perpetuated through media, causing a vast majority of women, about 91%, to feel unhappy with their appearance.

ultimately, this objectification leads to women being treated and viewed as objects. objectification becomes the overarching narrative of a woman’s participation in her own life: it affects the partners she chooses, the career she pursues, the goals she has for herself, the social issues she finds important, her ability to raise her voice literally and figuratively, and whether or not she feels as though her opinion is valued. most importantly, this detrimental objectification narrative will severely affect the way she will raise her own daughters.

this vicious and sinister cycle is the reasoning behind the familiar female mantra: “i hate women.”

how often have we heard this battle cry? some women wear it as a badge of honor; “i don’t need other women”. the reality is, only other women can understand the plights and difficulties of life as a woman. the problem is not other women, the problem is how society tells women to view other women. women need to be allies, confidants, and pillars of strength for each other. we cannot be deterred by the vitriolic media circus that paints exaggerated portraits of women and men which threaten our ability to live our own authentic lives.

when women tear each other down, see each other as competition, or participate in passive-aggressive manipulative mean girl behavior (like taylor swift’s song ‘bad blood’), nothing gets accomplished. instead, the iron wedge of patriarchy continues to drive women further and further apart.

women need to find and embrace the authentic sisterhood that can be found in each other, and stop seeing each other as an enemy to be beaten. the media needs to write men not as entitled patriarchs and women not as objects, but as people capable of providing more than just sexual gratification.

our entire culture rhetoric surrounding each gender needs to be examined and changed. only then can platonic relationships between the sexes genuinely thrive.

 

#everydaysexism

i drive a 2011 chevy camaro. i realize that this is a “flashy” vehicle but i’m young and i’m livin’.

the other morning, on my way to work, i stopped at a red light. a man pulled up next to me in a dated lexus hatchback with scratches and dents. i could see this man in my peripheral vision. this man was looking down and into my car. his gaze was burning into me.

while i usually avoid this type of visual bait, i turned my head in curiosity.

the man’s response was immediate. he gave my car the “once over”, the filthy familiar look that every female knows and despises, and then mouthed with over-enunciation and a piercing stare, “nice car”.

this man was balding. this man was over 40. this man was married.

this man was a fucking creep.

and yet, this man felt entitled enough to not only tell me that he liked my car through two car windows while stopped at a red light on a highway at 7 AM, but to basically lick his lips and drool as he did so.

my question is this: if i were a man, would he have said anything at all? or would he have looked at me, a manly man driving a manly sports car way more bad-ass than his sorry-ass lexus, and turned away feeling emasculated and defeated?

i can’t help but think that if i were a man, he wouldn’t have done a damn thing.

#everydaysexism