Rashida Jones, Beautiful Tropical Fish, on Slut-Shaming Incident: A Pajiba Debate
As you may recall, a while back, Rashida Jones tweeted the following:
It led to a great deal of backlash, accusations of slut-shaming and misogyny. Now, Jones responds via an essay she’s penned for Glamour Magazine lamenting the “pornification” of women.
Let me say up front: I am not a prude. I love sex; I am comfortable with my sexuality. Hell, I’ve even posed in my underwear. I also grew up on a healthy balance of sexuality in pop stars. Yes, we had Madonna testing the boundaries of appropriateness, but then we also had Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Cyndi Lauper, women who played with sexuality but didn’t make it their calling card. And for every 2 Live Crew “Me So Horny” video girl, there was Susanna Hoffs singing tenderly about her eternal flame.
Twenty years later, all the images seem homogenous. Every star interprets “sexy” the same way: lots of skin, lots of licking of teeth, lots of bending over. I find this oddly…boring. Can’t I just like a song without having to take an ultrasound tour of some pop star’s privates?
I don’t want to fall into an apocalyptic swoon of “will no one think of the children?!” but there is a pervasive culture of hypersexualization that makes me uncomfortable. It’s the idea that this is what we have to give, this is what we are, this is what we’re good for, so shake it, and the idea that doing that by choice means we’re somehow in control of our sexuality. Why does grinding onstage have to be bad? But, why does it have to be good? Why does that have to be the benchmark of sexual freedom?
I’m not gonna lie. The fact that I was accused of “slut-shaming,” being anti-woman, and judging women’s sex lives crushed me. I consider myself a feminist. I would never point a finger at a woman for her actual sexual behavior, and I think all women have the right to express their desires. But I will look at women with influence—millionaire women who use their “sexiness” to make money—and ask some questions. There is a difference, a key one, between “shaming” and “holding someone accountable.”
So back to the word whore. My hashtag was “stopactinglikewhores.” Key word, acting. Like I said, I’m not criticizing anyone’s real sex life; as George Michael tells us, “Sex is natural, sex is fun.” But the poles, the pasties, the gyrating: This isn’t showing female sexuality; this is showing what it looks like when women sell sex. (Also, let’s be real. Every woman’s sexuality is different. Can all of us really be into stripper moves? The truth is, for every woman who loves the pole, there’s another who likes her feet rubbed. But in pop culture there’s just one way to be. And so much of it feels staged for men, not for our own pleasure.)
The next quote is the part that really spoke to me personally, as the parent of a daughter, as a parent who 19 months in is already concerned about how I’m supposed to teach my daughter to have a healthy relationship with her sexuality but how not to think that sexuality is all she has going for her. I don’t want my kid judging others for having sex or being sexual but I also don’t want her dancing on a pole for a guy’s attention. I don’t know how to find that line, and I don’t know how to find the between agreeing with Rashida and feeling guilty about it, feeling like I shouldn’t and not being able to pinpoint why.
And then there’s this: What else ties these pop stars together besides, perhaps, their entangled G-strings? Their millions of teen-girl fans. Even if adult Miley and Nicki have ownership of their bodies, do the girls imitating them have the same agency? Where do we draw the line between teaching them freedom of sexual expression and pride in who they are on the inside? Are we even allowed to draw a line?
I’m torn. I want a world where baring it all doesn’t make a woman a whore. I want a world where people shouldn’t have to feel bad for putting sexuality on display. But I also want a world where a woman’s body isn’t a commodity bought and sold by record companies, music video directors and Terry Richardson for the titillation of the public, used to make these women seem like naughty bad girls because all that does is make them seem like what they’re doing—what they’re being told to do—is bad and naughty. It’s a fucked up, weird situation and I don’t even know where to stand, and as soon as I think I’m standing I fall over because even when I think I know, I’m not standing at all, just leaning and wavering. And I don’t like that. It makes me feel like an awful feminist, like an awful person.
We’ve come to a point in the conversation where I don’t know where the line is or if it exists or should exist. And I guess I’m glad this point is here at all, that the conversation is being had. This is a good problem to have. But the conversation needs to keep being had, and shutting someone down every time the conversation begins or decrying anything less than a celebratory “you go girl” as slut-shaming is not the way to do that.
So, let’s have it. That’s what the comment section is here for.