We need to talk about… Britney

Britney Spears Slumber Party feminism

Earlier this week, Britney Spears released her brand new video for Slumber Party, one of my favourite tracks from her latest album, Glory. I watched it immediately; like I said, I love the song, and I’ve adored Britney since the moment she “oh-by-bay by-bay”ed her way into my pop-loving heart with …Baby One More Time, way back in 1998, when I still thought my dad knew everything and the concept of virginity was important. But I digress.

I was struck by a couple of things – Britney’s hair extensions, for one, which just never look great (why not?). Her over-enthusiastic nose contouring, which looks odd and makes her look slightly alien. Then I started thinking about her character in the video, if you can derive any plot line from it – she’s making her way through a party; she’s writhing on a couch with Tinashe, who features on the track; she seduces a man (kind of) by licking spilled milk (analyse that) up from a Beauty and the Beast-style dining room table.

This isn’t just about Britney Spears

I posted about it on Facebook, asking how one would ever explain this to a child. I wasn’t, strictly speaking, talking about Britney any more – my confusion is more general. Why are women in music videos still depicted as strippers? Why is this grown woman – arguably one of the biggest female pop stars on the planet – being sexualised in such an extreme fashion, and who is it meant to be titillating? The example used was Britney Spears, but the point is universal – sub in any female pop star and both the representation and the question would be the same.

Of course, the fact that it is Britney Spears makes this a rather unique case; this is the woman, after all, who has been under the conservatorship of her father since her very public breakdown in 2008.

The music industry – sexist? Say it ain’t so!

I’m not sure where my Facebook commenters came from (are there people who keep a close eye on Britney-related content?), but the reaction to my post was swift – stop hating on Britney, they said. Apparently I was slut-shaming; I was body-shaming; my inference that she and Tinashe’s faux-lesbian act was in some way a product of sexism in the music industry was a demonstration of my homophobia; Britney is a grown woman who makes her own choices and is free to act out her sexuality however she wishes.

Except, of course, that free choice implies a circumstance in which all other things are equal – or, in other words, you can’t possibly believe that a woman has made a free choice within an industry that will reward her for making one choice over another.

It’s not the only industry, either…

Let’s not pretend like the music industry is the only one in which women are under pressure to appear – or to be – sexy. It’s a pressure that exists across all industries and in all facets of life. From the time we hit puberty, it is made so very clear to us – through the images we see in the media, on billboards, in advertisements and on TV – that sexiness is a lofty goal, and one that’s most definitely worth aiming for.

The sad thing is, we don’t really need to explain this to children. By the time they’re old enough to understand, they’ll already get it; they’ll have absorbed all of the messages contained in magazines and newspapers and movies and cartoons and music videos and news bulletins.

They’ll know that J-Lo is praised for “still being sexy” at 47; they’ll know that a sexy woman is more desirable than a smart woman; they’ll know that an angry woman will “never get laid”  (not sexy = bad); they’ll know that women are judged on their hair and their outfits and their boobs and their stomachs, while men are judged on their merits.

Of course, there are exceptions – but exceptions prove the rule. Sex still sells, and until we (a) stop buying it and (b) start questioning it, we’re just setting our daughters, and their daughters, up to live by a set of parameters that are narrowing by the day.

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Comments

    • Ava
    • November 22, 2016

    Really enjoyed this blog post,
    It’s exactly how I feel and I think you are spot on and deadly accurate… as a young woman I do fear for my younger cousins and sisters they are growing and maturing younger .. they feel like they have to wear make up sexy underwear and clothes as early as age 10 .. when I was 11 I certainly didn’t have Calvin Klein undies on my “Santa list” .
    I believe things are only going to continue along this way because of how our young men and women are being sent messages on how to be sexy and successful! It’s a struggle to find oneself as it is and being made feel you must fit societies standards definitely is something we can do without.
    Selena Gomez made a comment at her acceptance speech for an award she won at this years amas , she said “I don’t want to see your bodies on Instagram , I want to see what’s in here” .
    She has struggled like us all but so publicly her honestly and the way she uses her voice for good is why I admire her along with her talent , I am a big fan!
    Putting that aside , a good few months back she was photographed in a bikini after gaining weight .. she looked healthy not overweight by any means she was shammed and the talk of tabloids.. this isn’t about Selena Gomez like it wasn’t all about Britney but as I enter my 20’s I am beginning to see so many distasteful things that are so shocking … we must support and love one another because it doesn’t look like it will change !

    • Eve
    • November 22, 2016

    Love your blog and enjoy reading it but I am a bit annoyed by this article. You’ve criticised her hair extensions and contouring ‘issues’ in the first paragraph yet you chastise the music industry for pressuring women to look good. I think little girls learn an awful lot from us big girls, our words and actions. Yes the billboards etc certainly interfere, but empowerment starts at home. If you are going to criticise another female’s appearance make sure you do it silently. Otherwise you’re just adding to the noise.

  1. Eve, I take your point; I guess, for me, they’re kind of two separate issues, although obviously coming from the same place! The first is, why can’t they make Britney look deadly, when (a) she is incredibly beautiful and (b) there’s loads of money behind her. Like, her hair always looks dodge. I’d say that about that particular hair, no matter what the video was like. My second issue isn’t really about women being under pressure to look good – it’s about the hyper sexual representation of women in particular facets of our culture, so it doesn’t really have that much to do with her hair / makeup, but more about why she’s dressed up to look (and act, in this case) like a blow-up sex doll.

    As for “empowerment”, I am so incredibly tired of the misappropriation of that word. Empowerment is about letting women know that they’re more than the sum of their parts, that they can achieve everything they want and don’t have to be restricted by their gender – to me, contouring and hair extensions have ZERO to do with empowerment, and therefore, criticism of the same can’t be seen to be taking away from it.

    • Peter
    • December 30, 2016

    I think you blame her too much for that clip.

    Yes when i saw her on the table licking that milk, i was like “what the hell is she doing, this makes no sense”. And yes being fit and sexy seems very important today.

    But this is a global thing, not only women :
    1. This is pop music. I mean it’s like those artists are “recruited” based on their body, we don’t even know if some are able to sing as they always do playback. And not only women
    2. Men also deal with those images. You won’t tell me the guy in the clip is normal, or like all the men you meet everyday
    3. Some industries (underwear, perfume, pop music, cinema…) are particularly selling beautifull fit bodies and perfect faces. Men didn’t have to be sexy years ago, while some were, but they are more and more sexualized today.
    4. In everyday life, sexy men and women will have some easy points, just because they are sexy and people will be more gentle with them. Sad but true.

    Being fit and sexy is a skill in life, just like other social skills, emotional intelligence, or any skill not related to relationships. You can be sexy and intelligent. You don’t have to be sexy to get laid (while yes it is easier) and being sexy won’t give you particularly awesome jobs (at least compared to great studies).

    You focus a lot in this article on how you can explain that to young people : maybe the point is to make them understand this is one particular skill, and there are a lot of other skills in life that are much more important. Unless you want to be a pop star.

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