Sexuality and Subjecthood

The other day a friend told me about an artist having a problem with the message portrayed in the Lady Gaga & Beyonce video for telephone, calling it “socially-irresponsible”. I remember asking if it was the mass murder part, the glamorizing prison part, or evading police part that was problematic, and she went on to say that this artist only specifically stated that them pushing the envelope in their manner of dress was irresponsible (something along the lines of “how long before someone does a video naked“). I personally feel that it’s far more socially irresponsible for parents to not pay attention to the media that their kids are consuming than for people to be dressed scantily in a video (granted you can’t be there every single second… but isn’t that what parental controls and V-Chips are for? People shouldn’t have to be excessively censored and denied freedom of speech/expression since you suck as a parent*) .

All of this brings me to the subject of this blog. Why did this artist, out of all of the videos with half naked women in them, choose this one to bash? If anything, this would be the last one I’d have a problem with because unlike other videos where the half naked women are props, Lady Gaga and Beyonce were the stars of this video and were part of a clear narrative. Did they have to be half naked in this narrative? Probably not, but I don’t think it was gratuitous (it’s not like they were running around in pasties and thongs, the stuff was pretty fashion forward). The important thing was that they had agency and were subjects who chose to show their bodies as opposed to the more often observed half-naked thing to be consumed with no agency, story, or inherent value to a narrative other than being enticing/nice to look at. When watching this video I was engaged in the story, and while I enjoyed that the main characters were half-naked and attractive, that wasn’t the only focus (unlike a video such as “Single Ladies” which could be just as effective watched on mute… yes I am aware that is pretty objectifying, but at least in that video Beyonce still has more subjecthood than the random video chicks of the past 20 years).

So what’s my point in all of this? My point is that there is nothing wrong with a display (gratuitous or not) of flesh when the actors (in a narrative or real life) are still given the opportunity to be subjects and have some inherent value other than consumption. I think a woman’s body is one of the most beautiful things one could behold on this earth, but when we forget that this body is not just a thing, but a person, things go awry. In this society we’re constantly fed that a woman is only worth what we can see of her, that women are commodities to be bought and sold, and that people can claim a right to these bodies because they are nothing more than objects to be possessed. This sense of entitlement leads to a whole host of problems. Even when men are sexualized and objectified for the sole purpose of consumption, they are usually given an automatic subjecthood that is often denied to women. (I have a theory that this is why promiscuous men are seen as players while promiscuous women are automatically labeled whores. Men are seen as subjects consuming an object so that expression of sexuality is perfectly fine and holds little moral weight on that person’s character. Women however, are seen as objects measured by their level of purity so the more this object is consumed, the less value it has. Once a woman is allowed subjecthood, she is judged morally because of this idea that she failed to protect her purity as an object.) Expressing one’s sexuality through manner of dress (or lack thereof), through words, or consensual behavior is perfectly fine as long as everyone regardless of sex, gender, race, etc. is still allowed to be a person, to have their bodies and decisions respected, and this subjecthood is always present. When we start reducing people to objects, we start treating people like objects instead of appreciating their humanity… that’s what’s really “socially irresponsible.”


~ by hirandnow on April 5, 2010.

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