The latest fashion for pop singers? Feminism. Following Beyonce and Lily Allen's footsteps, Jennifer Lopez's new video "I Luh Ya Papi" features the singer surrounded by a bevy of Speedo-clad, waxed, oiled men, a deliberate inversion of videos like Robin Thicke's hit "Blurred Lines" and countless others. If three's a trend, I think we can count this as an official marker of a moment in pop culture in which feminism has gone mainstream and patriarchy's most prominent critics have emerged from a scene long-dominated by it.
There's no mistaking the fact that Lopez is deliberately trying to flip the gender script here. The video opens with Lopez and two friends literally laughing in the face of a male record executive who is pitching ideas for the video for the pop star's latest single. After lots of eye rolls and giggles, Lopez's friend says: "If she was a dude, they would seriously have her up in a mansion with all these half-naked girls or maybe even in a yacht." And then her other friend jumps in: "Why do the men always objectify the women, in every single video? Why can't we for once objectify the men?" And thus is born the concept for "Papi."
In December, Beyonce put out a video for a song called "Flawless" in which she chronicles the ridiculous beauty standards women are subjected to and even samples a TEDx talk on feminism from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And back in November, Lily Allen put out "Hard Out Here," also highlighting the double standards for men and women in pop culture. "If I told you about my sex life you'd call me a slut / When boys be talking about their bitches, no one's making a fuss," she sings. (As many noted, Allen could have been more critical about racist tropes in pop culture as well.)
These aren't the first ladies to inject feminism into pop songs in the 21st century. Pink's had two hits, "Don't Let Me Get Me" in 2001 and "Stupid Girls" in 2006, both of which are takedowns of the misogyny of the music industry. The difference though is that Pink's bulging biceps and cropped hair have always positioned her as alternative, an outsider. Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, resemble Disney princesses.
These women having it both ways, taking full advantage of the power of their beauty and sexuality while also critiquing this type of power, has attracted criticism of its own. Beyonce's appearance on the cover of Ms. magazine incited a major backlash, and Lopez is already being denounced for objectifying men and including a very short scene in which female back-up dancers in bikini tops and leopard leggings accompany a male rapper.
But the fact is, there is no Platonic ideal of a feminist, and if there were it certainly wouldn't be Beyonce, Lopez, or me for that matter. It is near impossible to eschew everything and anything that can be linked to the patriarchy, and even if one could, it would be an identity so radical that it would be nearly impossible to sustain. There is just no perfect way to resist centuries upon centuries of male dominance and occasionally put on lipstick and a pair of heels. Or even have a kid, for that matter. The good news is that past generations of women didn't have to be perfect feminists to elicit change, and neither do we.
Sure, by virtue of being in the context of pop culture, which still far disproportionately sexualizes women in order to make a buck, one might not have the capacity to be as challenging to the status quo as, say, an underground lit mag at Barnard. But to ignore the immense platform these women have, and the fact that they are using it to point out the double standards applied to women as talented, wealthy, and powerful as they are, is to overlook their enormous latitude to make change. Considering Jennifer Lopez's 27 million Twitter followers, 75 million records sold worldwide, and the fact that in 2012 Forbes said she "may be the "most powerful entertainer on the planet," all I have to say is, you are welcome in my feminism club anytime, mami. Oh, did I mention that "Papi" already has ten million and counting views on YouTube?
Elissa Strauss writes about gender and culture for TheWeek.com.
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