21st century sluts

Could underground music's embrace of the S word be male gaze's end – or its final victory?

21cs

God forbid being called a slut, a bitch. A loose woman giving it away to anyone who’ll take it with no regard for virtue, a harpy who can’t keep her silly mouth shut. When you put that way, it sounds a bit old-fashioned. That’s probably why a groundswell of young women performers –the mutant spawn of punk, hip hop and the Internet, with muffs out, gums flapping –could give a damn. Dominique Young Unique is showing her ass, Lady is riding dick like a pro, Junglepussy is hustling her pussy muscle and Brooke Candy just wants to fuck right now. These are women celebrating their sex and being very, very vocal about it.

Hence, another face for Post-feminism, bringing liberal transgression into pop and reclaiming a language that for too long has been used as a mechanism for shame and ridicule, reducing its subjects to a series of misogynistic and heterosexist connotations. Brooke Candy leads the way with her #FagMob entourage as she announces “slut is now a compliment”, while dressed like a bionic stripper with a baby on a leash. Azealia Banks builds on Nicki Minaj’s insistence that assertive women get labeled bitches, by adding a positive bias to the Diva complex with “ratchet bitches make the world go round”, in her ‘L8R’ interlude on Fantasea.

It echoes the beginnings of Third wave feminism with 1994’s “All Women Are Bitches” by Riot Grrrl’s Fifth Column, nearly 15 years earlier. The difference now is that this crop of Feminists doesn’t simply mock the sexist attitudes behind such language through irony, but they coopt that very language as a marker of empowerment. So, while SlutWalks subvert Michael Sanguinetti’s assertions that women who don’t want to be victimized "should avoid dressing like sluts", Brooke Candy announces “slut is now a compliment” while getting topless and making out with girls. 

That right there, is not beyond criticism. Grimes spoke out against the male gaze in music when she said, “I'm tired of creeps on message boards discussing whether or not they'd ‘fuck’ me”, and in the realms of Brooke Candy’s ‘sexy feminism’, it can be difficult to distinguish sex positivity and taking ownership of one’s own body from an internalisation of that very objectification. Another troubling aspect of the Brooke Candy persona is the dichotomy of power relations, no longer limited to essentialist ideas of gender but a binary of ‘types’ of people. As a representation and appropriation of typically ‘masculine’ traits Brooke Candy is “bangin’ models in the back” in ‘Everybody Does’ and as we open the gender spectrum, perhaps we should watch what people like Brooke Candy are starting to represent. 

Such Libertarianism isn’t without its problems in terms of the pressures of pornification and cultural insensitivity, but as Third wave feminist founder, Rebecca Walker wrote in her introduction to To Be Real, “prevalent notions of how empowered women look, act, or think is simply another impossible contrivance of perfect womanhood, another scripted role to perform in the name of biology and virtue.” No one is flawless and that’s exactly the point. Just so you know, women cuss, shit and fuck like everyone else and it’s about time we came to terms with that. There are fags, dykes and cunts among us and if you associate any negative associations with the words, then that’s not your prejudice. It’s all of ours. 

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