A critique of the hot take that no one asked for
In this week’s episode of Men Explain Feminism To Me, Russell Brand has made a 17-minute video pontificating over whether Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” is a “feminist masterpiece” or “porn”. ‘Why do I care about his opinion on this?’, I hear you ask: You don’t. Nobody does.
In the clip, the 45-year-old comedian shares his thoughts on the “controversial music video”, rhetorically asking if women can “achieve equality by aspiring to and replicating the values that have been established by… a former dominator (men)”, before answering: “no”. Although he was apparently “spellbound” by the video, he says he isn’t sure “if it demonstrates progress”.
Because Cardi and Megan made “WAP” not only for men’s approval, but for Brand’s in particular, his opinion is, obviously, a devastating blow. Here are some thoughts.
SURPRISE: RUSSELL BRAND IS NOT AN AUTHORITY FIGURE ON FEMINISM
Brand’s personal brand (sorry) has always centred on his reputation as a lothario. Jonathan Ross once ‘protected’ Lily Allen from him on the 2007 Big Fat Quiz of the Year after warning that he was a “cocksman”; there’s a whole YouTube compilation of him “picking up girls”; he broke up with his wife via text; and, of course, there’s Sachsgate, when Brand left a voicemail for Andrew Sachs, bragging about having “fucked” his granddaughter. These are just a handful of examples – as well as the fact that he is a man – that prove Brand is not an authority figure on feminism.
As writer Ellie Mae O’Hagan wrote in a 2014 Guardian op-ed, “gender inequality isn’t just some side issue that can be picked up and dropped when men like Russell Brand feel like it”. O’Hagan asserts that if Brand wants to “start a revolution against structural inequality – as he famously told Jeremy Paxman he wants to – he needs to understand his own part in it, by listening to women’s experiences of sexism and thinking about how his past actions may have impacted upon the women around him”.
Brand has publicly ‘transformed’ his view of women, distancing himself from the perspective that made him famous – that women are sexual objects for his enjoyment – instead presenting as someone who supports female empowerment, but only if it’s performed in a way he approves of. According to Brand, it seems women cannot be empowered through their own displays of sexuality because they are only allowed to be sexualised by men. Women also can’t express the fact that they enjoy sex without it being presumed they’ve been tricked into this thinking by the patriarchy.
HE DESCRIBED THATCHER AS ‘A BRILLIANT POLITICIAN’
Why former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher was referenced in an ‘analysis’ of a US pop hit is beyond me, and yet, it happened. Brand said the argument about women empowering themselves by using tropes “established by men” is “easy to make when considering the leadership of Margaret Thatcher”. He asks, “Was Margaret Thatcher a feminist icon?” before answering, “No, because the values that she extolled, espoused, and conveyed were male values. She was a woman-man. She was a very, very powerful person; a brilliant politician, but her premiership did not lead to more opportunity for women”.
To be clear, Thatcher was neither a ‘woman-man’, nor a brilliant politician. It appears Brand is suggesting that women can only achieve power and success if they emulate ‘traditional male traits’, like conservatism and aggression. This view is unsurprising when you look back on his 2013 Guardian op-ed following Thatcher’s death, in which he criticised the ‘Iron Lady’ for being “oddly unmaternal”. For Brand, women in power must emulate men while simultaneously fulfilling their roles as dainty, nurturing mothers.
By Brand’s standards, then, how would a woman become a feminist icon? They can’t mirror “male values”, but they must be in a powerful position (which you can apparently only achieve by imitating men); they can’t embrace their sexuality, but they also shouldn’t be ashamed of it; and they can’t forgoe female stereotypes, but must be “warrior queens” by breaking out of these tired tropes.
If you ever find yourself in some otherworld debate re Thatcher being a bad ass girlboss, though, refer to comedian Eric Andre’s iconic back and forth with Spice Girl Mel B: “Do you think Margaret Thatcher had girl power?”
“Yes, of course,” says Mel.
“Do you think she effectively utilised girl power by funneling money to illegal paramilitary death squads in Northern Ireland?”
THERE WAS NO MENTION OF RACE
At no point in his 17-minute video does Brand reference the fact that “WAP” was created by two women of colour – a group whose actions are scrutinised more than any other. For two pop superstars (who have consistently seen Black women fetishised in popular culture) to reclaim their identities and sexualities, and centre themselves as powerful protagonists is revolutionary. And yet, Brand criticises it as harming the feminist movement. Men only seem to have an opinion on ‘feminism’ and equality when they deem women – and particularly Black women – to have done something wrong.
One central problem for men watching ”WAP” is that, for one of the only times in their lives, they don’t see themselves reflected on screen. If Cardi and Megan were dancing for men, would there have been the same outcry? The male gaze was once always the direct or indirect focus of music videos, but female artists have since ripped up that rule book. Reflecting on music videos of the last decade, Dazed writer Aimee Cliff summed it up perfectly last year: “By 2010, it was passé to make a video that catered to a man who sat and watched a woman dancing. By 2020, it feels like it’s also become pretty passé to make a video that subverts or comments on that old trope. In the 2020s, the stage is set for women to make pop ever more adventurous and even weirder, hopefully leaving the male gaze ever further behind like the dusty, ancient relic it should be.” And, as always, Black women are leading this charge.
And also any analysis that doesn't take into account the context of racialised and gendered notions of sexuality and what it means for BLACK WOMEN to reclaim that audaciously is inane and ahistorical xoxo. But also yes ur showing too much cleavage— Bolu Babalola (@BeeBabs) August 15, 2020
THERE ARE BIGGER FISH TO FRY WHEN IT COMES TO EQUALITY
Stop going deep on whether women can be sexy and feminist. There’s so many other issues surrounding gender equality that need to be addressed: an estimated three million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year; one in three women across the world have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime; women and girls account for 72 per cent of all human trafficking victims detected globally; there is a worldwide gender pay gap; the life expectancy of trans women in the US is just 35 years old; and 650 million women and girls across the world have been subjected to child marriage. Imagine what we could solve if high-profile white men were as passionate about these issues as they are about women dancing in music videos.
PLEASE LEAVE THAT SCOOP NECK IN 2010
Scoop necks are offensive to male empowerment because they are drawing on the “female value” of showing cleavage. Brand’s scoop neck sexualises him in such a way that it is offensive to me, and I have started recording my 17-minute gripe about it.