Friday, May 11, 2012

Sexy Baby

Addicted to Love - Florence + The Machine (mp3)
Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands - Phoenix (mp3)

“There is this celebration of the average—that you can become a celebrity by just doing extreme things.” -- Ronna Gradus, co-director, Sexy Baby

I believe we’re on the verge of something amazing. And by we, I mean women. But by women, I mean us. Something good. Something better.

Mostly I’m just hoping for a continuation of the women’s equality movement that has been slowly -- too slowly -- gaining ground year after year, decade after decade. We’ve generally been a two-steps-forward, one-step-back culture when it comes to matters of social and civil justice. Progress never occurs quickly enough for those in need of it, and far too fast for those standing in its way.

The challenge of growing up female in America will never be anything but daunting, anything less than a challenge, but I increasingly believe that my daughters will raise daughters in a better society. Will our culture still be image-obsessed and hypersexual? Will women be their own most venomous critics? Maybe. But it feels less inevitable than it used to.

First, Ashley Judd gets all righteously pissed off about her puffy face. And no matter what people think of Ashley Judd, her observations are bold, confident and generally beyond opinion. You don’t get the feeling, when she denies plastic surgery and hormone work, that she’s the Mark Maguire or Roger Clemens of female celebrities. Her anger feels real, and justified. And the people she targets deserve to feel ashamed... even if they don't.

Then, I see the trailer and read a great interview with the two filmmakers for Sexy Baby, a new documentary that explores the hypersexualized culture of today and three women caught in its vortex.

Then I read a really cool interview with Shirley Manson, lead singer of Garbage, in SPIN online, in which this Q&A catches my eye:
Garbage was always synonymous with a certain kind of sexy. Is that something you came to embrace over the years? 
No, I find it laughable. I was 28 when Garbage broke, so I was old enough to understand the danger in tying your worth to sex appeal. It's a trap for women because it's something they can't hold on to. To me, who you are is the most important thing. What you do says more about your value in the world than how you look. I really believe that, and those are the strengths you can rely on when things get tough, because they inevitably do. That line of thinking stops women from believing in themselves as artists, from being curious and brave. Instead, we wind up with girls that sound ten a penny, who are coming off tour and having their songs handed to them. We're not hearing authentic experiences from women.
Brilliant. And this from a confessed incurable cutter. You don't have to be completely stable to see the insanity of our image-obsessions.

I’m not a “Darkling,” as Shirley calls her Garbage fanatics. I never particularly obsessed over Shirley the way I have over... well, Ashley Judd comes to mind... but I always thought she exuded a kind of hypnotic sexuality. Far more importantly, I always liked their music. Garbage is just a better-packaged and less freaky version of Curve, but that's mostly a compliment.

But what I’m loving about these women is how comfortable they seem to be getting with the ridiculousness of it all. They have the age and experience to know better. Yes, they’ve both earned plenty of greenbacks by milking their sexuality, so some might dismiss their comments as hypocrisy. But they’ve never been merely about sexuality. Their sexuality has been part of a gestalt. Asking them to remove that portion of themselves isn’t particularly fair; and neither woman has oversold it in comparison to most sex objects in similar positions.

The danger of our culture will not go away. Girls and young women will always be the most vulnerable, the most desperate to please, the most willing to take foolish chances for what they perceive as fame or love or glory. They’re also the ones most likely to fall for someone else’s bullshit explanations for baring themselves.

But the more women -- especially strong, grown, adult women -- who fight this, both publicly and in their own homes with their daughters, the better our chances to improve in this area.

And I believe we will, I really do.

Then again, I’ve watched the Kate Upton “Cat Daddy” video three times in the last week. So maybe I’m just kidding myself. But I hope not.

You can hear Garbage's entire new album streaming live from SPIN.


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