Feminism Redux – Grande bites back at Bette | The Socjournal

So, in an interview Bette Midler said that she was disappointment with the risque way young Hollywood tartlets were parading their bodies around. She specifically targeted little elf Ariana Grande when she said, and I quote,

It’s always surprising to see someone like Ariana Grande with that silly high voice, a very wholesome voice, slithering around on a couch looking so ridiculous. I mean, it’s silly beyond belief and I don’t know who’s telling her to do it. I wish they’d stop. I wish they’d stop. But it’s not my business, I’m not her mother. Or her manager. Maybe they tell them that’s what you’ve got to do. Sex sells. Sex has always sold…

No doubt Bette does have a good general idea of “who’s telling” Grande to strip, and no doubt Bette is sincere when she begs for it to stop. And she certainly does have the basic point down.  Sex sells, sex sells, sex sells, says Bette, and Grande is out their hawking it with the best of them!

Ah yes. Grande old damme looking back. When I was growing up it was unlikely that we’d have even heard Bette say something like that, but in the media saturated days of today’s youth, everybody and their dog has a voice and so Grande fires back, showing an old picture of Bette half nude, implying (rather strongly) that she is a hypocrite and saying, rather crudely, that “Bette was always a feminist who stood for women being able to do whatever the ‘F’ they wanted without judgement!”

You can see the outline of the school yard tit-for-tat here?

Bette called Grande a whore!

Grande called Bette a hypocrite!!

So what did Bette do?

Well, in an amazing show of grace and sophistication she admitted it, saying she was speaking like a reformed old whore, which she is. And good on her for admitting it because she hasn’t got a leg to stand on here. As Grande pointed out, Bette is clearly just as guilty as she and so why on Earth is she yapping about it now? Bette loses credibility, and loses face, because nobody listens to the condemnation of the kettle calling the pot black.


Far be it from me to get into these little squabbles but as a Sociologist two questions are raised by this little tit-for-tat. Question one is raised by the charge that sex sells. The question is, “what’s the problem with using sex to sell?” The second question is raised by Grande’s characterization of feminism as the struggle for women to do whatever the “F” they want. The question is, “is this really what Feminism is about?”

I want to deal with second question first. Is Grande’s representation of feminism accurate? Well, let me just say before I answer that that while I do support basic principles of gender equality, I ‘m no feminist myself and so my comments here are offered with the humble humility of someone who knows he’s putting words into someone else’s mouth. But even though I don’t know feminism that well, I do know feminism has not ever, ever, ever been about freeing women to be do whatever the “F” they want. That statement is as absurd as it is adolescent (though not surprising given Grande’s age). Feminism has been about the fight to get men to treat women like human beings, not about the fight for freedom to strip on stage!  As shocking as it might be to a young gun like Grande,  one hundred years ago women weren’t considered to be human beings. They were considered chattel (property) in the marriage, they weren’t allowed to work (except as maids and prostitutes), they weren’t allowed to vote, and they weren’t allowed to own property.They were thought of as stupid and emotional, sentimental and weak, and they weren’t allowed to be in the secret, oak ensconced inner chambers that their men were allowed to inhabit. One hundred years ago women’s only purpose in life was to be a maid and sex object for men. Sounds a bit harsh and maybe unbelievable to someone like Grande who seems to have no problem being an “object,” but its true. It is the way it was.

It is in the social context of the complete and utter de-humanization of women by men (otherwise known as patriarchy) that feminists emerged, empowered and raging.

They didn’t want to be exploited as maids.

They didn’t want to have their bodies used and abused.

They didn’t want to be bound by male conventions and they weren’t going to do the things men wanted them to do. In short, they wanted to be treated like humans, and so they marched down the street, burned their bras, and defied the patriarch.They had seen the truth, they were mad as hell, and they weren’t going to take it anymore. And that, little miss, is what feminism is all about. It is not about stripping on stage so the little boys of the world can oggle your body, it is about being treated like a human being.

Of course, I won’t judge here. If little miss feels like she’s acting like a human being in the role she is playing, more power to her. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with stripping in front of a million people, if that’s what makes you feel human. I just don’t think that the little misses of the world (or the little misters for that matte) should cheapen the work of the feminists by suggesting they fought for her right to be oggled. She is where she is because people before her had the good sense to stop accepting the status quo and to wake up and change the world.

Hopefully at this point I’ve established that whatever Grande is referring to when she talks about doing whatever the “F” she wants, it is not feminism. Be that as it may, there is another question raised and that question is “what’s the problem.” What’s the problem with using sex to sell, sell, sell. Grande is doing it now, Middler (and so many others) did it in past, so what’s the big dealeo? Well, if you want to understand that have to understand the general nature of prostitution. In order to understand the general nature of prostitute, let me define the term. First of all I would like to distinguish “selling” from prostitution. Selling something doesn’t necessarily make you a prostitute. We all have to sell things to survive. It is the nature of our modern market economies (for an absolutely brilliant, but exceedingly accessible, discussion of money, the economy, and market dynamics download the free Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Money and the Economy). I sell my intellect to the university for example, farmers sell their product, and some people sell sex. Unless you are prepared to call everybody on the planet a prostitute you can’t really use the term prostitute to refer to “selling” in  a general sense. Also, unless you are prepared to be a total hypocrite about it, you can’t just confine prostitute to those who sell sex. Prostitute isn’t about selling per se, it is about something else added on top of that.

So, if prostitution is not selling in a general sense, what is it? Well, I would like to restrict the term prostitute to someone who sells their time (their expertise, their labour, etc) out for somebody else’s use, specifically when they don’t agree with that use. For example, if you are a pacifist but in order to survive you work in a factory that creates guns and  bullets you have prostituted yourself for survival. Similarly if you don’t particular like sex with strangers, but you are forced to do so to survive, then you are a prostitute. If you really like having sex with strangers, then no problem. I am an intellectual and I can be a prostitute to. If I sell my intellectual powers in order to create systems of ideological control to serve an economic system I don’t agree with, just because I can’t survive any other way, then I am a prostitute just like the female forced to sell her body on the street.

Now, you’ll notice something about this definition and that is it makes prostitutes out of a lot, probably all, of us. This is because we all violate our ideals and sell ourselves out to one degree or another. It is the nature of the toxic economic system. It is a lucky person indeed who can live their lives in tune with their highest ideals.

Notice also that the definition includes an element of force. A prostitute is a prostitute not because they want to be, but because they are forced to be. The force can be physical, social, or even economic. If a women hasn’t got enough money to survive, and the only “opportunities” presented are to sell sex, what is she going to do. She is forced by her economic circumstances to sell herself. She is forced to do something she does not want to do. You can tell someone is a prostitute quite easily. If, given opportunity and needed , a prostitute will always choose to do something else instead.

With the above in mind we can define prostitute simply as someone who is forced (either physically, psychologically, socially, or economically) to sell their labour in ways that violate their own principles, morality, ideals, or goals.

With the above definition in mind we can return to the issue of Bette, Ariana, old whores, and young tarts. Sex is clearly part of their package, but are they prostitutes? I think Ariana would say no, but Bette might say yes. She admits it. She says, she’s a reformed old whore. It is interesting that both appear to be doing the same thing, but both see it quite differently. Why the difference of opinion. Well I think age, experience, and education are responsible. Bette is looking back on her life and the compromises she made and is coming to some negative conclusions. She may also be feeling responsibility. She sees the horrible sexploitation of the young women of this world for profit, has probably seen what this sort of “objectification of women” can lead to (e.g. high rates of violence and sexual abuse against women, neurosis, psychosis, and even (as Terri Hatcher painfully found out), suicide). I mean, the statistics are ridiculous. Two in three women will experience some form of sexual assault before they are thirty years old.


I’m just saying.

Twerk if you want to, but don’t be surprised if shame, guilt, and disjuncture  arise and addiction emerge to numb the emotional pain.

Anyway, the point of this little sociological diversion isn’t to blame, or point fingers, or invoke shame, the point is to defend feminism from adolescent understanding and to highlight some of the rather serious issues involved. The Hollywood handlers may be telling the pretty young girls of this world that on-stage nudity = feminist freedom, but that’s not it at all.

The point of this sociological diversion is also to identify the problems. I’ve already noted that one problem is that hypersexualization and objectification of women leads to violence against women. Another problem is a little more complex. The problem is that many artists these days haven’t sold out (as disco artists once did) but “sold in” and become part of a massive diversionary ideological strategy. The world is in a sorry state. The world needs active intervention on the part of the people everywhere. But sexuality becomes a diversion and a distraction. Artists serve “the beast” by trivializing youth concerns and diverting youth interest. Songs and lyrics become primarily about relationship narrowly defined. Love, love, dancing, and sensuality rule the day for all the “infatuation junkies” of the world (and it is an addiction like all others, because love, even narrowly defined, triggers the same “pleasure chemicals” in the brain just like alcohol, running, shopping, and even eating).

It is pop mainstay.

It is what gets played on the radio.

Of course, there’s is nothing wrong with a little bit of love, but when it becomes an addiction, and when it diverts you from other pressing concerns, it is a problem. And of course, funneling attention is what it is all about! If the youth of this planet are distracted and focused on sex, they are not worried  about  any of the other problems of the world (i.e., poverty, inequality, greed, violence, etc). And if they are not worried about these things, then the status quo remains and another generation is lost. And honestly, I don’t think the eco-sphere of this planet can take another lost generation of children. If we are going to save this world we need all hands on deck right now.

So ya, sex sells, and people are making money, but that’s not the problem. Freedom to strip on stage is also not problem, nor is it the solution. The real problem is the prostitution we all engage in, and the diversions we all allow ourselves to be distracted by. The real problem is that if we don’t stop we’re all in a lot of serious, serious trouble. Violence against women, a lost generation of youth, and an ascending crescendo of political, social, economic, and ecological crises cry out for attention, but currently meeting little more than the vacant, empty, stares of our increasingly programmed populations. The problem is youth are distracted, we are distracted, and the world is going to hell. So if you are happy pimping for The System then by all means do so. But if you feel like a prostitute, and if you’re seeing the urgency of the crises, then by all means figure it out and find a way to stop. And if you don’t heed this advice, don’t go crying to Betty Ford if guilt, shame, and growing realization force you into the open arms of powerful, stupefying addiction. There’s only one solution to the sequelea of compromise and that is, stop compromising.