Purple Magazine
— F/W 2015 issue 24

bimbo fem.i.nism


Starting in my early 20s, my personal style developed into what could rightly be called “slutty.” I favored a lot of vagina-length skirts, pink PVC micro-dresses, and basically anything that screamed “S&M Barbie.” I found it funny to parody the look of the stereotypical blond tart, as if Elle Woods was on her way to a sex party or something — and soon that persona crept into my writing. On my blog Slutever, which deals primarily with sexuality and feminism, I began mocking the trope of the dumb blond who’s naive about her sexuality, bouncing around town in a push-up bra, waiting for a man to come and teach her the ways of the world.

In my mid-20s, Slutever started getting media attention. I began noticing in interviews that my slut style was a recurring topic. I was questioned about whether I ever felt insecure about my desire to adhere to “mainstream” beauty standards — dresses and heels, dyed hair, make-up, etc. The general question was: How do you reconcile being a feminist with looking like a stripper? Apparently, being feminist had a look, and I didn’t fit the bill. It made me defensive and led me to wonder whether parodying feminine stereotypes can be empowering and even subversive.

In her groundbreaking book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler addresses this paradox. As you probably know, Butler is the famous philosopher and gender theorist who proposed that gender isn’t something we’re born with; rather, it’s a socially imposed construction we are performing all the time, consciously or not and in everything we do — our mannerisms, our posture, whether we cross our legs or sit with them spread wide, whether we wear skirts or slacks, etc. Nothing is inherent to our given sex at birth. When someone fails to perform their gender “appropriately,” — a girl who wears frumpy clothes and no make-up, or a guy who’s “overly sensitive” — that person is considered an inferior version of a woman or a man, or worse, a freak. It all makes sense when you think about it, and I’m pretty sure that if I were born in a cave, I wouldn’t intuitively fashion myself some stilettos out of sticks and catwalk around the forest for LOLs. But who knows…

In Gender Trouble, Butler talks about parody, but only in terms of men performing in drag. She points out that when men dress up as over-the-top versions of patriarchal femininity, they are literally embodying the idea that gender identity is a costume. Drag queens wear excessive make-up, over-style their hair, and become these extreme femme-fatales. As a result, they reveal the ridiculous nature and expectations of stereotypical femininity. And they’re hysterically funny and entertaining at the same time. (Who knew RuPaul’s Drag Race could be such an educational experience?) However, what Butler doesn’t discuss in Gender Trouble is what happens when women parody femininity. What, if anything, can we learn from that?

With Butler’s performance theory in mind, we can learn a lot. By exaggerating  stereotypical aspects of femininity, women can mock the oppressive and restrictive role of “woman” in our society. We can de-fetishize the female body and reclaim the male gaze. Ultimately, we can redefine femininity as a symbol of power. Oh, and we can be funny at the same time. I’m not alone in thinking this. In recent years there have been a number of powerful feminists — Nicki Minaj, Amy Schumer, and Petra Collins, to name a few — using parody to subvert a variety of feminine stereotypes and sparking important conversations about how women are expected to look and act in our society.

One of the most radical examples of this is Nicki Minaj, who, it’s frequently argued, dons a public persona that’s basically female drag. Minaj adopts stereotypically feminine qualities, but to bizarre, often frightening extremes. When performing as her alter ego, “Barbie,” she transforms herself into a hyper-sexualized, hyper-commodified doll, with a pink wardrobe and a super coquettish attitude. On the cover of her debut album Pink Friday (2010), she’s shown wearing a pink wig and a tutu, with her breasts pushed absurdly high under her chin, as she stares blankly into the distance. Nicki-as-Barbie has sparked countless conversations and think-pieces about the astonishing pressure that women face in the pursuit of becoming a human Barbie doll.

She also fucks with the male gaze. In the video for her song “Lookin’ Ass,” Minaj wears a barely-there, skin-tight dress, and spends most of the video arching her back, proudly presenting various parts of her body to the camera (which frames her body in fragmented sections, in typical “male gaze” fashion). Simultaneously, she’s rapping antagonistic lyrics about pathetic “lookin’ ass niggas” who can’t take their eyes off her. Spin magazine called the video “a furious and explicit attack on the male gaze that pervades so many rap videos. Here, the men are reduced to leering, creepy eyeballs (Nicki’s body reflected in their pupils), and in its final moments, Nicki pulls out two guns and shoots offscreen, killing these onlookers and, by implication, all the lecherous dudes on their laptops and smartphones watching the video and objectifying her — she is murdering the male gaze.”

But Minaj often gets flack — sometimes from feminists — for being “too sexual.” This, of course, is a common criticism in a world where female sexuality is endlessly policed. But can a woman’s expression of hyper-sexuality be a tool of power? Many have argued it can’t. Think back to the early 2000s, the era of Paris Hilton, Girls Gone Wild, striptease workouts at the gym, and “the landing strip.” In reaction to this raciness, Ariel Levy wrote the book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005), which argued that this new supposedly empowering hyper-sexual female culture is actually just women taking part in their own objectification. In other words, the freedom to be a drunk ho at da club in Manolos with your vaj out isn’t the freedom that Gloria Steinem had in mind.

Fast forward to 2015, and I’d argue that Nicki Minaj has proved Levy wrong. She’s turned raunch into performance art. Being a sex object certainly can be a passive role, but Minaj is anything but that. She pairs this hyper-femininity with lyrics that profess aggressive sexual desire, and her display of her sexuality is totally under her control, proving that a woman can be this way without submitting to male dominance. Not to mention that arguing that Minaj isn’t a feminist simply because she’s hyper-sexual is playing into the same oppressive ideas about women’s bodies that perpetuate slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

On the other side of the feminine spectrum, we have the artist Petra Collins and her hyper-girly art entourage. Collins has become known for her images of young women that caricature girlishness and naiveté. In her photographs, girls lie around in their bedrooms applying make-up, drenched in pink light, wearing granny panties with “feminist” printed on the butt in pink letters, and taking selfies on their iPhones, which are usually covered with cutesy stickers. In contrast to the aesthetic, the work isn’t innocent — at times it’s sneakily aggressive and maybe even obnoxious — it’s intentional. On closer inspection, the girls in Collins’s photos often have unshaved armpits and bushy bikini lines. Some have period-stained underwear. By presenting their natural bodies confidently, these girls are challenging our expectations of female beauty. (As Petra once told me, “The best accessory for a slutty dress is armpit hair.”) Collins’s work says there’s nothing wrong with being girly.

The thing about parody is that, in order for it to be effective, the audience needs to be in on the joke. For this reason, subversive parody is often most effective in films and TV, artwork, onstage, and within the obvious persona of a famous person. Outside of those contexts, it becomes a little less clear. I have a habit of parodying hyper-femininity during sex — but I’m not sure it’s always obvious. I just think it’s really fun and hilarious to pretend I’m in a porno, and be really theatrical, like, “Oh, yeah, fuck my pussy,” while spanking myself, and all that dumb stuff — it’s like performance art, maybe? LOL. Of course, I don’t behave like that every time I’m in bed, but I enjoy poking fun at how often most people default to mimicry when trying to be “sexy.” Most of my partners have found my “parody sex” funny and often play along, too. But one guy I dated was really confused by it. He said once: “I don’t get it — you’re constantly doing these over-the-top porn poses and make these exaggerated sex sounds, but you do it in this tongue-in-cheek way, which makes me unsure how to react.” My efforts were lost in translation. Still, I kinda enjoyed the confusion.

Yet, effective parody is not impossible in the bedroom. Sasha Grey, for example, has managed to use sex as a form of subversive parody in the most male-gazey arena of all: porn. The first time I saw one of Sasha’s porn films, she was at the center of an anal gangbang with 16 guys. If we’re going along with the dominant whore/virgin dichotomy our society projects onto women, in this scene Grey plays the stereotypical whore to such an extreme degree that her “whorishness” just became a bizarre spectacle. While the female’s role in a gangbang is ostensibly submissive, Grey instead plays the role of the “power bottom” (or she’s “topping from the bottom,” as it’s sometimes referred to in BDSM). As the male porn actors take turns fucking her, she bosses them around and demands they fuck her harder, at times critiquing their performances, while being excessively vulgar (“I like it when you fuck my dirty hole!”). Throughout the clip, she seems to be the person most hungry for sex, as well as the one getting the most enjoyment. It literally seems as if she hired the gang of dudes to bang her.

Finally, there’s my personal hero, the comedian Amy Schumer. If you watch her TV show, Inside Amy Schumer, you know that her narrative sketches are full parodic excellence. But the first that comes to mind is a sketch titled “Sexting.” In it, Amy’s sitting at home in a kitten t-shirt and girly pink PJs, engrossed in some sappy romantic film from the ’50s. Suddenly, she gets a dirty sext from a guy. The sketch then goes on to show the audience what she genuinely wants to reply to him — “I’m so lonely all the time,” and “I want you to hold me” — and what she actually replies to please him: “I want to hug your penis.” When he asks what she’s wearing, not wanting to admit she’s in cat PJs, she gets flustered and just types, “my tit.” It’s the perfect double parody: it mocks the notion of the overly sensitive, needy girly-girl, while demonstrating that “sexiness” is so often a mimicked performance, rather than a genuine expression of the self.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2015 issue 24

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL


purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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