Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Does Popular Culture's Sex Really Empower Us?

As I listen to all this cyber chatter, I feel like we are talking about the wrong things. For me, the issue is the responsibility of women, and men, in the wielding of their sexuality. Sex is power, especially in America. If women are so empowered as a result of our sexuality, then we must also be responsible with that power. But exploring this question gets into all sorts of sticky situations, like issues of morality, dignity, and the recently demonized concept of respectability. The conversation slips into the problematic nature of trying to gain the respect of white folks instead of the important issue of, whether we are demonstrating respect for ourselves? Mama wasn’t worried about white folks when she taught us to carry ourselves with dignity, and grandma definitely wasn’t checking for what white folks were thinking when she modeled behavior that taught us to value ourselves, within and without.

In today’s climate of “anything goes,” to lift an objection to the gratuitous parade of writhing flesh in popular culture, in the interest of morality and respectability, is to be a hater. It is to demonstrate a lack of sophistication, or not being “with it.” In this world in order to be appropriate and polite, one must never pass judgment on his or her neighbor. Accountability is a bad word. When I consider this ethic of mandatory obliviousness I can’t help but wonder what sort of effect this has on the community.  How do the young and vulnerable fare while we pump our fist's cause, "We woke up like dis!" I hear a lot about female empowerment, but when I consider the entertainers who have become role models in light Black Feminist Joan Morgan words that feminism “is not about doing what the boys can do,” whether that be earning money or making their own rules, but about “women having more opportunities and a greater depth of choices,” I can’t say what we are seeing and hearing is the progress it is being labeled. When I look at the various images and the words that are being pumped into the hearts and minds of our young women, I become increasingly concerned.  What exactly are we molding them to be, and what sorts of expectations are we creating for them in the world? And what sorts of opportunities do those expectations lead to? 

Some will say, these images are the result of hard work and strong businesswomen, and they would be right. But how many young women are emulating the business grind of the Rhi Rhis, Nickis and Beys of the world, and how many of them are performing their hyper-sexuality? And since when did hyper-sexuality become the virtue that trumps all in the black community?

There are some really amazing things that happen when black bodies become so accessible in pop culture. They shift the paradigm so that black women are considered and named in conversations about beauty. However, if we take a closer look, the girls on top in the hip-hop/ R&B game continue to be super light, super weaved and super skinny (with fatties daddy can’t keep his eyes off of).  Is this black beauty being celebrated or the white beauty aesthetic jazzed up with a badonkadonk? It’s as if only that aspect of a black woman is worthy of primetime attention. By no means am I saying that black women in the limelight are only their sexualities. They are more indeed. But what I am saying is that the prevalent images, language and personas are so heavily dependent on hyper-sexualized notions of womanhood, that women are being forced into a new box where the expectation and demand to be sexual has become a prison of its own.

When I compare the expectations of the men of my mother’s generation, as opposed to those women of my generation have to navigate, I wonder if women will be able to keep up. The new sexual expectations are a result of both technology and lyrics like “I just want to be the kinda girl you like.” Well the girls they like are the ones that say yes to men's desires, even the one’s outside of the bedroom. They like the one’s who won’t stand up, won't give 'em lip and won't say, you are not going to engage in misogynistic rhetoric on my album, or in my video. They like the one’s who will just look pretty and sexy and say, “Everything is great. You make me feel fine.” I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to feel heard. bell hooks deals with this kind of facile empowerment in her essay “Selling Hot Pussy.” In it she contends that the expression of sexuality is not liberative if it is solely intended to please another person. Yes, you may experience the kind of empowerment that comes along with being desired, and Lord knows black women could use some of that kind of attention and affirmation. But at the end of the day empowerment has to be based upon more than just how the rest of the world reacts to you, or in this day and age, your body.

So I leave you with the same questions I have been mulling over in my mind for the past few days: Are we as women in a better place collectively, as a result of these performances? What does the accessibility of such sexuality liberate us to do? Who is our sexuality for? Do we have any responsibility in how we wield it? And finally does the community grow or suffer as a result?

Let me let the girls speak for themselves...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

There was Something about Mary

I have always been captivated with her relationship with Jesus, from time to time even imagining she must have had the biggest crush on him. Perhaps it’s my own inability to understand the intimacy they shared without assigning romanticism to the relationship as we Westerners do. Whether she was secretly diggin' Jesus or not, her actions are a clear indicator that she really "got" it. Mary was the kind of woman who would not allow anything to hinder her from worship and fellowship with God. Ever the non-conformist, and so in love with Jesus, no matter what the story, she can always be found scandalously, at the feet of Jesus.

Whether reveling, learning, kissing, anointing, lying prostrate, repentant or submitted before those feet Mary was committed to a life of worship and discipleship, and would not let the perceptions or customs of society get in her way. Mary's worship was non-conventional and extravagant. She defied social and cultural traditions. She could perhaps be considered the first Christian feminist. Rather than tend to the "woman's work" of the kitchen Mary considered herself worthy of a front row seat , at the feet of Christ, basking in the presence and wisdom of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. What's more she thought enough of herself to offer herself as gift to him. She understood his love enough that she recognized not only her need and desire for Jesus, but his need and desire for her. With her own body, she ministered to The Son of God, handling his body with reverence and honor. Caressing his feet as she massaged the pricey nard into his body, Mary's actions were erotic and innocent; offensive and costly. Her worship of Jesus turned heads, it solicited sneers and looks of disdain that no doubt compromised the way people in her community perceived her. Still the limitations of her sex and cultural mores could not distract her from the object of her worship. She celebrated Jesus as if nothing else mattered, she poured over him, he expressed her devotion passionately, zealously involving her hands, her heart, even her hair.

Serving as an archetype for the intimacy we should have with God, In Jesus' own words, Mary engages in the "one thing that is needful" - reckless celebration of the Savior, communion with the Lover of her soul, stillness before the presence of God. Mary perpetually reminds the Martha in all of us, so worried about getting it right, not to forget to celebrate the delight of the presence of God, and that in God's eyes we are indeed worthy to love and be loved. As if the rapture of time with Jesus wasn't enough, examples like Mary remind us that it is from fellowship and times of intimacy with Him that all true works of love and service are born. Our time of loving and being loved by God ignites in us the ability to authentically love and serve others. It is the humble posture of sitting at Jesus' feet that make us truly connected, truly inspired and truly effective, because we are moving through the power of God's love and sharing that love with the world. So funny that in order to get higher, we have to reach low like Mary did.

Have you sat at the Master's feet today?

Ever Higher!
Love is a miracle. A divine mystery motivated by God that causes its actors to give selflessly to the object of their affection. It still exists. God is still in the miracle business. But miracles are rare in villages of unbelief. And it seems like so many have stopped believing. Silly as it seems, I'll hold on to my fantasy. I call it faith - Faith in love, faith in God, faith in miracles... Divine mysteries motivated by the Most High, growing us into selfless abandon. Seeds who have been called, finally to bud.

Stuck in the Middle

Like those poor little mice caught in those glue traps
Sometimes we get stuck.
they wrestle and wriggle to no avail
the only way to free ourselves is to dislocate a shoulder or break a leg
And even that might not be successful.
Doomed to a slow horrible death of starvation and discomfort.
That is how I feel today.
Stuck in a net of not enough
confined to a future of frustration
entangled in almosts but never was...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Same Old Song - The Remix

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but the characters of my psyche have been at war with each other on the issue...

Blame it on my love of Hip Hop, or my convictions about an artist's right to create, but part of me wants to give Kan-yizzy the benefit of the doubt. His Monster video was jarring, and thought provoking; all great elements of great art. I even want to impose my own interpretation and believe that the half naked, white, female bodies hanging from nooses, stuffed under couch cushions and laying dead in beds (to be positioned for Kaye's pleasure), were images used to amplify and critique societies perception of Black men as sexual predators and murderers, with an insatiable appetite for the white woman's body - or more appropriately, that which belongs to white men. If that were the case, I might laud the video as brilliant.

In a world where media masquerades as art and influences us more than most would care to admit, I desperately desire to assign such an interpretation , unfortunately, I don't have enough confidence in Kanye to believe what I'm pushing. His antics in the past, have demonstrated that he is a man of impulse and frivolity rather than intention. In fact, his ego-maniacal and often oxy-moronic rantings suggest Kanye doesn't stand for anything, except maybe Kanye. While these glaringly disturbing images could be considered art, or a statement, I liken them to a dog who takes a dump in your favorite shoes, a ploy for attention. This parade of flesh, glam and hubris was not a critique of racial, sexual politics - well... not intentionally. It was just another iteration of the same old song - "I'm Worthy - Cause Girls Will have Sex with Me" that's played every day in our media. In fact this was the extremely glossed up, depraved remix - "I've Made It - Cause Skinny White Women Will Play Dead While I Touch Them." Like I said, the remix, but the same old song nonetheless.

My intention is not to argue that Kanye hates women, he needs them far too much. The presence of these pale, white, lifeless bodies in the Monster video doesn't represent creativity, but in fact the opposite. They are the formulaic strategy for getting the world to take note, and the fetishizing of the gruesome and the feminine in the media world.

These elements of the video come as no surprise in a society where women are feigning agency as they step into roles constructed for men's fantasies. These constructs are dangerously at work in Monster as all the dead bodies in the video are women, save two, while the only people exacting violence in the video were female as well. The principal men in the video do not engage in the eating of human flesh, or the stabbing of human bodies. They just sit around looking stylish in Italian suits and the latest fashion, against a backdrop of lurid perversion. Yeah, I said it perversion. How strange that I feel funny even using the word perversion for fear of being called a bible thumper(which I proudly admit to, by the way), but what else can you call scenes that imply necrophilia, cannibalism, violence,and yup I'm gonna say it, MISOGYNY. (I was trying so hard not to let the little feminist out. I'm still not comfortable with the label) Watching the Monster video, I had somehow stumbled into a world where women were both victim and villain, principle bait and expendable accessory.

This is best displayed in Nikki Minaj's portion of the video. A featured rap artist, like Kaye and Jay Z, Nikki's scenes differ greatly from the cool, collected and designer treatment the men receive. Instead, Nikki is the villain, binding and gagging a more feminine version of HERSELF. (scratching my head)Boy has she made it! Comparable to her contemporaries who saunter about scantily clad, women in the music industry, even the heavy hitters like Beyonce and Lady Gaga have had to turn to adopting deviant alter egos that abuse and degrate themselves in order to be considered relevant. The supple reality of femininity and authentic sexuality is no longer enough to titillate or satiate the masses. Deviance is the order of the day.

As Nikki writhes on the ground, in her lace tights and thong, with a full moon shot of her backside at the close of the video, it is clear that though she gets to come along for the ride, her agency must fall in line with the perception and perspective of the industry in which she functions - An industry where women are accessories, used in the building up of men's images. What's even more alarming - In today's society, the more macabre, the more twisted, the more detached from reality these accessories, the better.

I'm reminded of Lauryn Hill's 1997 song Superstar:

Come on baby, light my fire
Everything you drop is so tired
Music is supposed to inspire
How come we ain't getting no higher?

Ever Higher!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting Back in the Race

I used to be a runner. It started out as a vanity thing. I was literally running from the sloppy spread that often accompanies one's twenties. However, weekly runs soon morphed from merely penance I paid the piper for my indulgences in ice cream, cheese and potatoes, into something much more beautiful and sacred.

I am not really sure how it happened. In some ways I think I might have Tye Tribbet and his crazy antics to thank, but somewhere between my Aruba Ready Runs, to my Punta (as in Punta Cana) Prep, my treadmill became an altar of sorts. You see my runs represented about 50-60 minutes of mandatory time - By myself. Don't be mistaken, I love me, and can crack myself up better than anyone I know, but after minute 17 on a treadmill, I'm "over me" and looking for new distractions. My solution - Hardcore runners playlists.

My career as a DJ (Yes, in my mind the creator of an Itunes playlist that will get you moving is in fact a DJ!) began with the hardest, base driven beats hip hop could offer. I rocked out to Method Man, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Jay Z, but as I matured, in age, or throug more involvement in church, the messages my musical motivation offered seemed more detrimental than the pounds I was trying to shed. Gradually, my playlists swapped players, pimps and thugs for sanitized pop stars, and finally, gospel and Christian rap artists.

In part, the evolution of my playlists were a direct reaction to my understanding of how vulnerable I was mentally, during my runs. Running had become a time of introspection and meditation. It was the one part of the day when I could tune out, uninterrupted, and reflect on everything that was important to me. That reflection seemed compromised when bathed in the tenor of violence, rage or gratuitous profanity. Interestingly, the more gospel I listened to while I ran, the greater my worship, my walk and my stride became. It was as if I had invited God along for my runs, and He was overjoyed to come.

Running with God made exercise - prayer, sprints - somatic songs of praise, and stitches- lessons in pressing through discomfort because victory was certain. I learned so much about myself, my will power and the deep, abiding and comforting presence of God. Isaiah 41:30's "They shall run and not grow weary," took on a whole new meaning. I looked forward to my run. They had become my devotional time, where the boost of endorphins was eclipsed by awesome encounters with the Holy Spirit. I swear sometimes I felt like the treadmill was glowing when I was done.

But sometime last year, I learned a new, really effective weight loss method, and I stopped running. In the excitement of pain free weight loss, I forgot the real goal, the real prize I was chasing. Along with my weekly runs went 4 hours of time with God a week. Not only had my body stopped moving, but my spirit had become stagnant. I'd stopped running in the race towards Christ and had become comfortable in my year long water break of sorts.

Interestingly it was an encounter with some old school Missy Elliot and Beyonce's "Who Run the World" single that began beckoning me out of retirement and back to the treadmill again. Surely not the most holy of songs, but they reminded me of that sweet time of communion God and I had shared so many times, at our favorite meeting place. And so, I plan to get back in my running shoes and back into the race... both of them! For the prize and the journey are too exquisite to stop now.

Ever Higher!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lay-away Brothers


We can't rock with every dude in his current state. Let’s face it, so many of them are not ready. They are unwilling to come out of the shadows of boyhood and to step into the light of manhood. I know. I get it. It’s a tall order. There's a lot of pressure, and there are always his issues with self esteem. We make up all the right excuses for their behavior, and we don't own up to the fact that they are not ready, and therefore incapable of giving us what we need.

I know it sounds harsh, but the sooner you come to grips with that stark and honest truth, the sooner you can find that strong, beautiful and bold woman you used to know and get her back in the driver’s seat of your life. But he has so much potential... Yeah, I get it, but keeping him comfortable in a situation where he gets all he wants without reciprocity, in whatever manner is important to you, is not the business. In fact, it's the kind of situation that will make you wither and wilt.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a fan of another chance (its the Christian in me I tell you). Sometimes, I just don't know when to stop giving them out. The Masochist in me never likes to give up on people or making a relationship work, sometimes to my own detriment. But I had to come to grips with the fact that while there might not be anything wrong with keeping the man with potential on the roster, he MUST be demoted to the layaway roster.

Often women get stuck on the potential of a man. It keeps us enslaved to subpar behavior for way too long. If you really think about it, potential is essentially something that MIGHT come to pass. It's not definite, it is a mere possibility, you know, like the one where he never changes and you become trapped in a web of dysfunction with 3 kids, 2 from other women, that you've agreed to raise because "you love him so much." Tomorrow matters, but not as much as today. In fact, what we do with today, determines our tomorrow. The question is not what can he be tomorrow, but who and what is he today? If the answer isn't the man that makes me happy, by supporting me, cherishing me and contributing to my well being, then he has to be kicked to the curb.

Now some men must be thrown into the sea of forgetfulness, but those brothers who have great raw materials, but just aren't ready, need to be put on lay-away. I don't mean anything derogatory by that. You'll see what I mean in a minute. If a man is not ready to show up and put in the work necessary to make a relationship work, he must be put on lay-away. That's the category that places him in the friend zone, maybe with the occasional date. What that means is, the benefit package - essentially all aspects of you in a committed relationship are off limits. That includes, sex! You'll need your wits about you after all. I don't care how cute he is, how good he smells, or how much you need to be held. If he's not ready to do the work, he get's no play. Ocytocin is real, and will leave you addicted to a man, in the corner twitching as you obsess about his behavior.

Secondly, you MUST see other people. You can't make him your world; after all, he hasn’t really applied for the position. At this point you don't even know that he is your destiny, in fact likelihood is, he not because the will of god suffers no lack. If your relationship is lacking, it means it’s not for you now. Your lay-away brother is not your future husband, he is simply a guy you know who has some good qualities that have yet to manifest. Let him cook. You wouldn't eat a half raw cake. Incidentally, some of those other people you are seeing, should be your girls. Fill your time with people who affirm you, your beauty and your gifts. Eat up all the wonderful things that ARE for you now, and be thankful for them each day. This is the way we stay connected to our reality so that we don't fall for the illusion that settling is the only option.

Finally, keep watch over how much time and energy you give to your lay-away brother. You don't go visit that furniture set or sick outfit daily, but you might swing by monthly to keep you motivated. Don't give yourself away. Live life, and remember, you simply know this boy/man, you are not building with him, cause guess what? He ain't ready or willing to build. Real commitment, consideration and availability can only take place when your gentleman "suitor" with all the potential, turns potential into reality. PERIOD. If he's yours, putting him in the lay-away category will be just the kick in the pants he needed. If he's not, it will weed him out even quicker. By the way, the longer someone remains in lay-away the less of your time he deserves; even Wal-Mart puts the TV back on the market after 6 months. In the case, that putting a man on lay-away genuinely turns you two into PLATONIC friends, even better. Guys are great, even when they are not your boyfriend, or husband. But the best way to enjoy them is with your boundaries intact. Ladies, you only get one you. Be vigilant about who you allow to experience you and how.

Ever Higher!