Disempowerment messages behind The Pussycat Dolls

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Crimitism killed me again today with a laugh riot post that made some very strong points about how the Pussycat Dolls’ message of empowerment isn’t all it sounds like on the surface.

Note: the point here is not that “dressing sexy = bad” or any value judgment on what the Pussycat Dolls do per se. This is all about a show that sells you one message but delivers another.

He says the episode he’s reviewing is “all about confidence”. There’s much talk of the importance of confidence in being a Pussycat Doll. So far so good. Then one girl explains how she got her confidence: it seems she weight 190 pounds as a child and had no friends. Then she lost the weight, and now she’s qualified to be in a premier group of sexy women. Tying this statement back to earlier ones about “being comfortable in your own skin” Richie points out:

God, there’s no point in even trying to be sarcastic about this, is there? This is not a woman who’s comfortable in her own skin. She’s not even wearing her own skin to start with, for fuck’s sake. Her own skin didn’t fit a rigidly-defined idea of attractiveness, so she tore it up and stitched the remnants into a patchwork of fake tan and pre-distressed fishnets.

I know what you’re thinking: 190 pounds on a child is a worse situation than falling outside a “rigidly-defined idea of attractiveness”. True enough. But if you’ve never seen the same situation on a girl that’s well within healthy weight limits but still outside that “rigidly-defined idea of attractiveness”, immediately tell me where you live so I can move there, ‘kay?

Then the contestants have to dance without a lot of clothes on before the judges, and the show emphasizes that in no way are they doing this “in the service of men”. Sounds good, until one of the contestants is revealed to be too confident. The quote from the show – no, really:

Her confidence makes her dance like a striperella!

and,

Pussycat Dolls are sexy but classy.

Richie’s poignant response:

Brittany’s dancing itself, which is hard to capture in still images, was more sexual than the other girls… The Pussycat Dolls are there to be looked at. They’re allowed to be sexy, because sexiness – Pussycat sexiness, anyway, not the good kind – is a passive thing that onlookers can get off on without engaging the Dolls themselves, but Brittany’s fucked it up by being sexual, if only just. The Dolls might have visible ass cheeks, fishnets, stilettos and bare midriffs, but are for all intents and purposes chaste, which is what they really mean by “Classy”. They danced in glass cases, for fuck’s sake; doesn’t that say it all?

Brittany, it sounds like, is a true example of a woman who’s being sexy for herself and loving it. Not just confident, but self-reliant. And that’s what’s so threatening to the marketers behind the Pussycat Dolls. They’re paying lip service to self-reliance, but what they’re really after is Hugh Heffner’s fantasy of a woman who has lots and lots of sex with you, yet remains somehow chaste. Know how to tow that line?

You’ve got to make the man feel like, yes, you’ll do everything in the Kama Sutra with him, but only with him. You must ensure his mind will never trip over the possibility that you’ve done these things with other men, or would. That’s your job, ladies. That’s why you need to keep your face bland – don’t let it reflect your life experience! He doesn’t want to know about that. You can have the sort of confidence a child may have, born of naivety and blissful ignorance of the wolves you walk amongst – but you can’t have the confidence that says, “Been there, lost my illusions, lived through it, got what I wanted sometimes, didn’t ask for help the other times. I was here before you arrived, and I will be here after you’re gone.” Because that makes men realize they’re not the only people in the world, and everyone knows that’s the leading cause of impotency, girls. /sarcasm

Anything that tells women they can’t have the second type of confidence – the one born of experience and wisdom rather than inexperience – is wrong, wrong, wrong. Whether it’s a show or a man who finds you attractive but “intimidating”, it’s/he’s wrong. What they’re really saying is that degradation and lack is what they find sexy in women. Ignore them. Life is worthless without self-reliance.

Comments

  1. Purtek says

    I guess you edited the post in the time it took me to read the linked article, and hopefully it’s not too disrespectful of that to just say: I absolutely agree with your take on the character you mentioned as a counter-example to this confidence built on being a “Doll”. The hollow, tabula rasa “doll” aspect is objectification at its finest.

    This quote says it all (from the link):

    It’s just like saying, ‘Don’t you wish your girlfriend could be free and comfortable in her own skin and do her own thing, like me?’

    Um, except that it’s not “just like” that at all. It’s the exact opposite of that, actually. Especially against the claim that this isn’t being done for the benefit of men, the song says “my power comes entirely from my ability to turn you on and then reject you”. I googled the lyrics to look for a specific reference on the wtf of this comment, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually quote any of them here. Seriously, I feel dirty now.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, it’s okay that you mention what I said before, which I later thought “Eh, that sounds like one of those points I don’t quite make that later end up derailing the whole discussion”. But I’ll say it here, and maybe even better:

    I think if you’re self-reliant, you can – in theory, at least* – sell sex for a living without being degraded or “cheapened” (thinking Inara from Firefly). Conversely, without self-reliance, no lifestyle can protect you from feeling like you’ve given up something precious for nothing.

    *In practice, I’m not sure we’re there yet. Sometimes, no matter how strong your self-belief is, a constant wall of presumptions from others can wear you down. But in theory, yeah, I totally believe the “Inara” model of sex for sale is possible and would not be degrading.

    After further thought… is that what was different about Madonna? Her sexiness (I’m thinking in the 80’s when I was a kid) was aggressive, not kittenish. Somehow, I never got the sense she was doing her act to appeal to men.

  3. scarlett says

    I didn’t entirely agree with his comments about Britney – I think her sexuality is very manufactured, she’s been told what to do by other people (namely, men). But I think there’s such a valid point about how stupid it is the Doll-wannabes are meant to be ‘sexy’ but ‘classy’. I mean, who the hell defines something like that? And it makes me think of that huge hypocrite Grace Kelly who was possibly the most promiscous person in Hollywood for a while but always played ‘classy, chaste’ characters.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    You’re not talking about Britney Spears, are you? This was Brittany, a contestant on the dolls show. I didn’t see the show so I can’t comment directly on her dance. I did notice that the other contestant Richie pictured wore lingerie while Brittany had a cutesy sports uniform on. I thought maybe the lack of “do me, do me now” clothing gave the judges the uncomfortable sense that she was an autonomous being or something crazy like that. ;)

  5. SunlessNick says

    This is all about a show that sells you one message but delivers another.

    Such as the fact that in a lot of their songs, they seem to be the backing singers for some guest male.

  6. scarlett says

    THe PCDs are one of the worst role models around, IMHO.

    And yes, I was talking about Britney Spears. I’ve only watched one epsiode – I’ll never do it again – and I didn’t see the Brittany you’re talking about.

    The episode I watched used strip dancing in glass cages as a way to build confidence. I’m sure, to someone, doing such a thing really DOES build genuine confidence… but for most, I’d say it’s a very shallow kind of confidence. A friend of mine used that same excuse – it gives me confidence! – and at the end of it she admitted she always felt like a piece of meat. Stuff like that really annoys me because it says ‘flaunt your sexuality (so long as it appeals to straight men)’ when I think the REAL message should be ‘be comfortable in your sexuality’.

  7. scarlett says

    Ah, I remember who Brittany is now. And I remember thinking it was a real hoot that L’Il Kim was passing judgement on class and sophistication :p

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