Rihanna and The Dress: The Bigger Issues Concerning Women and Their Sexuality
I was going to circumvent this discussion because I didn't feel the need to project my opinion. However, after having a terribly maddening discussion with someone, I realized how damaging our words can be in relation to women's sexuality, and how society still holds out-dated patriarchal views.
Rihanna made a choice to wear her see-through gown made out of over 200,000 Swarovski diamonds for an event honoring her fashion acumen. She boldly photographed herself on instagram and has received a lot of attention (good and bad) about her dress.
My first question is, why is a woman's body still received with such contention? We live in a world where a nipple can cause such controversy. Scratch that- a WOMAN'S nipple can cause such controversy. It's a nipple. Every mammal on earth, from what I learned in 3rd grade science class, has nipples. Artists, writers and poets have used female bodies to represent earth, life, renewal, and love. But when the nipple is shown by a young, attractive, self-made artist then it has a completely different connotation. It's sexual. It becomes dirty. It becomes pornographic. The last I checked, Rihanna wasn't having sex on the red carpet. She was walking. I didn't get the memo that walking while having breasts was a form of pornography. Why are women's bodies considered pornographic for being what they are? Yes, we have nipples. Grow up.
There is a hypocritical notion in all this that I need to point out. What do we decide as being too sexual? Are a woman's legs too sexy? Or is it only if they are long, tall, and belong to a young beautiful female? Society seems to never associate sexuality with someone who they deem as less than attractive, older, and/or overweight. Society assigns sexuality to whoever fits the "standard" and when that female does revel in her sexuality she is denounced as being too overtly sexual. Too riské. A whore.
I believe everyone is familiar with this idea, but for those who are not, I will explain in few words. The virgin-whore complex is how women are viewed by our heavily patriarchal society. A woman cannot be sexual without "losing" her self-respect, nor can a "good" woman be viewed as sexually active. Women are divided into two simple categories as if though there is nothing else that makes her a whole person. Her intelligence, her character, her determination, her ambition are not important. Society places women into these overly simplistic opposing poles and are portrayed as either the good girl, or the bad girl.
And so, because Rihanna chose to expose a nipple and her derrière she's being called "slut", "whore", "trashy" and all these other words as if she's the first and only woman to have ever donned a scantily clad outfit. Men and women have been reacting as if though she's tearing our national fabric apart. I disagree. What's worse for our society is to have such a didactic, short-sighted view of women. What's worse is to have men call out a woman, shame her, and then turn around to have their ravenous sexual desires fulfilled by the same women they are shaming. It's another typical hypocritical notion that exists, and is far more damaging to our society than a visible nipple.
This leads me to another issue that I have with the conversations and debates surrounding Rihanna and her dress. The reason I even chose to write this hub was because earlier today I was debating about her dress with another woman, and her response saddened me and reminded me that our society has not progressed as much as we like to think it has. After I gave my rebuttal, she said something along the lines of "well, don't get upset when your boyfriend leaves you for a woman who dresses that way, because you no longer will be sexy for him." This is such a pervasive and accepted notion that is all so wrong. To project the culpability on the other woman instead of your husband or boyfriend is just another way that society blames the woman! As if the man was the innocent victim of a "sexless" and unhappy relationship with a prudish woman (virgin) and sought the companionship of another woman (whore) to feed his needs and ego. Once again it pits the women against each other, instead of projecting the blame where it well deserves to be.
- Instead of telling women "DON'T GET RAPED", we should be teaching men "DON'T RAPE." Our language and usage of words is important, and we have to change the way we say things if we want to continue progressing as a society.
Justifying Misogynistic Views
In preparation for this hub, I was reading other articles about Rihanna and her dress, and I came upon a Huffpost article that incensed me once more. In the article, the author discusses why Rihanna's dress undermines feminism. At one point in her article she ponders why Rihanna would continue to display her ample assets on instagram while continuing to receive disgusting and sexually aggressive posts on her pictures. Once again, it becomes the fault of the WOMAN that men act in such manner. It aligns so perfectly with the "women are asking for it" notion, that I was flummoxed the author didn't realize it before publishing her article. Rihanna, and as such, no woman, is "asking for it" because of how she dresses or acts. She acts and dresses the way she wants to because it is her body, and it belongs to no one else but her.
The Issue of Race and Sexuality
Many people were unaware that Rihanna's dress was inspired by the great Josephine Baker. Baker was popular around the world for her singing and dancing in the 20's, and was also active in the civil rights movement. She was known to dance seductively and would sometimes perform topless. American audiences at the time were not as accepting of Baker because they were not keen on accepting a sexually confident Black entertainer. They labeled her many derogatory names, including the highly offensive "Negro wench." This sort of racism and sexism is still present today, as we've seen with the reactions Rihanna and her dress have evoked.
Why can Miley Cyrus twerk her way to feminist status, but Rihanna can't? It begs the question, why is it when white women twerk or dance seductively, it's labeled as fun, cute, and a confident execution of a female's sexual freedom. But when black women twerk, it's labeled as smut, ghetto, ratchet?
Whether or not you agree that Miley Cyrus is a feminist (I don't even want to venture into that conversation), I take issue with the fact that Black women, and possibly all other women of color, get criticized for expressing their sexuality, because there is an underlying notion that has been around for a long time before Rihanna and her dress.
Black women are portrayed as highly sexualized beings, and so if a woman like Rihanna is to express her sexuality she is confirming those same stereotypes that have permeated our society and culture. But if she doesn't express her sexuality, what agency does she have to control her body and sexuality? It is a double edge sword, and one that I feel might be present in our society for many more years to come. You can read more about this here.
What about Rihanna's dress offended you?
While I think that the whole discussion with Rihanna and her dress will die down shortly, the main issue of gender, sexuality, and race will continue on much after. These types of discussions have to be done with intelligence and well-informed facts. So let's discuss. What do you think of Rihanna's dress? And why?