07 October 2010

Hate "Love the Way You Lie" by Eminem/Rihanna

A dynamic pop duo stormed the radio waves this summer, with their rage, woes, and contrasting inflections. Barring Taylor Swift’s uncomfortable 2010 VMA “forgiveness” performance, Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” is arguably the most disturbing product of the year.

Apart from Eminem’s standard vitriol and bloodcurdling tone, the lyrics about domestic abuse should, in the very least, irk conscious listeners. As a feminist hooked on gender equity and mass media, I just can't sing along to Rihanna’s abuse victim mantra: | Just gonna stand there and watch me burn | Well that’s alright because I like the way it hurts | Just gonna stand there and hear me cry | Well that’s alright because I love the way you lie.

Upon first listen, I saw the symbolism, and reflected on my own relational scars that “burn.” But towards the end of the song, Eminem deflates my understanding that the lyrics are solely figurative. In a fit of passion—or misogynist blather—Eminem threatens: If she ever tries to fucking leave again | I’ma tie her to the bed | And set this house on fire.

The song is a continuous intrapersonal battle for Eminem, as he attempts to navigate and manage his tendencies to beat Rihanna, or the typical, emotional, vacillating female she represents. By admitting her love for the pain and deceit, a subtle naturalizing of domestic violence—and women’s subordinate place in society—ripens.

While I acknowledge the counter claims—that the song actually raises awareness about domestic abuse crime— I cannot ignore the lack of oversight or direct engagement with the issue. The song is a tween, pop phenomenon, not some bold campaign to end domestic abuse. It is a step backwards for women’s social, political, and personal freedom.

In an Access Hollywood interview, Rihanna says, “He [Eminem] pretty much broke down the cycle of domestic violence, and it’s something that people don’t have a lot of insight on.” But it seems Eminem’s “insight” serves a pretty dire purpose: commodification of domestic violence and the apparently “natural” cycle it entails. A chilling cycle in which anger may lead to literal charring, one in which abuse becomes more of a bearable component in “real” or truly passionate relationships?

Although I immediately recognize the patriarchy and rights violations in “Love the Way You Lie,” popular media ask me to suspend my convictions for four minutes and simply enjoy the catchy rhythm. This is what I fear the most; as Marshall McLuhan insisted, the medium is the message.

Now I am all for snappy rhythms on my Pandora station, but I am not for the mindless karaoke-ing of misogyny. This pop number calls for an assertive, critical engagement with media producers, celebrities, and all the 5th-12th graders humming along to Eminem down the halls—back into their own relationships.

16 April 2010

Post on Gender Across Borders

For an anthropology class project, I wrote an essay for Gender Across Borders, which is a global feminist blog.

Please visit their homepage and also my particular contribution!

It's about beauty standards and popular media! Who can resist?

26 February 2010


Breast Obsession: What’s the Big (Bigger, Biggest) Deal? asks the cover of Allure magazine. When I fanatically flipped to find out, Allure supplied this concluding insight: “For better or worse, breast enhancement has become part of our culture.

An eight year old (sadly) could have told me that. I want to know what made it a big deal, not what “the big deal” literally looks like these days. Allure’s “How It [breast augmentation] All Began” tells me nothing about how we came to assign value to larger, more ‘perfectly’-formed breasts, or how we pieced together an objective boob-shape hierarchy in the first place. This hierarchy includes breast shapes dubbed “deformities” (at the bottom of the chart), diagnosed by cosmetic surgeons dubbed medical professionals.

I mean not to rag cosmetic surgeons. They went through a lot of school to get where they are (I assume), and they make a lot of people truly happy. But I do mean to question just where our “medical” info on “normal” appearance is being affirmed. I know I’m giving you a lot of these “—“, but they’re important for satirical emphasis.

I suppose a beauty magazine such as Allure is meant to tell me what is beautiful now, not why we think things are beautiful. Tyra Banks’ (ugh, can’t believe I’m citing her) BIO campaign—Beauty Inside & Out—is a model celebrity’s attempt to transform women’s understanding of beauty. But, as much as I want to hop naively on the BIO bandwagon, or at least what it stands for, the governing beauty framework still prevails.

The BIO campaign seeks a revolution within the obviously struggling gender, not within society. If women can expand their definitions of beauty, then we’ll have more confidence and think ourselves more beautiful. That would be nice, if Tyra wasn’t the one telling me my “unique” qualities are beautiful, despite what popular media say. Perhaps I have a personal vendetta against Tyra who makes me want to punch something (usually her), as she unhealthily counsels (patronizes) other women on her show.

Or perhaps, I feel that BIO-like ventures only address a fraction of the issue. For better or worse, sexualized beauty has become part of our culture. Youthful beauty, feminized beauty, pleasing beauty (to whom?), skinny beauty, leggy beauty, pouty beauty, busty beauty, and obedient beauty have become part of our culture. I hate to burst Tyra’s bubble, but culture is made up of more than just women. Transforming beauty understandings will take more than a self-empowerment movement led by America’s Top Model.

Changing how we see ourselves—the mission of BIO—is great, particularly if we feel energized by the process and outcome. But what do we do when others haven’t changed how they see us? Does it matter? BIO would probably say no; Allure would probably say no, adjacent to its Romantic Looks and Best Skin Fixes features. But how then can we really claim to have transformed understandings of beauty?

If enough of us (women) can say ‘To hell with popular beauty standards!,’ will models start looking more like me? Or will they still be seducing me on the covers of beauty magazines, as I sit and celebrate my uniqueness—or deviation from that image—at a BIO summit?

I think it’s going to take more work on a larger, more inclusive level to unpack the Big Deal with breast obsession. Once we derail the “naturalness” of our beauty standards, and convince more people (not just “Fiercely Real” women) of the beauty myth, then perhaps we can rework our narrow vocabulary, pictures, and obsessions.

Perhaps we can even do away with the question, “What’s the Big Deal with [FILL IN THE BLANK]?", when we start refocusing our gaze and valuing people for their total worth rather than amputated fragments (eyes, boobs, self-confidence) of a gendered beauty.