Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ciara's "Like a Boy"

Last Spring I went to the Steamboat Springs Dance Theater and watched a troupe of women dance to Ciara's R&B number "Like a Boy" (watch the music video). As the song begins she looks at the audience, covered in tatoos and bling diamond rings, chains looping her skinny neck and spits out, "It's 2007, ladies, I think it's time to switch roles." Some of her lyrics stood out to me,

Wish we could switch up the roles
Tell you I love you
But when you call I never get back
Would you ask them questions like me?...
Like where you be at?
Cause I'm out 4 in the morning
On the corner rolling
Doing my own thing

What if I?...
Had a thing on the side?
Made ya cry?
Would the rules change up?...
Or would they still apply?...
If I played you like a toy?...
Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy
What if I made ya cry!
Would they still apply!
What if I...
If I played you like a toy
Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy!

Of course, boys wouldn't have license to cheat (something Ciara makes sounds like freedom but it is really a cheap substitute for the freedom of faithfulness, freedom of sexual history with the same person, freedom of not being manipulated by a new young thing) if there were not two permissive parties, namely the girlfriend who puts up with it and the girl he's cheating with. I mean for every guy who's out having a "thing on the side" there are two girls giving him a chance to have it.

I don't want to get too high and mighty as a girl.

For all the stereotypes of how women don't cheat like guys, I don't buy it. There's a willing girl behind all men's affairs, willing to cheat with him against the bond and history of intimacy he had with his wife. Unless there's one hyper-active sexual female out there (a Superwoman of affairs), every time a man cheats on his wife, a woman is making it possible.

Both genders have fault lines running through their souls.

If women were to take Ciara's ideas and apply them, really become like arrogant, cheating boys, we would not have anything new. Thousands of years ago Solomon painted a picture of what Ciara fantasizes about, the woman who wanders the streets late at night, who lurks waiting for prey, who is defiant and unkind, who perfumes her sheets, waits until her husband's out of town on one long business trip and then "like a boy" or rather "like a girl", she takes hold of a young man, kisses him full on the mouth and says,

"I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you. I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt (think Egyptian cotton). I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let's drink deep of love till morning." (Proverbs 7:15-18).

This is the way a girl (and Ciara's song proves a boy, too) persuade. Seduction with smooth words.

I think upon watching and reading Ciara's lyrics several times that she is saying more than it appears. Most the boys I know are as hurt by infidelity, unreturned phone calls, and wives showing up at 4 in the morning as girls would be. I think that's Ciara's point. She's given us a good picture of what it means to "do unto others as you would have them do to you" but she's taken the opposite approach. If you don't want a taste of something, don't dish it out to others.

If I act like you Walk A mile off in yo shoes (Would Ya Like That?) I'm mess'n with your head again Dose of your own medicine.

Ciara doesn't want to be like a boy, not really, and I think she's showing guys that perhaps they don't want to be like these boys either. Perhaps she doesn't want girls or guys to act so un-human. If so I agree with her.


dramaturge said...

Ciara doesn't want to be like a boy, not really, and I think she's showing guys that perhaps they don't want to be like these boys either. Perhaps she doesn't want girls or guys to act so un-human. If so I agree with her.

As do I. I think that's exactly what she's saying. She's using her song to give them a walk in those shoes, show both men and women how despicable and disrespectful this kind of behavior is. And I'm glad. I hope both girls and boys listen.

Cara Nilsen said...

"For all the stereotypes of how women don't cheat like guys, I don't buy it. There's a willing girl behind all men's affairs, willing to cheat with him against the bond and history of intimacy he had with his wife."

I agree that it "takes two to tango" as they say, but I think there's also a reason that the stereotype exists. Truly, women "don't cheat like guys", as in women don't cheat for the same reasons as men. Since women and men have 2 very different life experiences, the motivations for their actions are different. I think that men sometimes feel a sense of entitlement that motivates them, as well as a feeling of not being fully appreciated. Women, on the other hand, are craving validation through the affirmation of a man, as well as trying to claw their way up the pecking order (he chose me above her).
I would also say that since men have more power in society, I don't know that it is unfair to point the finger more at them. But I agree that it doesn't make sense to let women off the hook since they are definitely part of the equation. I guess because of the power structure, I see women in more of a reactionary position. But it's definitely an equal amount of brokenness in both the female and male camps.

Kimberly said...

I was particularly interested in watching the video of Ciara's song, because I was wondering how she was going to show role reversal in the images of men and women in music videos. The music industry, in my mind, is one of the worst perpetrators of caricatures of gender roles: men as sexually dominant and entitled, women as passive sexual objects.

I just watched this youtube clip for the documentary Dream Worlds, which looks at desire, sex, and power in music videos.

I haven't seen the entire documentary yet, but the 5 minute clip illuminates many of the issues around how women's bodies are viewed in the culture. And while I agree that there is definitely individual responsibility on the part of both men and women here, there are of course also macro structures of power and gender that are being played out.

Note: If you watch the youtube clip or the documentary, please know there are graphic images as taken from music videos. A friend of mine is a professor of sociology, and when she plays the documentary in class, it can be rather traumatic for some of the viewers. It makes you really pay attention to how women's bodies are portrayed as sexual objects...and it is really painful to watch the dehumanization.

Cara Nilsen said...

To add on to what I wrote before... I just watched The Other Boleyn Girl and it got me thinking. Perhaps it's not so much that men are generally painted as "the cheaters" and women as more innocent somehow. Perhaps it's just that due to their relative positions, it's just not called the same thing. A man is the "cheater", while a woman is the "seductress" or "homewrecker". The "other woman" is often blamed more than the man is for the breakup of a marriage--somewhat insulting to men I would say, as though he's just a guy and they are without a brain and powerless against their own sex drives.
Another thought that occurred to me is that in regards to infidelity, I would like to know if statistically the numbers for each gender are the same in how they are involved. What I mean is whether it is more often a married man cheating with a single woman, or a married woman cheating with a single man. I think I have kind of a prejudice that it is more often a married man with a single woman, in which case, she is not technically "cheating" on anyone (instead robbing someone). I would think this would be more often the case also because a woman who has "secured" a husband--which gives her advantages in society--would be less likely to jeopardize that. A man who becomes single after a divorce generally sees his standard of living increase, while a woman in the same position sees her own standard of living decrease.
As for the song, I think it's taking aim at guys and basically challenging them (well, a certain type of boy) to step it up. A challenge to girls would be framed in a bit of a different way.
Forgive my long-windedness on all this:)

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

dramaturge- good words "despicable and disrespectful" another reason to believe that men (and women) want to be respected.

Cara- there IS a reason for these stereotypes. Here's a further thought: men who prey on women tend to do so in obvious, unapologetic ways. It's much easier to pin abuse on men because of men's in your face neglect, physical and verbal abuse. However, the women I know who harm or cheat on their men do so in such subtle ways (passive aggression, stone-walling, slow-seeping frigidity, belittling, disgust, gossip, enabling) that it would be easy to miss, even more stunning to find out they've been having their own emotional/physical flings of unfaithfulness.

I appreciate your insight into the different motivations behind "cheating". And yet there is this overlap. Men cheat to prove they still have what it takes to get a woman and women do it to prove they have what it takes to be affirmed. Both are saying "I'm worth this!" Both are using the other as proof of something both to themselves, their gender and the opposite sex.

If women are less empowered, it does tip the scale of responsibility a bit more onto men. And yet, I don't think all men realize the power they have. Most men in my generation feel significantly dis-empowered by females. In fact, I'd say cheating on a woman proves that the guy doesn't feel quite as powerful (in the right sense) as we think he does. I mean doesn't the fact that he's cheating indicate he's lacking something? Or would you say he's just using women for a pasttime, like a hobby?

I suppose the motivations are all over the map, but I appreciate your final point about mutual brokenness. Wouldn't that be a good book title for reconciliation between the genders "Mutual Brokenness"??!

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Cara- nice point about the underlying insult that a man just can't keep his pants on around women like The Other Bolyn Girl. It makes me think of Lady Catherine DeBourge's comment to Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice that she might have "drawn Darcy in" through her wiles and arts. We all know Darcy can resist if he needs to!

Perhaps women are afraid of losing this small slice of power (albeit evil power) when they're offered it. The seductress' power!

As far as statistics I want to open this up. Anyone know how to find this out?

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

This video is a good addition to this discussion. It's a horrible reminder of how men can and do prey on women. View it "here."

The ending is a painful reminder of how many women who seek to play the seductress role get cast in this role without their knowledge or consent.

The link between a woman's identity her body and her sexuality is precisely what makes women believe their bodies are only good for one thing...When I watched the video the phrase "women's bodies are an important currency in advertising" made me cringe. To have my body counted like a stack of greenbacks made me feel deeply discounted at a core level.

If music videos are teaching us how to be men and women (men's power and force vs. women's passivity), teaching us about ourselves, what can we (as the body of Jesus) offer to counterpoint and expect to excel in power and appeal?

There is something so stirring about a woman's body (I'd argue a man's too) that it can be used in crowded, noisy environments and still communicate a message. How can we reclaim that in non-abusive ways?

Have you read The Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul?

Cara- Have you seen the video Kimberly posted? How ironic that the seduction of being "girls" on music videos is a double-edged sword. The girls seduce the men watching and yet they are seduced themselves into being seductresses. The irony of being seductive illegitimately means that you hurt others and herself. You make yourself an open vessel for more atrocities (i.e. Central Park 2000). Is this what Jesus meant by "anyone who commits adultery sins against their own body?"

Caryn said...

Great post, as always, Jonalyn!

On another note: I tagged you in a meme.

Hope you have a great day!

Cara Nilsen said...

Yes, I watched the video Kim posted. The female "empowerment" of seduction and the devastation it causes to women is horrifying. I can't help thinking about my distress at observing day to day the girls at the arts high school where I teach. I sub for various classes in the mornings and I'm always chagrined when I get called to sub for a dance class. I know I'm going to have to endure 3 periods of watching underage girls doing their best to sexually exploit themselves. From the clothing they are wearing, the lyrics to the music they are dancing to, and the dance moves they are doing. I feel sick. I do my best to provide some boundaries, but as a sub my powers are limited. Especially when they are working on a routine already put together.
I agree with you other comments about male and female motivations both boiling down to an "I'm worth this!" mentality. It's basic to humankind that we have this gnawing feeling that we are not enough (which is knowledge God has allowed inside us to draw us to him) so we try to prove to ourselves that we are. On our own it's just pouring water into a sieve though, of course.
As for men of this generation feeling disempowered by females, yes, I do think it draws from their feelings of inadequacy. I mean, as just stated above, we all struggle with feeling not enough, and we let that motivate us to step on others to gain an upper position. Men have been able to comfortably and easily (sanctioned by society) dwell in that upper position from women forever. With some of the rules changing for the male experience, I do have sympathy for this struggle of inadequacy, but it's not a free pass to sacrifice my own self-worth as a woman...though some have even argued that it's part of a woman's job to sacrifice some of her own ego/self-worth to boost a man's since he needs such extra support for the "more important" responsibilities he has.
We need instead to redefine the way we each gain our sense of self-worth. It doesn't have to mean the sacrifice of one person's worth for another to have it.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Cara- I agree, great points. We don't need to grab our worth as if it's a slice of a limited pie, nor do we need to rob someone else of worth to get some for us.

Steve said...

It is an honor to have found your blog. You're speaking candid, relevant and moving-people-towards life truth. Thank you

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Steve- I'm grateful for your encouragement. Thank you!