image by itv
The press (and the public) have lost their minds over Little Mix’s choice of attire for their performance on the show that birthed them just a few short years ago. Performing in what appeared to be the love-child of a 90s Madonna corset and a roll of gaffa tape, Little Mix set the cat amongst the pigeons and lit up the fire of feminist in-fighting by daring to bare on a so-called ‘family show’.
As a campaign whose single focus was to have the bare boobs ditched from the so-called ‘family news’, we know a thing or two about the conundrums that arise from this kind of debate. We always brought it home by reiterating that it wasn’t boobs that we had a problem with, it was the CONTEXT of a woman featured alongside the news in nothing but her pants, posed suggestively to titillate men. We argued that women should be valued for their wider participation in society and that the sexualisation of women in the mainstream press had a proven negative effect on young girls and women. We also stated clearly that our concern was not that some women choose this line of work but that the hyper-sexualisation of the mainstream was damaging to all women and that soft porn had it’s place in a consenting adult environment.
Let’s face it, Little Mix aren’t exactly alone in that countless female stars wear barely there outfits and music videos are rife with hypersexualised imagery. This is certainly no critique on them as individuals or as a group but on the structures of power that lead many females in the music industry towards a wardrobe impasse.
Let’s muse for a while… If you were a pop star going on prime time TV to an audience of children and, assuming your management didn’t want to base the aesthetics on giving the dads of tweens a semi, what would you wear? A catsuit? A dress made of entrails? A fleece onesie? Jeans? Glitter and feathers? Chainmail? A nice cardie? Fuck all? What does unconstrained choice look like?
As feminists, we have always felt strongly that no one should tell women what to wear and have supported a number of campaigns and petitions in support of women’s choice to wear, well, whatever the fuck they like! Why then do we find ourselves saying “…..but why that?!!?”
1) ITV have a partnership deal with a latex manufacturer
2) Simon Cowell is an oily oily man who makes money off the back of female stars’ exploitation
3) They are playing Thrussian Roulette – the winner gets a glitter pessary
4) They bloody wanted to
5) The pressures bearing down on young women to conform are complex and tied up with neo-liberal ideas of choice and the marketing of female flesh.
And that is the crux of it, because our choices are not made in a vacuum and the choices we make impact upon others. They reinforce norms and set up expectations. For young women the prevailing narrative is that sexy is powerful and freedom looks like…wearing not very much. But if that’s the case, (and you, like me believe in the patriarchy) why oh why aren’t men doing it too?
If Ed Sheeran can make it in a pair of crumpled jeans and a lumberjack shirt then what is it that makes the music industry treat women so so differently? I have never seen One Direction with strips of gaffa tape around their crotches and little else (although I do have a vague recollection of Take That wearing very small leather items). I will actually eat my PVC chaps if a man EVER performs in similar clothes on a family TV show! Even the low cut tops for the male contestants in Strictly Ballroom don’t come close to the eroticism of the standard garb most female pop stars seem to have to wear to maintain a record deal. So is this really what empowerment, success and free choice looks like?
I know for a fact that full body waxing, hours of gym going and thongs up my arse crack do not make me feel powerful, they just hurt like fuck! Of course, after 72 hours of labour I had to have an epidural and C-section for childbirth, so maybe I have an especially low pain threshold and for everyone else waxing is like being (consensually) felt up by someone in very soft oven mitts.
Little Mix can and should wear what they like, but it can’t hurt to ask, ‘why that?’