Monday, January 28, 2019

Just how free is Cardi B?

Cardi B is a popular Caribbean-American singer. A recent song, "City Girls", currently has 32 million views on YouTube. The song not only has coarsely sexual lyrics, the video clip features more than a dozen women dressed in G-strings twerking, i.e. shaking their backsides suggestively.

It's supposed to be sexy, but I couldn't help but find it culturally alien. It just seems so odd - there are women standing on their heads twerking, others on their back, some of them squatting. It looks atavistic - a reversion to a primitive mating ritual.

I think there's a reason for my response to the video, which I'll explain later. But I'd like to begin with this:

Stephanie Hamill's complaint is that Cardi B's video does not empower women. That's a poor way of criticising what's on display. After all, in a liberal society "female empowerment" means women rejecting customary restraints on their behaviour in order to do whatever they feel like doing.

Cardi B is dutifully following the logic of female empowerment. She is expressing her sexuality as she wants to, without regard for any traditional standards or norms. She is taking empowerment to the next level.

And that's exactly what many of those commenting on Stephanie Hamill's tweet pointed out. A selection:

Cardi B herself replied to Stephanie Hamill along similar lines:

So saying the video is not "empowering" is ineffective. People will just respond by arguing that the video shows women asserting their power to act however they want, without judgement, and that there should be no negative consequences in doing so. This is precisely in line with what female empowerment is understood to mean.

So what is a better way of criticising the video? Liberals would have us believe that they are creating a society based on freedom and equality, by which they mean a society of equally autonomous individuals. However, the issue of female empowerment highlights that you cannot have an equality of autonomy - that this cannot, in practice, be realised, and therefore the attempt to achieve it is misconceived. Second, the issue of female empowerment demonstrates the falsity of the liberal understanding of freedom.

In other words, the liberal approach does not deliver in practice either true freedom or equality - and these are the very things that liberalism attempts to base itself on.

Let's start with equality. Some of the comments to Stephanie Hamill's tweet pointed out that there is a double standard when it comes to sexual expression. Women are "empowered" by twerking their naked backsides, but if men were to expose themselves in public in a similar way they would be condemned.

What this points to is that it is difficult to apply the principle of acting however you feel to both sexes. In general, if you want women to be able to choose whatever they feel like, without judgement or consequences, then men have to be the ones to enable these choices, to bear the brunt of the fallout of these choices, and to act responsibly to hold society together.

It's not surprising, then, that at a time when women are encouraged to be "empowered", men's behaviour is increasingly scrutinised, monitored and policed and that men are often held to traditional standards in a way that women no longer are.

Which brings me to the most important point to be made in all this. It was once thought that man was a "rational animal", meaning that man had both an animal nature but also a rational nature that could discern the good and that could direct the animal passions to their proper ends. Freedom was understood to mean the achievement, through disciplined habits of virtue, of a rational self-control over our own person.

It's not that the animal passions are necessarily bad or to be suppressed; the insight is that we are only free to act as we know we should when we are in our right mind, rather than under the control of our animal passions.

And that was embedded within Western culture for millennia. That's why there are so many derogatory terms in our language for a loss of rational self-control over our animal impulses: dissolute, dissipated, wanton, licentious, promiscuous, libertine, loose, profligate - even the term "liberal" was once sometimes used in a pejorative way in this sense.

And I think that's why Cardi B's video seems so culturally alien to me. There is no restraint on the animal passion side of human nature in it. It depicts humans as rutting animals; there is no influence of the rational nature that was once considered pivotal to human freedom.

Would someone under the direction of their rational nature favour sexual immodesty? I don't think so. The higher good is for men and women to achieve a deep and stable emotional and physical intimacy with a person of the opposite sex, one that will provide enduring support even into old age.

Someone who is oriented to this goal will act modestly when it comes to their sexuality. They will be oriented to spousal love, and will want to give of themselves to that end, not promiscuously.

The aim for women, just as for men, is not to be "empowered" in the liberal sense, but to order themselves to the good, including the common good of the communities they belong to.


  1. The problem with this, slut walk, pussy hats and all the swearing and topless demonstrations is that they all look like attention seeking. And when they're followed with how dare you look at us it all seems like more attention seeking. What's wrong with attention seeking? Nothing, I'm in Sydney so let's say if there's one girl in a bikini on Bondi Beach today who didn't select it to look her best, to get attention, I'll eat my hat. The thing that's wrong is not the attention seeking, it's the layers of lying used to get the attention. Get the attention with attractive female, reject the attention with political finger wagging, demand more attention with some other version of attractive female. It's push pull manipulation posturing as higher values and my guess is the real point is to confuse and belittle you. Who needs it.

    1. David, I half agree with you here. You're right about the push pull manipulation. Women are asserting an "empowered" sexuality in which they can display sexually however they want and at any time. But they are simultaneously asserting "empowerment" over men and how men may react to this. Men may not judge them, nor may men react in any way that is felt to be unwelcome. Hence, the male gaze is invited but is also demonised. Yes, it is a manipulative assertion of control over men and therefore ultimately belittling.

      I disagree with the blanket statement that there is nothing wrong with attention seeking. There are contexts in which it makes little sense for women to seek sexual attention. Why would a woman do this, for instance, in a church, when the focus is supposed to be on reverent worship? Hence norms of modesty for women in church. Why would a woman do this (as a Democrat woman recently did in the U.S.) in parliament, when the focus is supposed to be on law making for the good of the community?

      And is it really right for a married woman to display in an overtly sexual way in her everyday public life? For instance, at the shops? Sure, she might wear something that highlights her beauty. But something designed to overtly sexually turn on men other than her husband? Why would she do this if she is oriented to spousal love, loyalty and fidelity? It's not a reasonable thing for her to do, i.e. it is outside of what reason would suggest that she should do.

  2. Can you expand on this? I don't understand it.

    "However, the issue of female empowerment highlights that you cannot have an equality of autonomy - that this cannot, in practice, be realised, and therefore the attempt to achieve it is misconceived. Second, the issue of female empowerment demonstrates the falsity of the liberal understanding of freedom."

    1. I can expand on it, though it really requires another post. So let's say you want to create a world where women are "empowered", i.e. where women can have maximum autonomy to choose whatever they want. That would work easily if the only choices we made were purely individual ones, such as what to eat for dinner tonight, or where to go on summer holiday.

      But the bigger choices necessarily involve other people. For instance, let's say a woman wants to live a nightclub lifestyle at 20, a married woman lifestyle at 30 and then return to a single lifestyle as a divorcee at 40. That's not easy to facilitate. It means that men have to develop a player mindset for 10 years, then a family man one later on and then be willing to bear the main burden of the divorce ten years after that (i.e. the woman gets the house, the children, part of the future income of the ex-husband etc.). For women to genuinely have this freedom of choice, men have to be willing to follow along and enable it. That's why the same woman at age 20 might chastise men for trying to control her sexuality, at age 30 might chastise men for being immature boys/players unwilling to settle down, and at age 40 chastise men for being deadbeat dads unwilling to fork over the alimony. For women to be able to choose "whatever" - these choices have to be enabled. Men exist to prop up the choices of women - if not, women's choices are necessarily constrained.

      There have not been calls for male "empowerment". If a woman falls pregnant, the emphasis is on abortion rights for women, not on the man being able to choose whether or not to be held legally responsible for fatherhood. If a woman wants to divorce because of "feelings" she is told that she is brave, going on an adventure, not being held back etc. If a man leaves his wife to live with a younger women, there is no such positive spin (here in Australia we have had two recent cases, the politician Barnaby Joyce and the TV personality Karl Stefanovic - both lost their jobs because of hostile public opinion).

      The general assumption is that it is women who are to be "empowered" and that this requires a close policing or monitoring or scrutinising of male behaviour, so that men are compliant in the creation of a world based around female preferences.

      To illustrate this vividly, think of the contrast between the twerking video - where women in G-strings can shake their naked backsides as an act of liberation - and the shame heaped on men for the act of "manspreading" - i.e. sitting with legs apart. This is the contrast between the principle of female empowerment (doing whatever they want with their bodies) and male scrutiny/control (we are monitoring how far apart your legs are when you sit down).

      You cannot have maximum "empowerment" for both sexes. To maximise female empowerment, you have to constrain/bring under control/regulate/hold to a standard the behaviour and choices of men.

      Hence the "equal autonomy" originally promised by liberalism cannot easily be realised, because to bring about the conditions for female autonomy necessarily means orienting men to the enabling of this female autonomy rather than their own.

  3. 'Libido Dominandi' by E Michael Jones is a good book that addresses these issues.

    Sexual liberation ultimately serves as a weapon of political control.

    1. Sexual liberation ultimately serves as a weapon of political control.

      Exactly as Huxley predicted in Brave New World in 1931. Sexual freedom is given to the population so that they don't care that their legal and political freedoms have been taken away.

      They're also given drugs to keep them docile. Exactly as happens today. The number of women on antidepressant medication is truly horrifying. Antidepressants suppress emotional response. You end up just not caring. Meanwhile perfectly normal boys are pumped full of Ritalin to make them easily controllable.

      Brave New World has been an incredibly useful textbook for our political masters.

    2. Of more than 10,000 Australian women surveyed, 40 percent said they had been professionally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression.

  4. "It's not surprising, then, that at a time when women are encouraged to be "empowered", men's behaviour is increasingly scrutinised, monitored and policed and that men are often held to traditional standards in a way that women no longer are."

    Fantastic observation, Mark.

  5. Would someone under the direction of their rational nature favour sexual immodesty? I don't think so. The higher good is for men and women to achieve a deep and stable emotional and physical intimacy with a person of the opposite sex

    It's the homosexualisation of society. Heterosexual women have been persuaded to adopt the sexual mores and habits of homosexual men.

    Now obviously in the long term there's nothing more surely guaranteed to make women miserable.

    But that can't be, because men and women are exactly the same! There are no differences whatsoever. Therefore the manically promiscuous homosexual male lifestyle must work equally well for women. Of course the truth (the forbidden truth) is that this lifestyle is destructive for homosexual men as well. But we can't say that because male homosexuality is awesome.

  6. The racial element is the salient part of this encounter. Social differences in user engagement known as "Black Twitter" leads to a veritable hate mob. The artist Cardi B is engaging in the typical BlackHate(tm).

    The feminist complaint about "slut-shaming" is actually an intra-female complaint for the most part. Conservative women are attacked for not being "Team Woman". Interestingly, Stephanie Hamill is a Hispanic who ordinarily would have a shield, but was stripped and reduced to the white "Becky" status. A similar outcome would not have occurred if a black conservative woman was doing the criticism.

  7. Yes, I second E. Michael Jones' book Libido Dominandi. You simply cannot understand what's going on through purely political or ideological point of view. Also, check out E. Michael Jones' YouTube channel.

    A video he just uploaded is relevant to your post.

  8. Good points. One thing no one has mentioned is that while women have the freedom to do what they want, OTHER people also have the freedom to judge them on what they do. This reflects on more than just the small group of women in this video. It ultimately reflects on women as a group.

    So, women can twerk, women can wear almost nothing, and women can look and act like strippers. That doesn't give men the right to touch them.

    But it does give men license to start to believe women are little more than sexual animals. This, in turn, causes men to take women less seriously -- and/or to start to resent them.

    Violence is to men what sex is to women. It's an easy road to power. So if you had a group of men saying "We can be as violent as we want," they might be able to bask in that freedom, but society would judge them accordingly. We see this in the urban communities of America.

    But getting back to the topic: When you have a society where men are held to a strict behavioral standard but when are allowed to run wild, you're going to have a society where women come to be seen as "tall children." As with kids, the society will indulge women and not quite expect them to be part of polite society.

    Twerk all you want to, but don't be surprised when women come to be seen as little more than T&A or baby machines. No one will take them seriously or acknowledge them for anything more than their sex appeal.

    It's human nature to judge. The judging will come out one way or the other. All actions have consequences. The more unrestrained women's sexuality gets, the more unrestrained the judgement of them as a whole gets.

    1. Excellent comment. I would only observe that things were different within living memory. My father's generation (born WWII) held women in high regard. I can understand why they did, as the women of this time did mostly commit themselves to acting lovingly for others (their children especially, but their families in general). There was a more intact culture of family life that brought out something better, something more admirable, within female nature (I'm speaking of the Catholic middle-class in Australia here, might have been different elsewhere).

      Your observation that "violence is to men what sex is to women - an easy road to power" is very good. It highlights the problem of making individual empowerment the ultimate aim for women - you can see in the culture already the effects of this (the whole "thot" thing being just one manifestation of it).

  9. Mark you continue to produce gems. Don't ever stop.