It seems women’s rights just reached new heights.
Yesterday, social media took notice as a contentious exchange occurred between columnist for The Daily Caller Stephanie Hamill and hip-hop artist Cardi B on Twitter. This back and forth began as the result of an initial tweet by Hamill addressing a music video Cardi B was featured in for the song “Twerk.” In it the hip-hop artist is shown among various other women barely dressed, twerking, and engaged in other stripper-like dance moves.
See below to view the music video in its entirety:
In response to this, Hamill’s tweeted, “In the Era of #meToo how exactly does this empower women? Leftists, @iamcardib, feel free to chime in. THX..” The supposed concern here was that a music video showcasing women scantily clad, dancing in a sexual manner undermines women’s empowerment. While this is a valid concern, fully addressing it requires one to first understand what women’s empowerment is.
It has been argued that there is no universal definition for women’s empowerment. Stromquist (2015), stated that the term empowerment has received both theoretical and practical attention from many scholars and activists, with some describing it as an end point and others as a process. Given these various ideologies, it may be best to look at women’s empowerment through the lens of the #MeToo movement, especially since Hamill mentioned it in her tweet.
According to PettyJohn et al. (2018), the #MeToo movement, created by activist Tarana Burke and repopularized by actress Alyssa Milano, was meant to demonstrate how common women and girls experience sexual abuse. The movement gained momentum almost immediately after Milano’s 2017 tweet introduced it to the public, and later allowed men to share their experiences with sexual abuse as well. At its core, #MeToo was meant to empower victims, largely women, to speak up about their troubles. This evolved into women holding their abusers and sexual harassers accountable, which included high-profile individuals such as American film mogul Harvey Weinstein and former co-host of NBC’s Today Matt Lauer.
Given the #MeToo movement’s history, one can infer that Hamill felt the music video for “Twerk” could result in more women and girls being sexually abused — or she could have been trolling. If the former conclusion were true, those featured in the music video would be considered enablers of perverse and predatory behaviors.
In response to Hamill, Cardi B tweeted the following:
“It says to women that I can wear and not wear what ever I want. do w.e I want and that NO still means NO. So Stephanie chime in..If I twerk and be half naked does that mean I deserve to get raped and molested ? I want to know what a conservative woman like you thinks 🤔.”
Cardi B’s retort explained that a woman’s behavior or style of dress does not give one the liberty to sexually assault or harass her.
The exchange between Hamill and Cardi B concerning sexually suggestive imagery in a music video is essentially an example of the victim blaming narrative. According to Moor (2010), it is common in American culture for victims of sexual violence to be blamed for their own oppression. Moreover, Stubbs-Richardson, Rader, and Cosby (2018) stated that victim blaming allows individuals to distance themselves from crime victims, while pardoning perpetrators of higher social status from punishment. A frequent practice has been to blame a perpetrator’s sexual aggression on “the victim’s so called ‘provocative’, revealing wear” (Moor, 2010, p. 115).
Despite the valid arguments made in Cardi B’s tweet, however, there is a larger conversation that could be had about how the “Twerk” music video potentially adds to the sexual objectification of women. This point was made by Hamill in the following response:
“I agree, No means NO, NO MATTER what! But this video, & others like this sexually objectify women. I think this hurts all women & the cause. We’re not sex OBJECTS! Clearly we see things differently, (maybe I’m just a hater bc I can’t Twerk 🤣) Come on my show, debate me!”
Studies have shown that support for sexually objectifying women is associated with perceived justification of sexual violence and perceived victim blaming (Custers & McNallie, 2017). Could this have been the message Hamill was trying to get across — or was she trolling? All things considered, it is difficult to believe that one who is dressed and acts in a sexually provocative manner will be viewed in a manner other than sexual. Still, this does not excuse violent or predatory behaviors directed toward these individuals.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Teng et al. (2015) explained the relationship between sexually provocative behaviors and abuse, stating that sexually objectified women are deemed as an inert tool which men can use and exploit. Essentially, many men have been conditioned to use women for their own desires. However, these behaviors also affect both women and girls who present themselves in a more socially acceptable manner. User @SmOoChEs_Mwah asserted in a tweet, “I was viewed as a sex object as a child FULLY CLOTHED by a grown man. No means no.” Thus, women are at risk regardless of how they carry themselves.
Given the realities of sexual abuse and harassment endured by numerous women in the US, an effort must be made to decrease these occurrences. One potential solution might include educating young boys — and girls — about the difference between attraction and action. One’s lust for another does not give them the right to abuse, assault, or harass. Moreover, teaching individuals how to cope with rejected advances is also necessary. It should be noted that women who are victims of sexual abuse may have turned down their perpetrator’s attempts at pursuing them.
Lastly, one could argue that the “Twerk” music video is a form of sexual expression by the women involved, which can also be considered empowering. Bowman (2014) purported that when women successfully transcend self-surveillance, largely due to social norms in a male-dominated society, and start engaging in their own sexual desire and pleasure, they are “resisting the oppressive norms that would dictate their behavior” (p. 364). Therefore, critique of a woman’s decision to dance in a sexually suggestive manner can be viewed as oppressive. Despite this, however, too much sexual expression may put women at risk for being viewed as nothing more than sexual objects. Thus, an effort should be made in music videos to showcase balanced imagery of women being both sexually expressive and empowered through areas other than sex.
Custers, K., & McNallie, J. (2017). The relationship between television sports exposure and rape myth acceptance: The mediating role of sexism and sexual objectification of women. Violence against women, 23(7), 813–829.
Bowman, C. P. (2014). Women’s masturbation: Experiences of sexual empowerment in a primarily sex-positive sample. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38(3), 363–378.
Moor, A. (2010). She dresses to attract, he perceives seduction: A gender gap in attribution of intent to women’s revealing style of dress and its relation to blaming the victims of sexual violence. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 11(4), 115–127.
PettyJohn, M. E., Muzzey, F. K., Maas, M. K., & McCauley, H. L. (2018). # HowIWillChange: Engaging men and boys in the #MeToo movement. Psychology of Men & Masculinity.
Stromquist, N. P. (2015). Women’s empowerment and education: Linking knowledge to transformative action. European Journal of Education, 50(3), 307–324.
Stubbs-Richardson, M., Rader, N. E., & Cosby, A. G. (2018). Tweeting rape culture: Examining portrayals of victim blaming in discussions of sexual assault cases on Twitter. Feminism & Psychology, 28(1), 90–108.
Teng, F., Chen, Z., Poon, K. T., & Zhang, D. (2015). Sexual objectification pushes women away: The role of decreased likability. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45(1), 77–87.