Parks and Recreation star Rashida Jones has recently been making headlines. First, with her charming rendition of holiday pop songs on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and just the other week, with her not-so-charming Glamour article titled “Why is Everyone Getting Naked?”

Source: thegallant.com

According to Jones, female stars like Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna are largely responsible for the “pornification” of pop culture. Boobs, tongues, G-strings, and the like have become normal “accessories” on stage and brought us to “a point of oversaturation,” she says.

Before I go any further, let me state some assumptions I’m making here. The first is that women being able to express their sexuality the way they choose is a good thing. The other is that when sex is bought and sold (in the form of sex work, pornography, etc.) girls and women do not own their sexuality. There’s a lot more to be said for both of these statements, and I know and love many people who would disagree with one or the other, but for the sake of getting somewhere, I won’t defend these assumptions here.

Despite what I believe were good intentions on Jones’s part to “hold people accountable,” the article comes across as self-righteous and defensive of some poorly worded tweets she’d made calling women to #stopactinglikewhores. (Yes, that’s the actual hashtag she used.) More importantly than the tone of her article, however, is that telling women how to dress and behave distracts from the greater danger of pop culture, which is not the promotion of sexiness (even sexiness to attract men), but rather the glorification of sexual violence.

I would first point out that she’s making a generalization when she says that “in pop culture there’s just one way to be.” Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” is indeed the number one most downloaded song at the moment, but after that, as of the writing of this article, the most popular songs featuring women are “The Monster,” “Royals,” “Roar,” and “Say Something,” none of which include the kind of no-holds-barred sexuality that Jones is talking about. So we should be skeptical of the claim that all pop stars have to act like Miley to be … err, taken seriously.

Now, to address her tweets. Jones insists that she wasn’t slut-shaming and that the backlash against her statements “crushed” her, since she considers herself a feminist. It’s not female sexuality she’s against, it’s the fact that this “pornification” of pop culture is “showing what it looks like when women sell sex.” “And so much of it feels staged for men,” she adds, “not for our own pleasure.”

One of the problems with this last statement, which has some truth to it, is that it’s extremely difficult to determine what’s “staged” and what’s for a person’s “own pleasure.” Is Miley cavorting around with a foam finger because that’s what she wants to do, or for the attention–or both? No one knows but her, and we all have better things to do than watch the VMAs on repeat in order to make an educated guess. A clearer example of sex that is “staged for men” is the lyrics and butt-cheek cover art of a Lady Gaga song, titled “Do what u want [with my body].” Jones is right to identify this as a song which crosses a line, but she doesn’t attend to the fact that the song might actually encourage sexual violence.

Another example that struck me was her reference to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the infamous song which showcases “naked fantasy women bouncing around and licking things,” to use her words. Personally, I agree with her that the women in the video are not helping anyone have a healthier view of sexuality. But as with Lady Gaga’s song, with “Blurred Lines” it’s not a matter of personal taste. The problem is with lines like “I know you want it,” and “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.” Sending one of the most heinous messages imaginable, these lyrics promote the notion that rape isn’t so bad. But by instead complaining about the dancers’ body parts, Jones downplays the real reason this song—the most sold song of 2013—and songs like it are so toxic.

Not only does Jones distract from the more pressing problems in pop culture, but she also divides her audience through her condescension. She states toward the end of her piece that “there’s a difference, a key one, between ‘shaming’ and ‘holding someone accountable.’” Perhaps this sentiment is true, but it doesn’t apply to Jones’s comments. In a follow-up tweet to the initial one, she claims that she “would never point a finger at a woman for her actual behavior,” yet she does just that. Regardless of her protests, Jones is shaming “whores,” women who literally sell sex, by using the classic harlot trope. Perhaps unintentionally, she’s telling upstanding women to distinguish themselves from women who are so based that they would sell themselves. Again, I don’t support sex as an industry, but it’s not hard for me to see how such comments are hurtful and counter-productive.

At best, Jones’s article is naïve. At worst, though, her piece for the one trillionth time in history tries to dictate what women wear and how we present ourselves, even though there are far more important battles we should be fighting. One thing women would be much better off doing, and she hints at this at the end, is building one other up and speaking encouragement into the lives of women from all walks of life. I wish she’d made this her focus instead – that’s a piece I could get behind.

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About The Author

Rebekah Mays

Rebekah Mays writes fiction and teaches English as a Second Language in Prague. Read about her travels on the Prague BLOG, and follow her on Twitter @smallbeks.

  • Matthew Loftus

    Perhaps, just as an authoritarian sexuality finds it almost impossible to escape secrecy, shame, & double standards, a “free” sexuality cannot escape commercialization, exploitation, & abuse. Just about everyone is, deep down, a judgmental prude when it comes to sexual behavior– it’s mostly a matter of who you’re going to judge and how.

  • JP

    “Before I go any further, let me state some assumptions I’m making here. The first is that women being able to express their sexuality the way they choose is a good thing”

    Well if you’re making this big an assumption off the bat it kinda makes debate pointless yeah. We’re taking freedom to be an inherent good here when obviously people can objectify themselves in certain situations.

    also the lines you reference in “Blurred Lines” aren’t about rape & Gaga very much does see songs like the one you mentioned as “empowering,” though that doesn’t mean they are