Warren Foster
Warren Foster

Girls on film

Being a suckling young media consumer, I can flick through DStv channels with all the dexterity and fervour of a dog digging a hole. Recently, I’ve been trying to reconnect with my generation, because being a jazz- and folk-loving bookworm at twentysomething is “so not on”, but I am simultaneously incensed and jaded by the images on the station for the generation — MTV.

I am told to relax because it’s all in the name of fun. Nobody would take a song like will.i.am’s I Got It from My Momma seriously.

The song asks the pertinent and penetrating question: “Baby where’d you get your body from?” — a novel interrogation, to be sure. Does she work out? Does she starve herself? We men often think of women’s bodies but have we ever bothered to look at what’s behind the body?

In the video the girls do not have faces — they have huge sunglasses. The artist (a generous term I know) is the only boy on set and the camera does not twist around the inside of his thigh or pan across his chest. In one scene he is encircled by female forms, mirror images of the same woman, duplicated and spun around him. We have very simply a body, broken into its component parts by the selective camera … and made replaceable.

Watching MTV is surreal as it is; between videos we watch two-headed creatures burp out the MTV logo. Then comes this onslaught of flashing lights and female body parts. This video is but one that objectifies women. As social theorist Sut Jhally points out, music videos reflect a “dreamworld” of male fantasy, in which women are demure, submissive and endlessly sexually available — merely “things” to be manipulated according to the male will.

Probably the most offensive video in this regard is She Wants It by 50 Cent, Timberland and Justin Timberlake. Or was that Timberlake and Justin Timberland? Anyway, it was some endeavour in forestry. Of course, we all know what “it” is. (Hint: it’s not a walk in the park or a candlelit dinner.)

In this fantasy the women are completely subject to the rapper’s will as he manipulates them remotely through a digital screen, sending the women into spasms of sexual delight at the touch of a button (dream on, gents). The women are all being spied on through night-vision equipment, giving us that same wonderful green-lit effect we saw in Paris Hilton’s amateur sex footage, underscoring their unwitting participation.

And yet they scorn these women that they have created in their fantasies: “She always ready, when you want it she want it, Like a nympho, the info, I show you where to meet her … if you want a good time, she gone give you what you want” croon JT and Fiddy. This charming line is followed by “When she ready to ride, I’m ready to roll, I’ll be in this bitch till the club close …”

And then we have Timbaland repeatedly saying: “Your hips, your thighs, you got me hypnotised” — essentially the woman is the sum of her component parts.

Of course, women are not exempt from falling into this trap and assigning themselves the “nympho” role. As Nicole Scherzinger, Vegas showgirl-turned-pop-queen, demonstrates with her Whatever U Like video. Here we have Scherzinger captured by a group of men and confined to a small box with only enough room for her to crouch in.

There are no bars on the open end of the box; instead Scherzinger seems held in place by the camera fixated on her. She looks hungrily at the camera, and who could blame the poor woman, looking as malnourished as she does? We watch her squirm and contort inside the box, supposedly dancing, while repeating the line “I do what I think you like”. Though I don’t know what we were expecting from the woman who led a group called the Pussycat Dolls.

The objectification of women is so naturalised it is ingrained in the minds of men the world over. And I include myself in that. As many naturalised sexist assumptions I might manage to sidestep, observe and criticise, there are surely several more I still walk into without knowing it.

It is only when the paradigm is turned on its head that we notice it. When I was in high school, Pink released a song called Most Girls which still — and nine years later this is really saying something — stands out. I remember seeing her surrounded by shirtless men and remaining in charge of the situation (though the men were not nearly as sexualised as women still are) and finding it odd. Jill Scott and Lupe Fiasco in the song Daydreamin take the mickey out of current video archetypes: “We need a few more half-naked women up in the pool … and can you please put your titties closer to the 22s? And where’s the champagne? We need champagne.”

Here we see it, but what of the multitudes of misogynist messages out there? In South Africa we boast the highest instance of rape in the world and we see men stripping and demeaning women based on what they deem to be appropriate dress. Surely the attitude behind this behaviour will not evaporate as long as women are so naturally painted as manipulated bodies, and nothing more.