This may seem like just another big-haired 80s pop song to you, but it’s way more than that to me. In fact, I’m going to be a bit self-indulgent and say that this otherwise innocuous bit of music trivia is a microcosm of my coming of age, and a perfect example of what I’ve become. More than that, it’s the perfect vehicle for explaining why I am such an outspoken advocate of sex-positivity and freedom for women.
But that’s all a little heavy for right now. Let’s start with the basics. Though I don’t recall the exact date that this clip aired, I do remember the effect that it had on me. I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 years old, and as a result of Sheena’s performance and interview on Johnny Carson, I had fallen madly in lust with a celebrity for the first time. I carried a torch for Sheena for several years. I would stay up all hours of the night watching MTV or VH1 hoping to see one of her videos. I was absolutely hooked.
Now… I know what some of you are thinking. “What a chauvinist pig! You were just in love with her because she flaunted her hotsy-totsy body around in a tight short skirt and sparkly bra.”
Au contraire! It was not, in fact, Sheena’s body that did it for me. (It didn’t hurt anything, mind you. But that wasn’t the real selling point.) Only a couple of years later, I made it through Whitesnake’s videos with Tawny Kitaen, MTV’s original video vixen, without so much as slightly accelerated blood flow to the corpus cavernosum:
In terms of straight up sexy, we can probably say that Tawny and Sheena were both bringing something special to the table, and both were certainly suggestive enough to inspire the carnal desire of young men up past their bedtimes. It was something else about Sheena that finally won me over. Actually, it was two things:
See those stills to the left? Those are insets of several of the closeups while she was talking to Johnny. And you know what got me? Her eyes. Her bright, smiling green Scottish eyes. (At least, they looked green to me at the time. Who knows what color they really are with all the digital alterations of her photos. But I choose to believe they’re green.)
And her laugh. Her laugh was absolutely charming and disarming and beautiful. She laughed so easily, and when she did, her eyes smiled. And I was absolutely in love. Or lust. If there can be a difference to a 14 year old.
Now. Fast forward a quarter of a century, and we are in the midst of a firestorm over women’s rights to contraception. We are arguing over a radio blowhard who called a smartly and non-sexually dressed Harvard student a slut. We are sure — yet again — that women showing skin or acting sexy or (heaven forbid) having sex will destroy society.
But what are we really worried about? Are we worried about the women themselves, or are we worried about the poor men who won’t get to have every naked body they see? Let’s — for the sake of egalitarianism — start with the idea that we want women to be safe and we want them to be treated fairly. We don’t want them to be seen as sex objects only. Instead, we’d like everyone to look at them as human beings whose sexuality is part of a bigger package.
With that in mind, I have a couple more images for you to consider:
As safety goes, these women are at much higher risk than either Sheena Easton or Tawny Kitaen were ever exposed to. To my knowledge, in American history, there is not a single example of a woman being raped and then killed as punishment for having been raped. But it’s not that uncommon an occurrence in many Muslim countries, where women are forbidden from showing… their ankles.
Let’s make sure we understand this: Women in countries where women are COMPLETELY covered anytime they are in public are routinely and brutally sexually victimized in ways that are absolutely unthinkable in the “hedonistic, sex-obsessed West.”
And consider this photo:
Japan not only sexualizes women to a high degree, it also arguably infantilizes women as well, with emphasis on school girl outfits, pony tails, and other cultural norms that seem unhealthy to us good Christian Americans. Yet…
Japan ranks very low in rapes per capita, lower than the U.S., which disapproves of the very idea of reading a pornographic magazine on a bus, which is routine in Japan. More importantly, both countries are virtually free of many of the more heinous crimes against women in countries with more “conservative” attitudes towards women. (Yes, there are far too many crimes against women in America, and this needs to be addressed. But it’s very difficult to view these crimes as the result of dressing provocatively.)
The fact is, making women cover up does not stop them from being sexualized or victimized. This is the point that is missed by too many people on both sides of the discussion. When women are not permitted to show their ankles, men will become aroused by ankles, and say that she deserved it because she showed her ankles. In the U.S., it was once said that women were asking for it if they showed their oh-so-sexy knees. Or their (gasp!) dangerously bare shoulders. It was once thought that the two piece bikini would be the end of civilization as we know it. Because you know how sexy belly buttons are.
While we’re thinking along these lines, let’s think about what a Burqa says. When a woman is forced to cover her body from head to toe, never letting the outline of her body press too closely to the fabric, what are we saying about women’s bodies? We’re saying that their bodies are so sexual, so dangerous, so enticing, so…. deliciously fuckable… that men won’t be able to help themselves unless women are completely covered. Can we think of any way to sexualize a woman more, and to value her personality less than by saying that she must first take her body completely out of the equation before we can talk to her as a human being?!
As is so often the case, those who are most adamant about “protecting women’s dignity” are taking it away from them. Certainly, there is a discussion to be had about the effects of various types of female dress and their effect on social situations, and we would be naive to suggest that the woman with the deep cleavage doesn’t cause a stir in a room full of business suits. But we must drop the pretense that by telling women to cover up, we are somehow protecting them. That is a lie. Women are not in danger from men who respect them and value them as humans no matter what they’re wearing. They are in danger from men who think they are so defined by their sexuality that they must hide their physical appearance.
And that takes me back to Sheena Easton, and how her performance was a full-circle journey for me. Watching her video for the first time gave me my first celebrity crush. It brought me into the world of pursuing women for sex. It was a passage into sexual manhood. Today, as I reflect back to that moment in time, I am struck by the lyrics to her song — lyrics that had no meaning for me at the time because I was still ignorant of the realities of gender politics and women’s rights, or of the sexual dynamics in the workplace, or of the very concept of a “trophy wife.” But today, they are as powerful as they were in 1984. Sheena, strutting her stuff across the floor on the Johnny Carson show, is sending a clear message: Yes, boys, I’m here, and I’m sexy, and trust me, this girl is worth the time and attention. But treat me like a human being or all you’ll see is my sexy ass walking out your door.”
I think that’s a fine message, and it’s why I’m an activist for women’s right to wear anything — or nothing — and my right to fall in love or lust because they have a cute laugh and pretty eyes.
He said, “Baby, what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you use your imagination
Nations go to war over women like you, it’s just a form of appreciation
Come on over here, lay your clothes on the chair
Now let the lace fall across your shoulder
Standing in the half light, you’re almost like her
So take it slow like your daddy told you”
Strut pout, put it out, that’s what you want from women
Come on baby, what’cha taking me for
Strut pout, cut it out, all taking and no giving
Watch me baby while I walk out the door
I said, “Honey, I don’t like this game, you make me feel like a girl for hire
All this fascination with leather and lace is just the smoke from another fire”
He said, “Honey, don’t stop a speeding train before it reaches its destination
Lie down here beside me, oh, have some fun too
Don’t turn away from your true vocation”
I won’t be your baby doll, be your baby doll
I won’t be your baby doll, be your baby doll