In this month's issue of Glamour, Rashida Jones penned a defense of her tweets telling female celebrities to "#stopactinglikewhores." Despite Rashida's defense that she's a feminist, see, and that's why what she said was ok, her words were anything but ok.
Rashida defended herself by saying that she was not only not a prude, but she was a feminist, and she was merely complaining about how common it is to see female pop stars half-naked and performing for the male gaze. But her tweets did not contain criticism of patriarchal institutions; they contained criticism of the women who don't overthrow those institutions. Once again, women are to blame for their own oppression. We just can't win, can we?
The issue isn't that Miley and Rihanna perform in very little clothing, or that regardless of their intentions, they can be construed as performing for the male gaze. The issue is that when Tegan & Sara and Janelle Monae perform fully clothed and in a way that is clearly and undeniably queer, they are not given the same kind of success that Miley and Rihanna are. But that is not the fault of Miley and Rihanna, it is the fault of a racist, patriarchal music industry that will not let anyone else in. It is the fault of a music industry who will only promote fully-clothed artists when they are white and racially appropriative, like Adele, but will not promote Jill Scott, India Arie, or Chrisette Michele. Stop telling Miley and Rihanna to put on some clothes, and start telling music execs to back and promote female artists who don't show as much skin and who cater to an audience other than straight men.
But back to Rashida's use of the word "whore." In both her tweets, and her Glamour article, Rashida points to sex workers – "whores" – as the problem. They are the women that we should not act like, who we should distance ourselves, who we should cry for and then castigate. This is hardly new for sex workers; feminist have been calling sex workers traitors and pointing to them as the enemy for decades. But for a wave of feminism that has supposedly improved dramatically upon the sins of the past, it is rather shocking not just to see Rashida base her feminism on whorephobia, but to see such support for that whorephobia.
Rashida's whorephobia is all the more troubling when you consider that women of color and LGBTQ people make up a disproportionate amount of those in the sex trade. These are not only people who do not have the same history of sexuality that straight, white, cis women do, but who patriarchy considers to be sexually defective in one way or another. This is especially true for queers of color, who frequently turn to survival sex work when they cannot find employment elsewhere, and who are then harassed by police, stopped and frisked, and imprisoned at astronomical rates. But rather than support those who most represent the literal breakdown of the gender binary (supposedly a goal of the feminist movement), Rashida Jones, as a feminist, says we should be distancing ourselves from them. And who does Rashida suggest we follow? Lily Allen, in her racially appropriative video.
What's more, it frightens me that no one pointed this out. On Jezebel, a website that is routinely held up as being too sex-positive, no one pointed out that one of the darker sides of feminist history is the longstanding tendency to make sex workers the enemy. Is this what sex positivity is now, a movement for straight, white college girls who celebrate photographing their vulvas to show the diversity of labia length and pubic hair and who trade tips on vibrator brands, but who do not stand up for the rights of those in the sex trade, who think of intersectionality as too academic, and who see inclusion of queer sexuality in the mainstream as a niche issue? Because that is not a movement I have any interest in being part of.