Slate is rightly known for its contrarianism; indeed, its writers tend to rejoice in it. This is generally fine — it’s always good to have an outlet for dissenting and unconventional opinions. Of late, though, they’ve outdone themselves as far as publishing clueless tracts about gender politics goes. First there was Emily “Dear Prudence” Yoffe’s depressing and ill-advised decision to wheel out the “women shouldn’t drink because it leads to sexual assault” argument. Even that, however, was trumped by “hilarious” fashion “personality” Simon Doonan’s preposterous piece yesterday about Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and other “porn-inspired pop divas.” Published under the giggle-inducing sub-LiveJournal headline “I Do Not Like Miley’s Outfit,” Doonan’s rant managed to be classist, sexist, borderline racist, and offensive to just about everyone, all within the space of 1000 words.
If you’ve missed the article in question, I’ll save you the trouble of reading it (although if you want to, be my guest). Under the tenuous rubric of commenting on the fashion sense of today’s pop stars, Doonan wheels out a view of gender politics that’s more Downton Abbey than downtown fashion, so conservative that it’d would make the Dowager Countess blanch. Here are some choice quotes:
How did we all get so yeasty and slutty? Why have we chosen to live in a world where hoochie hotness is the only currency? How much is that dildo in the window, the one with the waggly bit on the end?
Little girls are not supposed to be thrashing around like cracked-out pole dancers. Instead they should be skipping around the lawn in a Ralph Lauren-ish backyard, wearing little bonnets and starched Bonpoint sundresses and singing songs like “Mabel, Mabel, Set the Table.”
And, best of all:
Dressing like a porn-slut indicates, loudly and clearly, that you are more than willing to give head in the stationery closet.
This is the sort of thing you’d expect from a pointy-headed finger-wagging fundamentalist on the sort of Christian rantblog that still boasts a badge inviting you to use Netscape Navigator 3.0, not from a fashion columnist on a mainstream online magazine. Doonan’s piece starts with an anecdote about watching sex workers on Sunset Blvd. in LA during the 1970s, to the soundtrack of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls,” the implication apparently being that bad — i.e., sexually active — girls are dirty and sad, as if the existence of prostitution is somehow a cautionary tale about women’s conduct, and not a reflection of the entrenched misogyny of pretty much every society on earth.
In one paragraph, Doonan manages to perpetuate the stigmatization of sex workers (“Wearing bikinis and heels, even in the pouring rain, these drug-addled sex workers are a sorry sight”) and to suggest that girls who wear revealing clothing or otherwise express their sexuality are “sluts” worthy of nothing more than pity and contempt. But, shit, he’s only getting started.
He suggests that the video to Christina Aguilera’s 2002 song “Dirrty” made her look like there was “a Taser lodged in her vagina” and/or that she had gonorrhea. He calls Rihanna “erotically sinister,” as if the singer’s overt sexuality is somehow tinged with latent evil. And he refers to Britney Spears and her “fellow hookers,” thus implying that Spears herself is an actual prostitute.
Apart from the obvious misogyny of prudish laments about “porn-inspired pop divas who are attempting to sell records by flaunting their private areas and jiggling their fleshy assets with unprecedented abandon” — put away your fleshy bits, girls! — there’s a definite snobbishness about the whole sorry business, what with its repeated use of words like “hoochie” and “skanky.” It’s also grounded in a nostalgia for a time that never existed; Doonan cites Janis Joplin and Debbie Harry as avatars of a time when female pop stars were allegedly above such raunchiness, which is kinda hilarious given that Joplin was perfectly happy to take her clothes off for the sake of art (as, indeed, were plenty of other ’60s types, but they were men, and men can’t be sluts so it doesn’t count, right?!) And Harry worked as a Playboy bunny, for Chrissakes.
And given how inextricably linked race and class are America, its language also smacks of coded racism — appropriate enough, perhaps, given that Doonan is best known (as his byline puts it) as “creative ambassador” for Barneys, a store where black shoppers are apparently not welcome at all. Good for him, then, that those scarily skanky women apparently spent much of the 2000s restricting themselves to reality TV, where they could say things like, “I’m so ghetto my pussy smells like menthol” — his quote, not mine — without unduly frightening upstanding guardians of female morality like, um, people who get paid by the fashion industry.
Because, yes, as a fashion writer and corporate shill, Doonan has his bills paid by an industry that exists largely to separate women from their money, and is rightly notorious for both sexualizing its customers and subjecting them to the tyranny of impossible beauty ideals.
We haven’t even gotten to the part where, besides being reactionary, conservative, offensive, and grounded in precisely no reality at all, Doonan’s piece turns out to be flat-out wrong. “In fact,” he writes, “so inured are [today’s youth] to our oversexed culture that, when they discover the artists of yore on YouTube, they are totally dumbfounded by the lack of throbbing, overt sexual hotness.”
Does Doonan have any evidence of this? Has he actually talked to any of our oversexualized youth before targeting them with a bunch of hectoring stereotypes? No, of course not. He’s too busy bloviating about important topics like how he likes hanging out with Kate Moss (a model who has, of course, never embraced porn chic — and yes, that link is NSFW) and whether old people should wear “sassy underwear.”
“Call me crazy,” Doonan writes toward the end of his article, “but I always thought of clothing, however minimal, as a simple system of nonverbal communication. It allows us to telegraph whatever we want to the outside world.” Indeed. And maybe in wearing what they choose to wear, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus and the rest are communicating to the world that they don’t need reactionary pundits like Simon Doonan telling them what to do. More power to them.