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Rashida Jones has written an article for the January issue of Glamour expanding on her Twitter outburst this fall. While she gets a lot wrong about the state of women expressing sexuality in the public arena, she makes some excellent points and advocates for greater discussion about women’s roles in the public eye. It’s a refreshing piece grappling with issues from a feminist point of view that I wouldn’t ordinarily have expected to see in a traditional lady mag.

A quick recap: Jones took to twitter this October to air the following grievances with what she perceived as an oversexed culture:

 

 

 

The backlash and accusations were pretty instantaneous–Jones was accused of being anti-feminist and a slut shamer immediately. Her piece clarifies those views and starts an important conversation.

Let’s start with what Jones gets right. She writes that “there is a difference, a key one, between ‘shaming’ and ‘holding someone accountable.'” This is a more eloquent version of the point I tried to make on Tuesday–that “shaming” isn’t always an accurate description of valid criticism. In Jones’ version of the world, celebrities are role models (this is a separate and interesting point that I’m inclined to agree with), and therefore their public actions are fair game for scrutiny.

When we defend celebrities and accuse their detractors of being slut shamers, the normal argument is “but they’re experimenting/expressing their sexuality!” I’ve actually made that exact point before, in reference to Miley Cyrus, but now I’m not so sure. Jones makes a salient point about the sexuality stars like Cyrus are frequently criticized for exhibiting:

But the poles, the pasties, the gyrating: This isn’t showing female sexuality; this is showing what it looks like when women sell sex. (Also, let’s be real. Every woman’s sexuality is different. Can all of us really be into stripper moves? The truth is, for every woman who loves the pole, there’s another who likes her feet rubbed. But in pop culture there’s just one way to be. And so much of it feels staged for men, not for our own pleasure.)

This is 100% spot on. This behavior that we all bend over backwards to defend isn’t necessarily an expression of female sexuality at all (although certainly some women get off on gyrating with the express interest of titillating men). When Cyrus makes her vulva a guest star in her act, it doesn’t particularly read like she’s owning her sexuality. Instead, it reads like she’s owning a manufactured sex appeal made by a select group of men.

While I agree with a lot of what Jones is saying, her argument is not without significant flaws. First of all, Jones argues that “[a] new era had arrived. If 1994 was the Year of O.J.’s White Bronco, 2013 was the Year of the Very Visible Vagina.” 1994 was also the year of the first celebrity sex tape (Tonya Harding), a prolonged and uncomfortable Sharon Stone sex scene in The Specialist, and a multitude of other naked events (see: about a million music videos). The point here is that every 10 years or so, everyone gets all rankled about how everyone is having too much sex in the wrong way and everyone is a slutty slut slut. When I was in middle school, it was talk about the Ophelia Complex which set things in motion for mass hysteria over the directionless, oversexed youth. And in 1994, it was all about the S&M acts from Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ video, which was banned from TV. It’s cyclical, and saying this is a new trend is off base.

The other place where Jones loses me is her use of the word “whore.” When the Twitter shitstorm first happened, Jones recieved a ton of flack for it, and her clarification does little to exonerate her.

So back to the word whore. My hashtag was “stopactinglikewhores.” Key word, acting. Like I said, I’m not criticizing anyone’s real sex life; as George Michael tells us, “Sex is natural, sex is fun.”

While I appreciate that she has no opinions about what people do in their personal lives, “whore” is the wrong word here. A whore is a profession, not an insult (just ask our resident sex worker, Cate). Jones is searching for a word we don’t have yet–not slut–that means “personification of male-manufactured sex appeal,” and instead uses the closest word she can think of, even though it’s far from accurate.

So Jones’ argument is far from perfect, but it’s a hugely positive step forward to see a traditional ladymag featuring an actual discussion of feminist issues instead of something like “10 Ways To Get To Find Your Disgusting Hoohah Less Horrifying.” She didn’t get it 100% right, but her conversation is important and hopefully it will continue without people crying “slut shamer!” and ending the conversation without it even starting.

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