A few days ago, CNN “news” network posted this video on their website, which discusses, in a really concerned voice, the new trend of “bad girls” in the media. The video’s caption reads:
CNN’s Carol Costello explores what could be the “third wave” of feminism, and why that’s troubling.
First of all, as Kate Harding pointed out in her response, someone should have tapped Carol Costello on the shoulder and told her that a “third wave” of feminism has existed for quite some time now. The video features a short clip of feminist activist Jaclyn Friedman, who co-edited the book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. Friedman is edited and paraphrased by Costello to sound like she’s providing a resounding affirmation of the video’s thesis: that girls have gone wild, and that it’s scary, and that it’s going to get them raped and that they’re responsible for it. What Friedman actually said, though, is that it’s much more complicated than that. Here’s what CNN said– this is from Costello, paraphrasing Friedman, after listing some statistics about a rise in binge drinking amongst women:
That’s disturbing to feminist editor Jaclyn Friedman. She says women having fun or making stupid mistakes is one thing, but adopting destructive, raunchy behavior is scary.
Friedman defended herself on Twitter, saying that what she actually said was:
There was a double standard worrying about girls’ drinking and not boys’, and that the trouble with the binge drinking culture in general is that it gives plausible deniability to rapists. And that we should be telling men that THEY need to drink responsibly, because alcohol’s not an excuse to rape!
But, you know, complex thoughts are not really CNN’s forte.
Harding’s response includes an excellent interview with Friedman, clarifying her position. Friedman argues that the idea of the “bad girl” is used in the video to blame the victim. Costello is essentially concerned that women are exercising their freedom, as Friedman puts it, to “be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or even do ‘risky’ things, just as men have that freedom,” but Costello never once suggests that boys have responsibility for their behavior as well.
Besides victim blaming, I feel like CNN is intentionally creating this “bad girl” character type to be more terrifying than it is. I’m not about to defend binge drinking by either gender, but it does seem like a complete double standard that a “bad girl” is highly “troubling,” while “bad boy” has been an accepted cultural trope for decades. Costello links the examples of “bad” girls, like Snooki and Ke$ha, to some sort of grand, terrifying change in femininity. Costello, whose furrowed eyebrows can be heard in her worried voice, wonders:
It’s as if girls are celebrating the worst of frat boy behavior as a way to female empowerment. And it you ask some young women, that’s exactly it.
Then, they ask a girl on the streeet, who says, “Yeah, definitely.” AND IT HAS BEEN DECIDED, through extensive research. Girls are gettin’ slutty and irresponsible because of the dangerous idea of “female empowerment.” That one girl on the street just said so.
CNN also purposefully mischaracterizes Ke$ha’s song “Tik tok.” Again, this whole “bad girl” thing is a complicated issue, and so is binge drinking, and I’m not even really 100% sure how I feel about Ke$ha, but to turn her into the poster child for everything that’s wrong with young women today is reactionary. Costello says in the CNN video that the song “Tik tok”
celebrates promiscuity and drinking until you pass out in a stranger’s bathtub.
To be fair, Ke$ha’s lyrics never once mention passing out in a stranger’s bathtub. Yes, in the video, she wakes up in a stranger’s bathtub, but CNN specifically calls out the lyrics, not the video (Costello, at the end of the vid, quips, “That darn song is so catchy, tick tock, you just want to sing and dance to it—and most people don’t really pay attention to the lyrics and that is the problem“). I’m not saying that Ke$ha is the number one female role model in the world, but her lyrics are actually pretty innocuous. Certainly, it’s no subject matter that boy musicians haven’t taken on, I don’t know, millions of times. Here’s all the lines in the song I could find mentioning boys (in reference to CNN’s accusation of “promiscuity”) and drinking.
- “brush my teeth with a bottle of jack”
- “boys blowin’ up our phones”
- “aint got no care in the world, but got plenty of beer”
- “the dudes are lining up, cuz they hear we got swagger/ but we kick them to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger”
- “everybody gettin’ crunk, crunk/ boys tryin’ to touch my junk, junk/ gonna smack him if he’s gettin’ too drunk, drunk”
It’s not exactly feminist literature, but it’s also not the first time a pop song has mentioned alcohol, or sex. And I don’t remember anyone accusing Jamie Foxx of starting a disturbing new trend. The song is about Ke$ha going to a party and partying all night– that’s it. The video illustrates a different narrative, but that happens in plenty of music videos.
Responsibility about drinking is an important issue, but it’s important for both girls and boys. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and it’s important to create awareness without perpetuating the stereotype that girls are accountable for their behavior when drinking but boys aren’t. To imply that girls are responsible for sexual assault because of their “raunchy” behavior is extremely problematic.
It’s also remarkably close-minded and damaging to label any sort of non-traditional or rebellious behavior from women as “troubling.” I’ve never seen “Jersey Shore,” so I can’t speak about Snooki, but I do know that there have been bad-ass women around for a long time now.
In the same movie, Mae West says:
When I’m good, I’m very good. When I’m bad, I’m better.
So stop being so reactionary, CNN, and stop blaming the victim.