Whilst I’ve spent my past few weeks in my own research bubble, in a haze of editing and re-editing my chapter, the latest celebrity scandal has been raging. And this time with a potentially feminist twist. The story concerns Tulisa, star of X-Factor and N-Dubz, and her sex life. For those that haven’t heard about this ‘controversy’, a video of Tulisa and an unidentifiable man, involved in an ‘intimate moment’, as she herself describes it, has been splashed about online. This ‘sex tape scandal’ is nothing new in the world of celebrities, and is certainly not something unheard of in the internet and media representations of famous women. What has distinguished this episode from the likes of Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson, however, has been Tulisa’s personal response. Instead of meekly enduring the Tabloid and online ‘discussions’ denigrating her a slut, she spoke out. When faced with such a scandal, typically women are presented as objects, subjected to male control, literally, in the actions of the footage, and figuratively, as this footage is leaked by the male party, and broadcast in the media, predominantly controlled by a male body. As a response to this, women are shamed, becoming the Mary Magdalene’s of their time, and categorised as the ‘whore’ of the virgin / whore dichotomy. The power of female sexuality is a double edged sword. Women are simultaneously depicted and treated as sexual objects, yet the moment they appear to actually take on this role, they are denigrated, lost as a ‘whore’. We are obsessed with female sexuality. And a video ‘scandal’ such as this one, demonstrates this fact, and the paradox it contains, ever more clearly. It seems to me, to be an issue of control: culturally we enforce an image of women as sex objects, and this is the key term – ‘object’ – the moment this becomes broken, and the women takes on a position of sex subject, arguably the position society demands?, she is categorised as ‘fallen’.
In the wake of such videos, women typically try to regain ‘face’ through modesty. Interestingly the very body-centred terminology utilised here is significant: when dealing with a physical and bodily depiction of female sexuality, literally embodied by the female physical form, the response of modesty must be equally ’embodied’. This can be evidenced through the interviews and depictions of such stars, who appear conforming to idealised and conservative paradigms of demure femininity: a covered body, natural make-up, nothing too explicit. Women, and the representation of women, are limited to the physical. Further confirming the objectification of women.
Tulisa, however, is being termed a hero, and a feminist one at that, for breaking with this representation. She published a video online, in which she speaks out about this scandal, the video, and her sex life. In doing so, she gives the body a voice, she embodies a voice. This response has led journalists to crown her a feminist hero. The Guardian’s Eva Wiseman declares ‘as well as being a threat to the traditional post-sex tape narrative, where the woman is quietly disgraced, this was an unlikely feminist moment’. The reason this was brought to my attention was precisely because of this declaration of Tulisa as a ‘feminist hero’. ‘Feminist hero?!’, I scorned to myself, ‘what are we coming to?’. And I wondered what other responses there could be to this event, and to such a declaration. Surely, if Tulisa is endorsing sex, she’s the image of a feminist hero promoted by a post-feminist 1990s sort of feminist discourse, endorsing free sexuality. But this isn’t the issue at stake here. The fact is, in her video response, Tulisa does not condone sex and sex alone; what she focuses on is love and relationships. It is the media coverage of this story that has focused on pure sex and nothing else. All this serves to do is further confirm the suspicion that we really are obsessed with sex, and more specifically female sexuality. In fact, such a slant on the media coverage merely endorses the sexual objectification of women. And it is because of Tulisa’s response to this slant that she is afforded the accolade ‘feminist hero’. My initial thoughts scorning her as feminist, are revelatory: it depicts the snobbery inherent in certain feminist discourses which limit the image of ‘proper’ feminism to a certain type of privileged, non-main-stream, probably academic, paradigm. But this isn’t feminism. Feminism as such doesn’t exist. In fact, feminism in the singular does not exist, nor should it. We need to embrace feminismS. Plurality. This is why Tulisa, actually, can be seen as a great feminist figure. Not only does she fight a sexualised objectified rhetoric of femininity by embodying a voice, and as such a power, she does so in the media spotlight, a position from which it is, arguably, difficult to gain such a position of power given the constant judging and pressure with which a celebrity figure is faced. And she does so promoting a specific message: if you judge, it reveals who you are, and not who the person being judged is. This is a significant message which we should remember. As she declares it, she is revealing those who denigrated her as a ‘slut’ to be sex-obsessed cretins focused on controlling and condemning women. What’s more, she declares this from a position of power. What’s not feminist about that?
We need more strong pro-women figures like Tulisa, who are readily accessible in our every day lives. Afterall, her message will possibly reach millions. That to me is true feminism, a feminism from the grass roots, for the average person, reaching the masses. Go Tulisa.
This has been a response to the article in the Guardian available here.