Briefly, in the early 1990s, I was a smut peddler. I edited an anthology called The Girl Wants To, which included art and writing about sex and the body, from Roberta Gregory’s “Bitchy Strips” to Barbara Gowdy’s strange, beautiful account of a young necrophiliac, “We So Seldom Look on Love.” The anthology was part of a growing wave of heated discourse by third-wave feminists—women making sense of sex in the ’90s. These were women who felt the need to write about want, desire, pleasure and other taboo information. Taboo because we were talking about our bodies and sexuality in ways we never had, at least publicly and en masse. Think forward, and think of what even the sweetest pop star imaginable, Katy Perry, is saying in virtually all of her songs: that she is a bi-curious, sexy dream-girl/gurl who refuses to “bite [her] tongue” any longer. Having been pushed down to the ground, she is up and roaring in the old-school manner of “I Am Woman.” She is Helen Reddy 2.0, in other words: no bowl-cut and cardigan, no dulcet tones, but the same fervent desire to tell us that we, as women, need not suffer oppression lightly; that we are a pride of powerful lions.
Lately, there has been a sea change, with a powerful sense of another killer wave coming—a “sexplosion.” Writer and former Variety editor Robert Hofler used the term in his fascinating book of the same name. But while his exhaustive, illuminating book focuses on the period from 1968-1973, the wild time that followed the sexual revolution, Hofler’s theories suggest that the future of sex will become less “man-made.” And it already has, of course. Female performers are busily upsetting ideas about sex and power, about the naked body and their perceived passivity.
In her graphic song “Pour It Up,” Rihanna sings, “That’s how we ball out,” in a voice that is virtually empty of inflection. And in the controversial video for the song—“The really sad thing is that she thinks she’s being edgy and sexy when in fact she is slowly destroying her soul,” commented one disquieted fan—she sings this chorus as she presides over a strip club, sitting on a throne in a diamond bra, collar and Lana Turner wig, talking like a man, acting like a woman and unsettling our idea of what it means to be either.
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