There’s a song making the rounds called “All About That Bass” sung by a pastel-clad Meghan Trainor. She looks like she belongs in a badly colorized parody of Alice In Wonderland but that’s beside the point.
In the context of the song, you may wonder what “bass” means.
I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the fish.
It’s not, if we’re being honest, even about the sound of bass, as in guitar or drum.
I’ve included it here in the event that you managed to miss it, so please feel free to enjoy.
Now tell me I’m wrong about the psycho candy-coating pastels.
But more importantly, tell me your impression of this video, specifically its message.
Give it a second to percolate. I’ll wait.
Here’s what I thought initially:
Huh. Chubby chick, that’s cool. We can all use a normal person in our entertainment once in a while. Empowering…. right? Yeah, empowering. Chubby chick is not hindered by her size. And proving it by being cute and popular and famous!
But something sort of bugged me and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
It wasn’t the fact that I started to suspect that she was eating the sugar roses on her tiara and thus contributing to her larger size.
It wasn’t even the requisite ass-shaking by the not-as-chubby chick, although seriously, is that like, the only move we can come up with now that the Electric Slide is dead?
My parents used to lament my generation’s “dancing” as nothing more than jumping up and down, often arrhythmically, with no actual steps to follow. If only they had been able to foresee the travesty that is twerking, they might have allowed themselves to appreciate my sporadic gyrations.
Apparently the defining factor for women in modern culture is their ability to shake their asses.
That notwithstanding, the thing that started to crawl under my skin and eventually claw its way out was that I started to think about the actual message of the song.
Allow me the privilege of parsing it for you.
Warning: language ahead. I told you this could happen if I got worked up enough about something so stop here if the occasional four letter word offends you.
Dear girls of all ages, shapes and sizes,
I’m here to tell you today that it’s ALL about that bass. And even if you have a big, fat ass, you can still get men to fuck you if you just learn how to shake it. And really, girls, if we’re being honest with ourselves, isn’t that what we all aspire to?
I understand the pain of young girls everywhere who suffer needlessly, thinking that they will never experience the joy of being objectified by a man. I’d like to prove to you right now that not only can you wear pastels but that you, too, can ignore your intelligence, capabilities and emotional worth, and be vapid eye candy. Be proud, fatties. Stand up for your right to be the meaningless object of a man’s sexual whim! Because then, my friends, is when you have won.
Or at least that’s my interpretation. Because I’m pretty sure “that bass” isn’t referencing the deep intellectual insights of women. Or their problem-solving skills. Or even their emotional sensitivity or perhaps their ability to bake a mean apple pie.
Lest you think I have overreacted and gone off some feminist deep end, allow me to quote a lyric from the song:
Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size 2
But I can shake it, shake it like I’m supposed to do
‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
All the right junk in all the right places
Based on the bubblegum pop and equivalent outfits, I’m guessing the demographic for this song is not college educated thirty-somethings with careers. I’m guessing, in all likelihood, this is being watched, emulated and modeled by your daughters. Your ten and twelve year old daughters. Maybe even your sixteen year old ones. Hell, maybe even your six year old ones. And I’m thinking this is no different than watching a Miley Cyrus concert.
At least Miley Cyrus is honest: “I’m hot. Look at my ass. ‘Cause that’s all there is.”
Songs like “All About That Bass” take a cultural deficiency and instead of sending an alternative, positive message, simply twist the message into something just as deficient and call it progress.
Allow me to continue quoting from this brilliant bit of enlightening poetry:
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size
She says, boys they like a little more booty to hold at night
I would like to publicly thank my mother right now for never once, not ever in my life, telling me that boys would like my booty.
She did tell me that I would find someone to like ME one day, no matter how stupid the boys I liked were for not liking me back.
She did tell me that I would find someone to like me just the way I am.
She also told me to study.
To take care of myself.
To make friends.
She told me to be careful, to wear a hat and to get places on time. She told me not to follow the crowd. She told me to turn off the light when I left a room and push in my chair when I got up from the dinner table.
She told me to say please and thank you, to respect my elders, to be nice to people even if it seemed like they didn’t deserve it.
She told me a lot of things, which would warrant a whole book, let alone a blog post. And it’s funny but as I comb through the lessons or even the casual words tossed out at a cranky, frustrated teenager, I can’t think of a single time that she reminded me that my booty would please a man one day.
You can say I’m splitting hairs, that saying someone would like me “as-is” is the same thing, just couched in the more polite language of a traditional Catholic household.
But you would be wrong.
Because the premise of what my mother told me had nothing to do with attracting men and everything to do with actually teaching me that I was ok.
And that there was a lot to me, not just in the booty sense (and I’ve always had plenty of that, never to my delight) but in my brain and my heart and my soul. Stuff you don’t sing about in pop songs where the only message seems to be, “Hey women, if you really want to feel empowered then just get a man to want to fuck you.”
If you’re reading this I know you also told me not to use bad language but I’m really, really pissed off. I’m tired of the fact that the only reason women are objectified is because they let themselves be. And that, well, they seem to want it that way. Or at least that’s the permeating message. And that we’ve accepted the fact that seeing “beautiful” (and often scantily clad) women in ads and on TV shows and shaking their parts in music videos is somehow supposed to be liberating and make us all feel so strong and empowered. So please forgive my little outburst but do you know that I can’t even search for a stock photo anymore without excluding the words “beautiful young woman”? Do you know that the last time I tried to find a photo for one of my law clients to use on his website, using the keyword “justice”, that I got a whole page of “beautiful young woman…” results with mostly undressed women doing things I couldn’t equate with justice even if I had Johnnie Cochran next to me? The only bright side to this is that at least I don’t have a daughter. Because I might be really, REALLY pissed off if I did. And if this was the cultural message being indoctrinated into her brain.
There was a brief controversy recently over an ad promoting an underwear line called “The Ada Collection”. It showed women tech execs wearing the underwear in the collection. Women of all races, ages and sizes. It wasn’t provocative underwear. It was nice. Functional. Normal.
And it sounds kind of cool, right? It wasn’t an ad full of “beautiful young women” wearing impractical attire and requiring the use of ungodly things like butt glue for the sake of being a sex object. (Butt glue. It’s a real thing. I swear to God.) It was just people.
But think about it. First of all, if you are remotely aware of current events you may know that there’s been concern for some time about “women in tech”. It turns out (surprise!) that it’s a male dominated world and that women (bigger surprise!) often feel uncomfortable or get harassed for, well, having things like boobs.
There have been both social and political campaigns to get girls into coding, into tech, into science. You know, THINKING things rather than aiming for the perfect ass shake.
This has at intervals been either somewhat successful or rather a failure, depending on which story you read or which scandal breaks.
So “women” and “tech” is sort of a sensitive subject.
But even if you want to argue that even women in tech wear underwear, there’s the more damning part of this, which is the name of the collection – Ada – named after Ada Lovelace.
Despite her underwear-sounding name, Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and considered not only the first woman computer programmer but THE first computer programmer, ever.
And this was back in the 1800s when you might reasonably guess that women were hardly thought of as having a brain at all, let alone one that could DO things.
So to name an underwear line after her and then show modern day tech execs sitting around wearing it sort of seems like a whole backwards step for the idea of actually empowering women.
I mean, I get it. Women wear underwear. Even tech execs. But is the true, driving aim of society to be sure we can all see it? And to know that yes, even tech execs have those parts? And while you’re at it, aren’t they all so sexy and beautiful just the way they are? Or, rather, they way they COULD STILL BE, even if they were wearing a whole pair of pants?
I’m fairly certain that even if I managed to wipe out sexism, even in its most innocuous, insidious forms, and if I grew up to be brilliant and wise and rich and famous and celebrated, I would still NOT need to prove that I can look good in underwear.
Not because I don’t wear it.
Not even because I can’t look good doing it.
But because it just doesn’t even cross my mind. Like, ever. I wouldn’t be any more or less likely to want to prove to the world that I can brush my teeth. Or that I learned how to cross a street all by myself.
I just don’t get the obsession.
Well, I guess the good news is that at least Ada’s underwear doesn’t come in pastels.
So here’s my solution: let’s empower all the other parts of women, not just their butts and boobs. Let’s not empower women’s parts but their actual existence.
Let’s not tell girls how they can be pretty and fuckable even if they’re fat. Let’s just tell them that they’re ok. Let’s perpetrate an obsession with brains and thinking and intelligence and accomplishment.
I mean, never in my life have I heard of anyone consoling a young girl, whether as a well meaning parent or through a brainless pop song, by saying, “It’s ok honey, I know you’re not as smart as all those other girls but you’ll still be able to get a job as a waitress. Some restaurant somewhere will take you as stupid as you are.”
So why do we console them equally as absurdly about their rear views?
Let’s not put tech execs in their underwear, not even if they’re quoting Einstein and solving global warming with a brilliant new algorithm as they do it. Can we all just ASSUME they’re wearing underwear and get on with appreciating their achievements and skills?
Can we celebrate those achievements and skills and leave out the subtext about how it would all be so much better if only they could be sexy, too?
Can we have normal sized women in ads and videos without making it about how “empowered” they are because men even like the fat ones?
Can a normal sized, fully clothed female singer write a song about…. Oh, I don’t know. A bus? Or something equally NOT about her ability to compete with the hotties for sex?
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size
That’s right, because you can’t worry about what you never THINK about, what you don’t OBSESS about, what doesn’t cross your mind to CARE about.
Because women aren’t being held back by the sizes of their asses. They’re being held back by the fact that they HAVE one. And that they seem to be ok with this as long as men like staring at it.
You are more than the sum total of your ass cheeks.
Let’s open a song or an ad or a movie or a conversation about that. Am I wrong?
Wonderful discussion you are creating! But I have two thoughts.
First: As empowered women, why not have intelligence and sell undergarments? This day and age, modeling underwear is not shocking or taboo. So why is it offensive to show smart women wearing panties and happy with thier bodies? I wonder if the company of said lingerie is a woman. She may be proud of her work and has the right to sell it. And women are looking, judging, and buying it more often then men. So, maybe the problem is more within our sex.
Second: Your blog panel on the right: “In The Know: I dont have anything to sell, I’m just here to look pretty.” This is jarring with the message of this post.
I enjoy your blog and agree almost 100%. Thank you for sharing.
I wasn’t suggesting it’s shocking or taboo. It’s entirely UNshocking and quite common, which is part of my point. Do you recall the last time you saw men strutting around in tight little briefs? Pretty much never. But women are expected to have their parts all over TV and ads for the sake of selling something, often to men. And women are conditioned to think it’s “for us”. I am almost 100% certain I could have chosen my underwear without seeing an executive wearing it. So if we want to show women in underwear then I think men should get equal time. Perhaps I should change my message to “equal nakedness for men!” Sounds like a campaign I could get behind (no pun intended).
I also don’t object to the idea of women feeling comfortable with their bodies (wouldn’t that be a nice change!) but I think the message of that particular ad is confused, especially in light of the issue of women in tech and the brains/body dichotomy we are so often faced with. It’s not that I’m offended by the ad, I just think it’s misguided. Those could have been ANY women. And any underwear. But that ad made a big deal out of something that didn’t need to be made any deal out of.
As for my sidebar comment, it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I’m fairly confident that my writing and ability to think a thing through before I put it on a page will speak for itself. And if you could see me on a Tuesday at 3AM working on a deadline (never in my underwear, though) you would certainly define the word “pretty” differently and the joke would probably make more sense.
I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog and I appreciate your input!
A woman needs to be president, Congress should be at least a 50/50 split and not 362 men and 76 women in the House and 17 women and 83 men in the Senate and more women need to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Then maybe, just maybe we may see the tides at least begin to change.
Maybe! Maybe then we will have less women in underwear and doing butt shaking routines for…. empowerment.
I love this. I admit, I have sung this song, loudly, when I am alone in the car and have lost radio roulette. I’ll also admit a little thrill when I am “objectified” by my husband, even after 20 years. But that thrill can come because I know that first comes love, respect and a whole host of other positive foundation bricks. That I get that random touch or kiss more often while I am playing with our son, or as I swear my way through a sink full of dirty dishes is testament to that. Have to say, I can’t remember the last time I had to “shake it” to get attention, so I took the song as you did initially.
But this post just made me think of high school. And the messy, emotional, competitive, end-of-the-world, attention-seeking weight of image. So you are spot on.
And as a female in a titled position at a medical software company, that underwear ad pissed me off. I meant to double back and comment on that post, but I have internet ADD. So, great, they have awesome jobs. They have brains in their head and shoes on their feet. They were still placed lounging in their underwear in a girl-party…why? ‘Cause we never outgrow the sexy pillow fights as executives? They are still selling MY underwear to men.
Lynnette, you said the perfect thing: They are still selling my underwear to men.
HELLO! That’s exactly it. I don’t need an underwear ad of women execs sitting around in it to make me by underwear. It’s a thing I buy. That’s a man ad couched in some idea of feminism. So stupid.
As to your point about your husband, that’s entirely different. You get to behave as you darn well please in your own relationships. If you or I want to wear a slut-thong so our husbands will go WHOOHOO! Then that is up to us. The problem here is that the message being drilled into girls’ heads – who are NOT in a relationship and who may never be in a healthy one based on equality – is that, well, not to be redundant but “it’s all about that bass”. You want a relationship? Shake your ass. You want a man? Shake your ass. Oh, and by the way, it’s EMPOWERING to do that!
Pft. My ass. (no pun intended)
I hate the message in that song and my partner loves that song. Since he’s a singer/songwriter, I’d like to believe it’s the melody he appreciates and not the message. By the way, he plays the “bass” (guitar).
As you know (but your readers probably don’t), I have four daughters. Count ’em up, people! Four young women who’ve heard this kind of crap for years. I just hope I’ve instilled the message that “shaking your ass” or your boobs to get a man’s attention gives women a bad name. I call those women “cheap”.
Seems to me if you want to feel empowered and maybe even rule the world some day or at least get paid the same as your male counterparts, you’ll need to use a different part of your body. Namely, your brain. Not your butt.
I share your sentiments, Lynnette!