Not your prostitute

Prove me wrong, Lykke Li, but I don't imagine that you hailing the prostitute in a song has anything to do with securing workers' rights; image courtesy of nymag.com

Late last year, a reader sent me an e-mail asking what my thoughts on the Lykke Li’s “Get Some.” Truth told, any news about the Swedish singer’s forthcoming Wounded Rhymes was hovering my mind’s periphery. I knew it was coming out soon and that she contributed a song for Twilight‘s New Moon soundtrack. I liked her first album Young Novels. I thought it was interesting that “I’m Good (I’m Gone)” was sung by the season nine cast of American Idol in one of their embarrassing car commercial music videos. But that was really the extent of it. So when the reader pointed that Li refers to herself as a lover’s prostitute in “Get Some,” I was pretty bummed and surprised I hadn’t heard about it. At best, it gives detractors more ammunition to claims that indie recording artists are the quickest to sell out. 

Look, I’m not here to knock prostitutes. I’m starting on the second season of Deadwood, and Trixie is one the show’s most interesting characters. I understand that several feminists have spoken in defense of their work, including a lawyer friend of mine who wrote a really stunning piece of legal writing on the subject when she was in school. I recognize that many people go into prostitution on their own accord and derive pleasure and self-empowerment from their work. As their work often gets collapsed in with human trafficking (which is an altogether different matter and should be eradicated), we should recognize that sex workers are real people who are providing services. Frankly, I think they should get health benefits and union rights like other professions do in the states. But I also feel beyond uncomfortable with a society that places a dollar value on exchanging sexual favors with paid strangers.

As a feminist, I’m ambivalent about prostitution as a profession. However, I’m really not okay with female pop stars self-identifying as prostitutes in their songs, particularly as misguided attempts to gin up controversy, construct blockhead metaphors about the power dynamics of female sexuality, or be edgy. I get that Li is Swedish and thus may have a different outlook on it than this ugly American. However, though it’s perhaps meant to be perceived as transgressive, women playing the whore ultimately seems like such a safe play. It presents the illusion of confronting taboos around sexuality, but casts women in the societal roles ascribed for them. This is why I’m probably not going to get much out of the penis P.O.V. shots that await me when I get around to seeing Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. Maybe by the time they appear, I’ll have fallen asleep or smashed my television.

 

It’s a tenuous connection fraught with racial difference, but Li’s single made me wonder why I celebrate Rihanna’s sexual frankness or am more accommodating of Keri Hilson’s gleefully explicit “The Way You Love Me.” I think we still might live in a culture where black women declaring and demanding sexual gratification on their own terms is unfortunately really unsettling for many people. Though I certainly hope that these women are recognized for more than their libido, I’m glad their pleasure doesn’t seem to come with a price tag.

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3 comments

  1. danieltalsky

    I was a little less surprised by this song than some. Lykki Li alludes to sexual availability being a part of her charm even in her first album. In her song Little Bit she sings:

    For you I keep my legs apart / and forget about my tainted heart.

    Granted, the whole prostitute thing takes on a different air… but when I first heard it, it just sounded like an alluring promise of sexual availability. According to her, though, the meaning is a lot more aggressive. In a Pitchfork interview she says:

    Yeah, it’s not about being a sex prostitute. It’s about this power play in the war of the sexes. It’s a rat race, like, “I’m in charge,” “No, I’m in charge.” A lot of times females are in charge because they kind of have the pussy power. If they say, “I’m you’re prostitute,” then they mean, “I’m the power.”

    I was also reading this [Haruki] Murakami book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle where there’s a woman that calls herself a mind prostitute and she goes into this man’s mind so he thinks that they’re getting it on; he fantasizes about her. They’re not doing it, she’s just in his mind to steal information.

    I wanted the video for “Get Some” to be this do-it-yourself, join-the-cult thing where a woman draws you in, and then bam!– she’s going to crush you.

    Which… whatever the hell that means, but at least she’s thinking about it. I never would have come up with that interpretation listening to the song.

  2. danieltalsky

    Ah darn, I wasn’t able to mark my comment clearly enough, as to what part is a quote from Lykke Li. It’s her quote from the interview from “Yeah, it’s not about being a sex prostitute….” to
    “she’s going to crush you”. I’m not able to, but please edit the comment to reflect that.

    Really been enjoying the blog by the way.

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