Thursday, September 1, 2011

In 'How to Love' Lil' Wayne Gets "the Stipper Life' Wrong


Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. You can catch her more of her here




Lil Wayne's newest song and video, How to Love, is essentially not any different from most of his other videos which objectify, vilify and degrade women. The tempo is slower, the mood intended to be an ominous setting for an important social message. I am sure most readers can expect this kind of video from him even as the mainstream media applauds him over this heart wrenching life lesson. I'd like to comment on how this video is merely an extension of patriarchal demands of female bodies and how patriarchy still has power over how female bodies are used and seen. Yes, there are some tired tropes here. It's obvious that he is portraying an inaccurate and popular stereotype of "stripper life" and reinforcing the image of the poor sex worker in need of someone to save her from a life of pain and contracting HIV.

The first half of the video portrays a girl growing up in a single parent home, being sexually abused and turning to a life of stripping and escorting. She looks miserable, lonely and pathetic and finally hits rock bottom when testing positive for HIV. The second half of the video is her alternate life. We get a tour of how her life is different when her mother marries instead of staying single, she stays in school, graduates from hair college and happily becomes pregnant.
 What's important about this video is that is not merely a portrayal of stripper life, but is a false and problematic warning to young women, and young women of color in particular. Right now during tense and controversial issues surrounding abortion and women of color, the video serves as a warning that abortion is simply the wrong choice. Single motherhood is also the target for fear and warning. The mother in this video is portrayed as lazy and/or irresponsible. She's seen sleeping while her daughter is being sexually assaulted by some random man she brought home. Also problematic is that too often (actually, I can not even think of a single example) sex workers of color are seen as one dimensional, pathetic and childish. White sex workers in the media aren't given much complexity either but there less demeaning portrayals of them that make them seem quirky or cute, glamorous or simply having interests outside of sex work. Sex work is not made to seem like a last resort or as the repercussion of being raised by a single mother.

 The central message of this video tells us what's appropriate for female bodies. Heterosexual marriage, child bearing and rearing and not challenging the oppression you face are all appropriate, good ways for the female body to be used. If you dare to use your body in ways deemed inappropriate- sex for pleasure, sex work or having an abortion- you will be punished for these transgressions. You should expect, even deserve, sexual assault, depression, children who follow in your destructive path, a loveless life and HIV. There is no room for complexity or overlapping experiences in this world. Everything is good or evil and sex work clearly falls on one side.

Lil Wayne has outdone himself in this video because he not only mirrors and perpetuates a system where women are punished for not following the hetero-normative standards outlined for us, but he also manages to sexually objectify the woman he is also trying to save. The line "its hard not to stare, the way your moving your body like you never had a love" struck a weird chord with me. He is fighting temptation to sexually objectify the woman who he just described as no less than damaged goods? This video isn't just rife with stereotypes, but lazy and confused as well.