Ariana Grande, she of doughnut-licking fame, has caused waves in pop culture with her new song and video titled "God is a woman." The media has proclaimed the song "epic" and "incredible." It "smashes the patriarchy," declared the LA Times. It is an "empowering anthem," said Yahoo News. And so on.
The Guardian published a lengthy piece analyzing, and ultimately affirming, the theological arguments asserted by Grande. The only problem is that Grande did not assert any theological arguments. The video consists of random religious imagery interspersed between clips of Grande writhing about in various stages of undress. It is far too stupid to be offensive and far too incoherent to even rise to the level of blasphemy. The main point of the song, like most pop songs, is sex. And, like most pop songs, it is too idiotic to say anything about sex other than, "I like it and want to have more of it."
By the way, here are the lyrics that publications like the Guardian have attempted to engage on intellectual grounds:
"You, you love it how I move you
You love it how I touch you
My one, when all is said and done
You'll believe God is a woman
And I, I feel it after midnight
A feeling that you can't fight
My one, it lingers when we're done
You'll believe God is a woman"
She's not really saying that God is a woman, per se. She's saying that she is God because she can sexually satisfy her partner. This is sacrilegious, of course, but it is sacrilege for the sake of sacrilege, which makes it pathetic and uninteresting. Today's pop stars don't even possess enough depth to be meaningfully profane. Instead they just take off their clothes and roll around on the floor, literally begging someone to be offended. Perhaps I would be offended if the spectacle didn't fill me with immeasurable sadness and pity instead.
But then it is easy for me to be unoffended because I am not a woman. I am not the one who is demeaned and degraded by this garbage. I am not the one who is supposed to be "empowered" by musical prostitution. I am not the one who is told to feel inspired by my own objectification. Rather, as a man I am told that I do not deserve to feel empowered or inspired at all, because I am an irredeemable pig. I do not like or agree with that message, but I much prefer it to the alternative. I would rather be insulted outright than insulted under the guise of false empowerment. At least the former is honest. The latter is patronizing, on top of everything else.
Intelligent, substantial women do not seek power and advantage through the exploitation of their own sexuality. If we want our daughters to become those sorts of women — intelligent and substantial ones, I mean — we ought to dissuade them, as much as possible, from listening to music that can only have the opposite effect. But if we continue to hail the Ariana Grandes and Beyonces of the world as empowering and uplifting, we cannot be surprised when our daughters turn into the shallow, selfish specimens that pop music is designed to create.
Our culture wants it both ways. It encourages girls to become scientists and engineers and CEOs, but then it puts forth half-naked, semi-literate pop stars as role models for them to follow. Perhaps we will reach a point where even our scientists and engineers are half-naked and semi-literate, at which point our culture's messaging to women will at least be consistent. But I do not consider that a goal worth striving toward. I would rather we raise a generation of competent, intelligent, modest boys and girls, and let them decide where they want to go from there. I suspect we would have plenty of scientists and engineers in such a world, though our supply of pop stars may run completely dry.
That, I think, is a trade worth making.