The Washington Post offers two interesting articles on the book. The first is a general article which observes, among others things, that the sinner-finding-redemption book is a tried and true formula. Vixen’s author Karrine Steffans, fomerly “Super Head,” claims to be a writer first and foremost, and perhaps the book possesses sincerity beyond its commercial aspirations. Still, it’s certainly true that the “I once was lost but now am found” narrative allows for wallowing in salacious details of sex, drugs, and scandal while assuming a stance of piety. Often the authors have mixed feelings about their pasts, glorifying their behavior even as they claim to decry it. (If you listen to Henry Hill’s commentary on the Goodfellas DVD, he’s grateful to be free of some of his murderous associates, but you can tell he also misses those amazing seats at the Copacabana.) Meanwhile, Vixen’s book cover ain’t exactly a recruitment poster for the convent.
WP writer Donna Britt’s scathing reaction to the book comes in part from interviewing a DC mother of two daughters. One can disagree, but one sentence hit me hard:
"The perception is that if you dress or act a certain way, you'll be taken care of."
This used to be called the Prince Charming myth, where the Prince swept in on his gleaming white charger to rescue the poor hapless woman, who was supposed to wait patiently for this external savior... (Perhaps Steffans’ film deal will be with Disney, who can redo Snow White as Pimp Charming and the Seven... oh, I just can’t finish that sentence.)
On a related note, Slate recently featured a good article on Liz Goldwyn’s HBO doc, Pretty Things, about stripping in the burlesque era. Reviewer Rachel Shteir observes that:
The problem with Pretty Things is that the story Goldwyn really wants to tell is how striptease transformed her from ugly duckling to sexually confident swan.
Goldwyn worships the strippers as models of sexual self-empowerment, but the film is confused by the projection of her own post-feminist ideas about sex onto these women, and her desire to wield the kind of sexual power she sees them as having had.
Goldwyn is not the only woman ever to feel this way, and surely her feelings of empowerment are positive for her. Yet these three articles taken as whole do underline that not every choice is right for every person.
Pop culture narratives have embraced “the makeover” as a vehicle for feminine transformation for ages. (Innocuous or not, the final message of Grease appears to be: if he doesn’t like you way you are — change!) However, in the past decade many pop culture narratives have also pushed the idea that a woman is only truly liberated if she is overtly sexual. Madonna clearly feels it’s her calling to writhe about on a stage in front of a thousand people in an S&M brassiere and dental floss, but does Laura Bush feel the same? I think not! (Jenna Bush, perhaps...) Now, I have yet to meet a single straight man who enjoys listening to Madonna outside of a dance club context, but her shtick is plainly her shtick, and not something someone else has chosen for her.
In this day and age, must a young woman be chaste, or perceived to be so? Must she be overtly sexual? It’s natural for teenagers especially to try out a variety of identities and roles as they search for the right one... but must there be only a narrow range of identities to choose from? This is ultimately why I found these articles interesting, because “identity politics” usually involves trying to limit or disparage someone else versus embracing and expanding identity (witness the nasty terms “oreo” and “banana.”) Cornel West has bemoaned that “black culture” is assumed to be street culture and cannot be anything else. Barack Obama had a line in his rousing speech at the Democrat National Convention that referenced “the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” Finally, on Ebert & Roper, Roger Ebert, when reviewing Friday Night Lights, observed the football-obsessed culture that envelops high-school kids in Texas and wondered, what about the kid who wants to do drama instead?
Perhaps Karrine Steffans can address these issues in her next book. (Let’s give the drama hos some love, too.)