February 06, 2015

Feminist Friday: What Missy Elliott Meant to Me

Like most every American, I spent last Sunday watching the Super Bowl. Like many, I cared less about the teams than about the halftime show, which is always a bright spot in an otherwise relatively dull evening (unless, of course, my team makes it...which they didn't...again).

Like most everyone who tuned in last weekend, I was floored by the performance of Missy Elliott. It took me back to my teenage days, not so terribly long ago, and I was ecstatic.

But for me, Missy Elliott brought back memories of a different nature. Back then, she held a special fascination for me.

I grew up in a small town on the border of South Carolina, right next to Georgia. My parents were conscientious Christians—they monitored our music, television and other media consumption.

We were being raised with relatively strict views of purity. The basic message was that sex was for marriage, and that it was a marital duty. It was enjoyable—but should be saved for that relationship specifically because of the emotional damage it does.

There was no real discussion of sex as a pleasurable activity (I suppose that’s contrary to the point of purity teachings anyway—we’re already tempted enough, why add to it?).

When we moved to a larger city right before I started high school, I was elated. It seemed like a whole new world. There was a Wal-Mart five minutes away instead of thirty, a movie theatre within ten minutes instead of an hour. There were malls and fast food places I had never even heard of.

I also made the transition from the small, unregulated private religious school I’d attended for two years into a large public school.

I started riding the school bus, which meant that I was the last one out of the house in the morning. My parents and sisters were all gone over an hour before I left.

And, in the midst of all this (and in part probably because of it) I discovered MTV.

The year was 2002. I was a sophomore by this point, and Missy ‘misdemeanor’ Elliott’s newest video dropped. The song was “Work It.”

Arguably, there are a lot of concepts in Missy’s songs that are not exactly feminist-aligned—but nonetheless, she is a powerful woman. Strong. Independent. And to me as a fifteen year old with no world experience at all, utterly fascinating.

The most fascinating part about “Work It”? The strong depiction of female sexuality.

That’s right. Missy Elliott is where I learned that sex can, and should, be enjoyable.

It’s weird to trace back the influences on us, to see what points we made certain connections. For me, this was a doozy. It was one of the most positive and negative concepts of my life—positive, because sex is great. Negative, because I still had no idea what to do about it, what was normal in a sexually active relationship, etc.

But still, the point remains that I will always connect hearing that song with realizing that, as a woman, I had the right to demand my own pleasure. I had the right to expect and anticipate it. I had the right to be an active agent in sex, and not just a passive receptor of sexual attentions.

What a lesson to learn.

Work it! I need a glass of wat-ah. ;)

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