Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Looking Back at Attraction from a Female Lens

I love this performance. Don’t get me wrong, I love it because Hailee Steinfeld and the rest of the dancers do an AMAZING job, but the main reason why I love this so much is how they not only did a lovely, very faithful homage to the original video, but they did a perfect modernization of it. 

And not just that they switched the gender roles, which can certainly be interesting, but I love that they made the conscious decision to tell this tale of attraction from a fresh, updated, female perspective.

I love this song, which sounds very sweet and flattering, but, it wasn’t until I re-watched the original music video this morning, that I realized that the video…man, from a female viewpoint, it looks way less sexy and romantic than it does a PSA on street harassment or a prelude to a crime scene investigation. 

I watched it on edge, terrified for safety of the woman in the video. I mean, sure, it’s a sexual video, but the sexuality in performance is pretty much exclusively male. Sure, the woman IS sexy, but her sexiness is only relevant in that the men in the video find it sexy. This is all about their sexual reaction to her and what it inevitably means sexually. 

In fact, I’ve watched it a couple of times now and, while I can certainly see all the moments of attraction for him that would logically lead to the ending where they end up together, I cannot for the life of me pinpoint exactly what would make her fall for him. Where does this stop being a horrifying or annoying or inconvenient event for her and turn into something attractive and enticing to her. Where are the signs that she is, or even reasonably should be, as into this as the guy? It’s as if they weren’t even trying to make it make sense. I mean, OF COURSE, she’d be into him in the end because he…dance…good? He so cool, can haz girl now, right?

Contrast that to Hailee’s performance. From the start, the performance makes it clear that her partner is as into this—as into her—as she is. From their facial expressions to their body language to, of course, the lyrics, it all makes sense now. THIS is a story about attraction that would reasonably result in the couple ending up together at the end of it because, from the beginning, they’re already in it together. It’s flirty and fun and, most importantly, mutually so. 

So often, when we talk about the way men and women view dating and romance and sex, we act as if men are after sex and woman are after love and that’s the difference in perspective.

And, while that may be true for some men and some women, I think this performance is a better example of the difference between the male and female perspective. Looking at Hailee’s performance, there is nothing about it that screams romance. It is as sexual—if not more so—than Michael’s. The moves she performs are plays on his from the original video. The setup and scene are almost identical. The only difference is reciprocity. The idea that the person Hailee wants wants her too. Watch how she pursues him at roughly the same rate and at roughly the same intensity that he pursues her. This isn’t a mating dance where one person impresses the other. It’s a mating dance they perform together, that cannot exist without the other.

So often stories told from a more masculine focus are all about overcoming obstacles. They are about winning and triumphing over some stumbling block to get your reward. And, when you apply that to dating and romance and sex…stuff gets horror-show, CSI, PSA scary. Fast. Even if that isn’t the intention. And, to be fair, we are all seeing things with new eyes now that we couldn't see in the eighties. I’m sure I’ve seen the original music video before when I was younger, before I started dating or having sex or being hit on on the street by groups of shouting, unrelenting men, and I likely didn’t think anything of it. Younger me was clearly not nail-bitingly turned off by the video. However, the me today…would rather be in, would feel safer in, a room with “Thriller” Michael than the jerk Jackson is playing in this video.

The me today, with all my lived-in experiences of how an attraction that does not see me as anything but something to be obtained or won—that, in doing so, sees me and my desires as something to be overcome or triumphed over—inevitably ends…yeah, I will take Hailee’s tale of mutual desire, that looking at the performance may just as likely be love-everlasting as lust-in-the-moment, over Michael’s creepily pushy approach at attraction any day.

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