I won’t even pretend like I don’t love me some Erykah Badu. With timeless hits like On & On, Tyrone, and Next Lifetime, the multitalented singer-songwriter gives me life when my soul is aching and my heart is breaking. But Miss Badu put my love to the test on Monday when she tweeted her feelings in response to a New Zealand high school dress code.
The tweets, which immediately received a great deal of backlash, express Badu’s backing of the high school’s requirement that girls wear knee-length skirts. Both the high school and Badu think that skirts any shorter would make it too difficult for male teachers and students to focus. Erykah tweeted in agreement that “high school girls [should] lower their skirts so male teachers are not distracted.”
Granted it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in high school, but the last time I checked, all teachers should be focused on one thing and one thing only: TEACHING. Girls should be able to get their education without having to worry about being blamed for the sexual distractions of their peers or teachers.
As a longtime fan, I know that Erykah is no stranger to controversy. Badu is a badass Black woman who plays by her own rules and isn’t afraid to give the middle finger to society’s femininity standards. But if Miss Badu thought her tweets were rooted in feminism, then I don’t want to pick from her appletree.
There is nothing feminist about a female student needing her skirt to reach a certain length in order for her male teacher to do his job without being overcome by sexual urges. If boys and men were not socially conditioned into thinking that girls and women are their sexual property, then perhaps we would not be having this dress code discussion in the first place. Yet here we are, once again.
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Debates over gendered dress codes are nothing new, and many girls have taken a stance against the prevalent sexism in school policies. School dress code policies that punish girls for exposed bra straps, shorts, skirts, and dresses above “fingertip length,” backless shirts, and halter tops are all too common. These policies send young girls the message that their bodies are inappropriate and must be covered, lest the hormonal young boys become aroused beyond control. Badu said that she herself would enforce such a rule if it were her high school because “it is fair to everyone.”
Miss Badu must have her own unique definition of fair. I see nothing fair about policies that literally revolve around clothes when they are worn by girls and young women. Not only do gendered dress codes play into victim-blaming and slut-shaming, they help to cultivate and perpetuate rape culture. Supporting the policing of young girls’ attire for the purpose of reducing distractions for boys and men merely lays the foundation for the ‘she was asking for it’ defense when survivors of rape or sexual assault happened to be wearing ‘tight’ or ‘revealing’ clothing at the time of the attack.
Then, Badu went ahead and revealed her very narrow definition of what it means to be a woman by tweeting that “CHILDING BEARING AGE women naturally attract healthy males [emphasis original].”
Let’s make one thing clear: reaching “child bearing age” is not a necessary step towards womanhood. By defining womanhood in terms of this biological function, she rudely dismisses the lived experiences of womxn and girls who cannot have children but still experience sexual harassment such as trans women, women who do not have a uterus, and cis women who are unable to have children.
Then, by using the word “healthy” to refer to “males” she is implying that is it natural for all men to be heterosexual and attracted to young women. Whether or not Badu meant to come across this way, her tweet seems to use “healthy” as a stand-in for normal and offensively suggests that there is something wrong with homosexual, bisexual, asexual, and any other non-heterosexual men.
At the end of the day, Badu’s tweets were a harsh reminder that even a powerful Black woman whom I have adored for years can still be problematic. While I do not believe she had malicious intentions, Badu ultimately played into damaging essentialist and ableist narratives about women’s bodies and absolved grown men of any responsibility for their sexual desires.
It is not, nor should it ever be, a young girl or woman’s responsibility to desexualize herself; it is everyone else’s responsibility to treat her as a human being and not a sexual object. It is also insulting to men and boys to imply that they simply have no self-control and lose their shit at the sight of some skin.
Erykah, please, let go of this harmful way of thinking so I can love you again. Bag ladyyy, you gon’ hurt your back, upholding all that sexism like that.
LaLa is an unapologetically Black feminist blogger and agitator with a BA in Feminist Studies and a BA in Psychology. She grew up in Compton, attended college in Santa Barbara, and will be teaching in the Bay Area in the fall.
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