Even Prince is not beyond criticism. When it comes to feminism, he didn’t do me any favors. The last few days has me reflecting on my escape from Prince’s reign.
Prince grinds on stage singing about Darling Nikki, the sex fiend, as his lingerie and choker-and-chain clad girlfriend wells with tears, embarrassed and ashamed. Prince backhands her under a bridge. He laughs as she jumps in the (wrong) lake for him. He starts his bike leaving her dripping wet and feeling foolish. His song “Dance Music Sex Romance” ends with a sample of a woman screaming “ Help me! Someone please help me. Somebody help me!” The list goes on.
I unwittingly found his subjugation of women part of his sexiness and it would linger into my dating life with men who would pound on walls and punch parking meters when they got upset, jealous, or frustrated. I’d lend a conspiratorial ear to male friends who would refer to unattractive women with large behinds as “target practice” or worse and I did little more than shake my head in vague disapproval. This and I called myself a feminist.
I once had two boys physically fight over me in high school. My ex-boyfriend and then current boyfriend. Far from being disturbed by the violent outburst, I was flattered. They must really care about me, I thought.
Fast forward many years later and machismo has lost its appeal but subtle misogyny in the form of mansplaining, physical peacocking (an indirect but very real display of brawn to intimidate), and jokes that belittle, dismiss or negate experience remain chess pieces in the game of love I still find myself navigating.
Having watched a lot of Prince interviews and performances in the past few days, I’m still in awe of his music and I’m saddened by the way genius, isolation, and celebrity scars everyone who’s ever experienced fame, but I wonder why I ever idealized him as a lover (in spite of his amazingly provocative lyrics). It scares me for me and for young girls then and now who think violence and subjugation equals virility. In role play, it’s all fun and games but it’s anything but in real life relationships.
I’m relieved I somehow outgrew that unconscious mindset to find men who embrace strong women as sexy. What’s ideal to me now is a man who can let a woman speak her mind and love her all the more, who can listen without smugness, learn from her with humility and grace, and have no fear that he will lose his masculinity in the process. That’s way hotter than tough or macho. It’s true strength. True virility. Now that’s sexy.