Clones & She Wolves: Irigaray & the DISCOntinuum of female sexuality
Initially, while trying to make sense of Shakira’s “She Wolf” video, I hypothesized that this Shakira video was suggesting that straight white women’s sexuality is “closeted” – or, in more Irigarayan terms, what we understand to be “female sexuality” is not actually defined by women, but by normatively masculine structures and institutions; thus, a female-defined “female sexuality” is hidden behind normative masculinity and patriarchal institutions. As Irigaray argues in This Sex Which Is Not One, “the role of ‘femininity’ is prescribed by this masculine specula(riza)tion and corresponds scarcely at all to woman’s desire, which may be recovered in secret, in hiding, with anxiety and guilt.” Women have yet to “come out” of the patriarchal closet. (I know this erases/marginalizes/trivializes lesbians, particularly the experience of actually “coming out”; this is likely a result of Irigaray’s heteronormativity, and, moreover, a huge problem for both Irigaray’s and “She Wolf’s” claim.) I think, as I will detail below, that “She Wolf” does suggest that straight white women’s sexuality is “closeted” in the manner that Irigaray describes. However, I think it is also worthwhile to think about “She Wolf” and its politics as part of a broader tradition of gay/queer/feminist disco. So, after analyzing “She Wolf,” I will discuss Cristina’s “Disco Clone.”
Here’s the Shakira video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aEW_Z5Va5s
So, “She Wolf.” First, that this is about straight women is pretty obvious: not only does Shakira’s character in the video sleep next to a male partner, the lyrics describe only heterosexual desires and encounters. The she-wolf possesses a “special radar” to “look at the single man,” and “ha[s] a very good time” while being “very bad in the arms of a boy.” The she-wolf who passes for a “woman” is also white, and the end of the video leaves no room for doubt about this: Shakira is blonde, in a white nightgown, and otherwise appearing quite innocent and non “whore”-like in an all-white room with all-white bedding. Her skin even looks paler in the muted lighting. Her partner is also white. Interestingly, the actual wolf that appears in the video transforms, briefly, into a black woman, thus further dis-identifying stereotypical white heterofemininity with “she-wolf” sexuality.
Upon entering her closet, Shakira’s character is transformed into a “she-wolf”; the closet itself turns into what looks to be a pink and uniquely sparkly uterus (or a uterus-like cave, about which Irigaray also has plenty to say). Perhaps the suggestion here is that female sexuality is trapped by “woman is a womb” stereotypes, or by the general subordination of sexuality to reproduction? The other main setting for the video is a guilded cage similar to those used to display large circus animals, reinforcing the “trapped in the closet” theme (srsly, the one thing this video lacks is a midget). The lyrics are the most strong indicator of the “closeting” theme. The song’s refrain is “There’s a she-wolf in your closet/let it out so it can breathe” (interesting choice of the non-gendered pronoun here…). The intro and the break also repeat the line “S.O.S. she’s in disguise,” thus suggesting some sort of closeting or passing. Traditional norms of straight white femininity alienate women from their “real” sexuality; these norms compel women to “disguise” their “inner she-wolves” behind ideas of passivity, innocence, and general subordination to men, male sexuality, and patriarchal social order.
In this light, I think it’s not a stretch to argue that Shakira’s dancing seems so jarringly awkward because her moves are not stereotypically “feminine” ones. Compared to norms for feminine bodily comportment (which would include things like grace, sensuality, seductiveness, come-hither-ness, etc.), Shakira’s dancing seems clumsy and bizarre. (The final “let it out so it can breathe” is delivered with a posture and hand gestures more appropriate to hyper-macho rap videos, like she’s gonna let loose a round rather than seduce somebody.) But that’s the point, right? She’s not acting out traditional female sexual roles, so of course we’re going to find this a bit…counterintuitive.
That this is a disco song (or, nouveau-disco in the Hercules & Love Affair tradition. If you have any doubts, listen to that bass, the hi-hat, and those disco strings at the end.) is not insignificant. Disco’s origins are closely tied to the origins of the gay rights movement (Peter Shapiro’s Turn the Beat Around discusses this at length). Disco was, in a very real sense, gay culture’s “coming out” into the mainstream.
Cristina’s 1980 “Disco Clone” makes the same sort of claim about female sexuality as Irigaray and “She Wolf,” but queers it a bit.
Here’s an informative blog post about “Disco Clone,” with a stream of a really early demo of the track: http://terrysmusicallife.blogspot.com/2007/03/cristina-disco-clone-prod-by-john-cale.html. You can find the album version on Cristina’s myspace page, http://www.myspace.com/dollinthebox .
The track is about “disco clones,” women mass-produced to meet men’s sexual desires (indeed, the 12” mix of the song is called “Ballad of Immortal Manufacture”). Cristina sings, to Kevin Kline’s lecherous narrator, “If you like the way I shake it, and you think you want to make it/There’s 50 just like me oh-ho/Now nobody has to spend the night alone.” The male narrator sets the terms of the sexual encounter: “I like the way you,” he says, “Do you?” she confirms; “I think I’d like to,” he says, “Would you?” she responds; “I think that I could,” he suggests, “Could you?!” she exclaims.
So, while the song details a patriarchal heterosexual encounter, it does queer things a bit insofar as disco floors were often populated, at the time, with “clones.” The “clone” was a specific sort of gay masculinity that was quite popular in the disco era. The Village Person with the hardhat, workboots, plaid workshirt, jeans, and mustache pretty much typifies the clone aesthetic. (See “clone” in the Gay Slang Dictionary: http://www.odps.org/glossword/index.php?a=term&d=8&t=3048 ). So, while the song defines the “Disco Clone” as a stereotypically feminine woman, the more common usage of the term indicates a particular style of gay masculinity. So does the song’s elision of stereotypical hetero-femininity with a common gay stereotype work because both groups are sexually “closeted”? Does disco evoke the idea/experience of “coming out”?