The song that started this whole project off is She Wolf by Shakira. My daughter showed it to me, keen to get my reaction. I had never seen or imagined anything like it before, and the video filled me with a purpose. I want to understand this song and the pop culture landscape that surrounds it.
As the video opens, a woman (Shakira) can’t sleep and gets up from her bed where she is lying unhappily with a man, “A domesticated girl, that’s all you ask of me/darling it is no joke, this is lycanthropy...I’m starting to feel just a little abused like a coffee machine at an office.” This refers to a Lycanthrope or werewolf, the folklore of humans who shape-shift into wolves during the full moon. She gazes at the moon, then puts on her high heeled dancing boots. She goes into her closet (a reference to “coming out” of the closet?) and makes her way beyond the clothes to a fantasy.
She enters a corridor where she is singing about her own desire, and unmet sexual needs, “moon’s awake now, my eyes wide open, my body’s craving, so feed the hungry.” It slowly dawns on the viewer that this woman is singing and dancing in a huge, sparkly vagina that looks like it is made of Styrofoam! It is just unbelievable. I had to share this image with a few feminist friends to get their impressions:
Well, my initial opinion is that it is an AWFUL video with a woman who can’t dance. Then getting beyond my own dislike of pop music and pop queens, I’m tending toward the “Male fantasy slut flick” end of the spectrum... though the dancing in the vagina was interesting. I fail to be able to infer any self-empowerment for her here... beyond perhaps feminine hygiene?
She is very flexible. And her vagina is very lumpy. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t want to put any of my body parts there. I think it is simply soft porn masquerading as pop culture. And ... I did not feel empowered as I was watching it.
I agree that this video is awful, however, I did find a lot of humor watching her attempt to dance. I did not feel a sense of empowerment from watching this. Other than feeling embarrassed for her performance, I thought there was quite a disconnect of the sexual empowerment of the feminine.
Like my friends, my first watch and listen to this video was shock, discomfort and vague embarrassment. However, I did not give up on Shakira. Curiosity led me once again to Wikipedia:
When Shakira was four, her father took her to a local Middle Eastern restaurant, where Shakira first heard the doumbek, a traditional drum used in Arabic music and which typically accompanied belly dancing. Before she knew it, Shakira was dancing on the table, as restaurant patrons responded by clapping enthusiastically. She became a serious student of Middle Eastern Belly Dance. At school, she says she had been known as "the belly dancer girl", as she would demonstrate every Friday at school a number she had learned. "Shakira is also noted for her keen intellect and has scored well on IQ tests.
Watching her Spanish-language videos drew attention to her unusual voice. In She Wolf, it is very electronic; however there is also an untamed quality to it similar to Buffy Sainte Marie, a folk singer in the 60s.
She enjoyed singing for schoolmates and teachers (and even the nuns) at her Catholic school, but in the second grade was rejected for the school choir because her vibrato was too strong. The music teacher told her that she sounded "like a goat.”
The images in the video continue. Now Shakira is in a cage, wearing a flesh colored leotard and dancing provocatively. At first glance this made me sick. “More degrading masochistic stripper porn,” I thought. However, over time I realized something intriguing. The dance sequences in the cage have no other people in them. There are no fully dressed men leering at her. She is alone in the cage, which is isolated somewhere, but not in a bar or in public. Also, there is nothing violent about the image~ no spikes or chains, and her outfit is remarkably natural looking without the stereotypical lingerie. The cage sequences are juxtaposed with images of a wolf in the wild, and once the wolf had a flash of Skakira’s face. “There’s a she wolf in the closet/ open up and set her free/ there’s a she wolf in the closet/ let it out so it can breath (heavy rhythmic breathing).” Skakira’s writhing takes on a very different atmosphere when she is alone in the scene.
In the video she sings about meeting a man in a club, ”to look at the single man I’ve got on me a special radar,” yet though she is shown dancing in a bar, she is surrounded by women, not men. Perhaps all the women have the same thought.
“SOS she’s in disguise/there’s a she wolf in disguise/coming out, coming out, coming out!” Women’s truth is covered, disguised as submission without sexual desire. Suddenly the cage sequence gives way to Shakira dancing free and barefoot on the roof of a building. She’s wearing a simple black dress similar to a nightgown, and dancing joyfully, smiling under the moon. With a final howl, she flies backwards off the roof and lands again in her own closet.
Quietly, Shakira gets up and slips back into bed with her partner. She turns her back to him and smiles as she falls asleep.