The Weeknd’s Oscar performance proves award show to still be a boys club

The Weeknd_Oscars

After nominating no black actors this year, and a strong backlash proclaiming #OscarsSoWhite, Sunday’s Academy Awards tried its darnedest to prove that the Oscars aren’t racist, or, at the very least, to “hang a lampshade” on Hollywood racism with comedy sketches and jokes from host Chris Rock.

But despite all the talk from the Academy about the importance of diversity, and aside from Lady Gaga’s performance of “Till It Happens To You,” the show was oddly silent on the subject of Hollywood sexism. (Amazing, really, considering that women make up only 19 per cent of non-acting nominees.) In fact, the only time sexism was brought up during any of the programmed content was when Chris Rock dismissed its very existence.

After mentioning the #AskHerMore campaign, Rock commented:

“You’re not allowed to ask women what they’re wearing anymore. Everything’s not sexism; everything’s not racism. They ask the men more because they’re all wearing the exact same thing. If George Clooney came in a lime-green tux with a swan coming out of his ass they’d say, ‘What are you wearing George?’”

Rock pulls a classic move, invisibilizing sexism by claiming, “That’s just the way things are!”

True, there is less focus on the men’s fashion choices because they are all wearing the same uniform, but as Kathleen Barry pointed out last year, this is an important and pernicious way in which sexism is maintained. The men are allowed to all look very dignified in their tuxedos, while women “seem to be undressing more than they are dressing for TV appearances.”

We were treated to a striking example of this sexism in The Weeknd’s performance of his Oscar-nominated song, “Earned It,” from the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. As The Weeknd stood and sang, fully clothed in a tuxedo, female dancers wearing black lace teddies and dog collars crawled on the floor around him in a circle. In this over-the-top display of male dominance and female submission, the lyrics of the song presented a stunning reversal.

The women on the floor splayed their legs towards him, as The Weeknd sang “Girl, you earned it.”

What did they earn? Licking his boots?

“Cause, girl, you’re perfect.”

Perfect how? Is she the perfect slave?

“You’re always worth it.”

The lowly position of the women relative to his dignified stance made the line take on a patronizing meaning: Lucky women — you’re all worthy of being his subordinate!

“And you deserve it.”

This lyric is the horrible cherry on top — the ultimate victim-blaming line: “She deserved it.”

Based on this year’s show, the Oscars still have a long way to go if they ever want to be considered as more than a boys’ club.

Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.