Lick My Plum in the Evening: Oral Sex as Feminism in Popular Music

Illustration by Antonas Deduchovas

Illustration by Antonas Deduchovas

Tomas Peckys, London, 2013

I must admit, that this is so far one of the most difficult and complex pieces that I have ever written. It took me ages and massive research was undertaken too. I knew, and still know, that one incorrect sentence might put me in the battlefield and I can be portrayed either as feminist or anti-feminist. To stay neutral, when writing on this kind of theme is a difficult task. It also takes courage to stay a gentleman whilst talking about sex, oral sex in particular, and to keep politeness to both genders. I hope that this article will open-up debates from male/female; feminist/anti-feminist camps. I had this idea many few years ago, but I think now it was a right time to write. Because anyone who follows popular music would notice that today the oral sex appeal initiated by female artists is quite an accepted topic. Azealia Banks (212), Missy Elliott (Get Ur Freak On), Brooke Candy (I Wanna Fuck Right Now), M.I.A. (Know it Ain’t Right) and Nicky Minaj (High School) are just a few examples.

One group of people insist that this hyper-sexualized, “Give it Good Licky Lick” (M.I.A.) attitude, is a degradation of our popular culture confused with the notion of liberation and even hurts feminism. The other camp replies that this kind of unrestricted female expression echoes third wave feminism when in addition to gender based wage and education gaps, constructing the politics of female pleasure, was the pivotal issue within the culture of that time. But that was still the time when melancholic love-themed ballads dominated pop music charts, except maybe for Nirvana, who’s leader Curt Cobain reflected financial male insecurity, in particular, revealed the loss of male power to control women, thus at the same time, provided support and tolerance for them and even wore dresses during live performances. But today is a different story. Music chart is the playground for female artists, who in their turn, are more open about what they really want to say, more liberated and even more aggressive, but in a nice way. So, does the attitude of “Lickin up the clit, make you savor every drip boi” (Brooke Candy) reflects the notions of feminism is the central theme of this article.

Oral sex theme is not entirely new within the field of pop music. In the past, many artists sang about the horny pleasures of it. Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (1972) with “you were talking so brave and so sweet, giving me head on the unmade bed”, Peter Gabriel’s Kiss that Frog (1992) with “Don’t you know that this tongue can kill, C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, Lady, kiss that frog”, Prince’s Head (1980) with “Love you till you’re dead, U know you’re good, girl, I think you like to go down, U wouldn’t have stopped”, Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator (1989) with “Livin’ it up when I’m going down” or Marvin Sease’s Candy Licker (1987) with “Let me lick you up, Let me lick you down, Turn around baby, Let me lick you all around” are some of the many other examples.

Jon Shepherd, in his influential book Music as Social Text (1991) insisted that “the male desire to control women therefore parallels their desire to control the world”. If that is not enough, Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie maintained, that many rock songs “express a deep fear of women” (Rock and Sexuality, 1978). These statements and of course the examples of songs as listed above tend to suggest, that the realistic elements proceeding from these songs, imply the political power of the middle class white men. In other words, oral sex theme was for a long time in the hands of male artists because of the dominant cultural formula that associates with male economic stability.

However, at the end of the 80’s, beginning of 90’s, the ‘third wave feminism’ hits the ground. It felt like there was the beginning of resistance against sexual oppression in the male manipulation of women’s sexuality. Female artists erupted into the public awareness, full of rage, whilst at the same time proposing liberal point of view regarding women and other minorities. Madonna (1989) demanded ladies to express themselves freely and Salt’n’Pepa’s (1990) girls invited us to talk about sex.  

Illustration by Antonas Deduchovas

Illustration by Antonas Deduchovas

Seems like women’s subjectivity in a sexist popular culture finally reached the maximum. But for me that is exactly where the complication starts. Although female artists began to sing about oral sex too, it felt like they could not escape systematic oppression and exploitation of the women in a patriarchal society. Madonna, during same year as her ultimate Express Yourself, got down on her knees to pleasure the man: “When you call my name it’s like a little prayer, I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there, In the midnight hour I can feel your power, Just like a prayer you know I’ll take you there” (Like a Prayer). Akinyele (1996) begged “Put it in my mouth, in my mother fuckin’ mouth”, and of course hip-hop culture’s knights treated women as if they were nothing else but sex toys who should please them orally (N.W.A. Just Don’t Bite It 1990, or She Swallowed It 1991).  

No matter what, gradually, female addressed their audiences that oral sex is not just a pleasurous experience for men. Janet Jackson’s message in Anytime Anyplace (1994) is rather sensual with “Skirt around my waist, Wall against my face, I can feel your lips, Oooh”. Again, Madonna’s dreamy Where Life begins (1992) with “Every girl should experience eating out, Sometimes when I come home from a hard day at work, I swear it’s all I can think about”. In the 21st Century, the hip-hop girls took oral sex theme to another dimension. Lil’Kim (2000) asks “How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?…”, Missy Elliot in Get Ur Freak On (2001) goes even to the fetishistic extremes with ‘QUIET!!!!!!! Sssshhhhhh, hush yo’ mouth, Silence when I, spit it out, {*hach-PTOO*}… in yo’ face, Open your mouth, give you a taste’. But the all-time godmother of oral sex in pop music is Khia’s My Neck, My Back, Lick it (2002) with “Lick it now, lick it good, lick that pussy like you know you should”. Rasheeda’s later ode to dominatrix women in Juicy Like a Peach (2009) with “I got yo favorite kinda flava. Time to eat. I like to see it when it’s dripin down ya cheek, drippin’ on ya meat. But don’t mind me I’m a different kinda freak”.  And last but not least Azealia Banks’s lesbian fantasy in 212 (2012) with ‘Now she wanna lick my plum in the evenin’, And fit that tongue tongue d-deep in, I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten, I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten, I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten, I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten’…And the list from the 21st century is endless.

Ok, so let’s come back to the main argument. Should this method of self-expression be regarded as feminism or not? When a man is orally pleasing a woman, in general, this kind of sexual intercourse is embodied into the notions of femdom; therefore, this can be a controversial issue within feminism since many critics of sex-positive feminism argue that you don’t need to play with your sexuality in order to be feminist. Neither feminist should try to manipulate men but instead should concentrate on the issues of female/male equalities within the society. Of course, they give as the example female artists such as Nina Simone, Bjork or Erykah Badu who are not perceived within the terms of sex and are feminists in the form of the elitist art, rebelling against the structured patterns and women’s economical, racial and political position in the society.

For some, too, the resistant features of women’s contribution and their attempts to redefine their own sexual imagery, their sexual freedom could be considered dangerously close to self-inflicted exploitation. At the same time we cannot escape the reality of women’s complicity in these days. One part of feminist movement, or anti-feminists, might argue that by sharing their sexual fantasies and/or getting naked, women are willing participants in their own exploitation. However, in the words of French philosopher Roland Barthes, “we may therefore say that we are dealing in a sense with a spectacle based on fear, or rather on the pretense of fear, as if eroticism here went no further than a sort of delicious terror, whose ritual signs have only to be announced to evoke at once the idea of sex and its conjuration” (Mythologies 1972). Of course, men and female physical and sexual freedom and experiences differ. But is this really a “terror” situation for women to focus on their clitoris, on their butt or breasts? I would say no, simply, because nakedness is a natural vesture not only for men but also for women. In denying that and looking at a woman of being and sexual object, we are “imprisoning her in a condition of weakness and timorousness” (Barthes).

In my opinion, female artists who demand oral sex from their men are feminists. Maybe radical, but still feminists. I have provided to you some examples from the history of popular music, which mainly are very phallocentric. Where we are now is pretty much different from the seventies, eighties or even nineties. Female artists take control in their hands more often and they understand the unique issues and interests of each woman. Women battled by using their sexuality and they are no more just the male pleasers. They put it in their mouths, of course, but they expect their “cunts gettin’ eaten” too. It cannot get more equal than that.

Photograph of Audrius Ropas

Photograph of Audrius Ropas

If feminism seeks to liberate women from male subordination and to reconstruct society, and is concerned with women’s political and economic equality with men, I think that women artists I am analyzing here are successive. They use their bodies as weapons (“pussy is my weapon”, Brooke Candy) to reconstruct the notions of power and the production of subjectivity in western societies. Michel Foucault, French philosopher who was concerned with the functioning of human body within our society argues that: “we are in a society of ‘sex’, or rather a society ‘with a sexuality’: the mechanisms of power are addressed to the body, to life, to what causes it to proliferate, to what reinforces the species, its stamina, its ability to dominate or its capacity for being used. Through the themes of health, progency, race, the future of the species, the vitality of the social body, power spoke of sexuality and to sexuality; the latter was not a mark or a symbol, it was an object or target’ (The History of Sexuality: Vol. 1 1979).  

Foucault’s example in relation to female talking about oral sex is quite clear: if we live in the society, where our sexuality can be used in the form of power, then those women have took powers in their hands too, as did men long time ago, and this is exactly why feminism started in the first place. Women artists’ strategies to resist and to rewrite current patriarchal norms and male control of female bodies lifted the last barrier. Steph Kretowicz starts his article Is 2013 The Year for Militant Feminism in Music?: with “Enough is enough. So goes the resounding message of contemporary feminism in 2013”.

Now, no doubt, many might say, that these artist don’t think about themselves as feminists and that men are still dominant within the music industry and all of this is just a constructed circus show that generates income for fat cats. Maybe it is. But you don’t need to think of yourself as feminist – you can act feminist. What I have also noticed, aside from the themes of oral sex, is that many women take control in their hands when it comes to song writing, touring or making videos. Last year’s sensation Grimes, for example, is almost fully in charge of her creativity, nonetheless, she employs only female musicians to tour with her. Brooke Candy’s video I Wanna Fuck Right Now is directed (Spaghetto) and produced by females. Rihanna’s Pour it Up has no male presence at all in terms of direction or production. As Muna Mire has demonstrated, there is a notion of male gaze disappearance in contemporary videos. She argues that “the male gaze is nonexistent here, or exists as an afterthought: do Rihanna’s critics know how rare that is in the music industry?”

I too believe, that exemplified attention towards women’s cultural experiences persuades the listening ear into occupying a female position, by erasing any sense of a male authorial voice. If there is a disappearance of the male gaze, then feminine subjects associated with desire are destroyed. Morally based sexual restrictions, such as the right to demand the pleasures of oral sex, placed upon them as women, are also destroyed. Then, it turns out at the end that female artists are not, in the words of Susan McClary, “mindless dolls fulfilling male fantasies” (Feminine Endings: Women, Gender and Sexuality 1991). And that is, in my opinion, a huge victory for the feminist camp.