On The Edge Of Gender

Posted: August 6, 2011 in androgyny, Identity, metrosexuality
Janelle Monae  walks a gender tightrope, and dammit, girl, you know she never falls off!

Elise Moore has included Monae in her exploration of women artists as ‘witch’ figures.  But I place Monae much more in a  ‘masculine’ androgynous tradition, including Little Richard, James Brown,various incarnations of Michael Jackson, and sometimes a spunkier, sharper, less ‘feminine’ version of Prince.

Here’s Moore on Monae and Paglia mash-ups:
‘The cover of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, however, seems to draw specifically on the cover of Sexual Personae, which no doubt Monae has read, since it includes Paglia’s android-Bowie/Nefertiti comparison. For Paglia, the head-heavy Nefertiti represents a new, nature-rejecting image of woman as aspiring, soaring intellect; for Monae, claiming this right for women seems to mean embracing an android persona that (although, ironically, object-like) repels attempts to turn her into a sex object’.

I’d add to this that she could also be reaching towards the way that ‘gender’ and ‘sexual identity’ is going anyway:  towards the ‘post-human’ ‘post-sexual’ world, that Gaga already lives in.  As Mark Simpson said, in a spirited reposte to Paglia’s dissing of Gaga last year:

‘Gaga, however, is reclining in the shop window of the world. Paglia’s accusation that Gaga is “asexual” spectacularly miss the point that Gaga is postsexual.’

And this photo of Monae, that features on her website, is definitely ‘post’ something. The wide-open staring eyes, the ‘airbrushed’ look of the face and make-up, the ‘hyper-real’ version of herself as lifeless mannequin, compared to her jerky, sprightly, full-of-life self you see in videos (and presumably on stage).  Though even those performances could be seen as ‘puppet-like’.  I love this artist, but I still feel that chill wind of metrosexual masculinity, or rather the coldest aspects of it,  blowing through her imagery.
  1. billsnshits says:


    [insert successful pop star name here, talented or shite, idm] has read Sexual Peronae.
    {———————————————————————————-] designed their own publicity.

    [end assertions]

    Uh-huh. Whatever you say, lady.


  2. billsnshits says:

    Oh, shit! I thought I was insulting YOU. I forgot it was a post about elise’s writing.

    But then, why should I be “nice” to elise, who seems more than smart/tough enough to take a hit, just b/c I comment here, not there?

    Ahh! Any talk of diplomacy or inquisitiveness, while useful in general, makes me roil when it’s on the basis of someone as confidently monotone and nasty as paglia. If any topic should be able to bear some negative energy…without it being an attack on content, just a style, it’s one that involves a feminazi hunter. Who shoots the “bleeding heart poor” as a jest, on the way back home.

    Anyway, enjoy the posters Elise, they’re awesome to look at.

  3. Reuben says:

    Janelle Monae talks explicitly about being influenced by metropolis she’s Afro-fruturist that’s why i was initially interested when i first heard her in like 07 but since then she’s been a big disappointment musically to me. And she’s definitely not playing the witch archetype shes an Afro-futurist cyborg from outta space somewhere

  4. redpesto says:

    ‘The cover of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, however, seems to draw specifically on the cover of Sexual Personae, which no doubt Monae has read, since it includes Paglia’s android-Bowie/Nefertiti comparison.

    Reuben is spot-on with the ‘Afro-Futurist’ tag: there’s a strong tradition of such imagery and sound in black music: Bootsy Collins and the ‘Mothership Connection’; Sun Ra; Grace Jones. Paul Gilroy wrote about this in his book Small Acts:

    For example, the prevalence of images of ancient Egypt during the 1960s and 1970s proved to be an important means for communicating pan-African ideas in an inferential, populist manner.’ (p241).

    Less Camile Paglia, and more Earth, Wind and Fire, I suspect.

  5. billsnshits says:

    This shifts a bit but it’s totally relevant.

    Gaga’s latest video? The edge is a complete reversal of her icy metrosexual post sexuality. Campy rip off the 80s, yes, but at least it isn’t icy whore zone. It’s friendly whore zone. And what’s more, she’s as warm and silly as a nerd. I couldn’t help but notice her bone structure looks like a very specific nerd, too.
    So, is metro dead? Will women be warming up and will men be about them again?

  6. I am not sure what to say! it’s definitely 80s

  7. billsnshits says:

    Is it [i]EVER[/i] 80s. Takes me back. I mean… what the hell?

    Love this thing. Swiffer/feather duster “do” and all. Not to mention the TnA is far less morbid than previous works.

  8. billsnshits says:

    I mean:

    Is it EVER 80s.

  9. billsnshits says:

    1980s in 1920×1080

  10. billsnshits says:

    1980s, right down to the non-threatening demure fat fab black man playing a WHITE saxophone. Good ol’ corporatist racism. But it’s still more “touch me” and easy going than 21st Netronix and kickass hip hop.

  11. billsnshits says:

    blacks have to present a hyper cerebral image to be accepted as human not animal in a racist society. but a racist society is not receptive to thinking, so blacks need to use more stereotypical images of the mind to impress the dumb whites (futurist technology).

    anc. egypt and hyper formal apollonian body repression and mental control. a theme that runs through SP. Maybe elise just picked the wrong half of SP to consider such afro futurism.

    this gets depressing though, so I should mention some successful black witches.
    Nina simone. Bette Davis (much more glamazon than the white namesake but every bit as seductive tigress).

    Grace jones was (and still is) a frightening and dessicated android most of the time. But she does have one witchy, witchy song.

    aptly, witchily titled “i’ve seen that face before”. deja vu?

  12. Yes I like that observation about Grace Jones and Nina Simone!

  13. billsnshits says:

    Idk why I say it, there’s no ulterior purpose…but in my mind’s eye, I imagine you look like stefania in that latest vid. Leather on the street at night and all.

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