As Mimi Faust and Nikko Smith's sex tape makes the rounds on the Internet, I knew it was only a matter of time before the policing began. Sure enough, yesterday, a friend posted a recording of Steve Harvey on the radio, in which he earnestly advised "young women" against the making of sex tapes, etc.
The excerpt of his little speech that I heard begins with him explaining that the Internet is forever, and how what gets put online stays online forever. Case in point. And while it's true that many people -- young or not -- lack full understanding of the permanence of the Internet and how nothing can ever be truly erased, I already have a problem with the direction this sermon is going because..."young women?" Now, I haven't actually seen Mimi and Nikko's sex tape, but from what I understand... it's a sex tape with Mimi and Nikko. Not Mimi. Mimi and Nikko.
Steve Harvey-types view women and sex through the lens that misogyny has provided for centuries: The lens that renders men invisible when there is an instance of shame being doled out. Casual sex, unwed pregnancy; centuries of misogyny dictate that it only takes one to tango; that the shame of "illicit" sex falls squarely on the shoulders of one and not two. And those shoulders always belong to a woman. When it comes to wagging a finger or calling someone a whore for premarital sexual activity, the man involved somehow dematerializes into a puff of smoke, leaving the woman to bear the brunt of society's scorn alone.
In the radio recording, Steve Harvey goes on to rail against the Internet: "The Internet has become a playground for evildoers. You sit up and you listen to somebody and all the sudden they're making decisions and comments about you and they never even met you."
He then adds: "Please young women out there, think of yourself... think about what people will say about you when you're not around; stuff people will say behind your back."
What's annoying about Steve Harvey is that he delivers these little gems under the guise of being interested in the empowerment/protection of women and girls. A thin guise, I might add. Harvey warns girls about the backlash they will receive from random people on the Internet if they participate in a sex tape, but isn't Harvey pretty much exactly that: A random voice on the Internet/TV/radio making comments about girls and women he's "never even met?" He cautions us about the shame we will receive if we dare make a sex tape, but uses the same shame as the tool to keep us from doing it. Shamed if you do; shamed if you don't. According to Harvey, women's lives should be dictated by the expectations and presumptions of others. Our bodies are not our own: We exist at the will of laws perpetuated by people like Steve Harvey, who would have us covering our ankles in the name of modesty. Harvey isn't interested in empowering us; he only wants to lay red tape in tight boxes around us in his effort to corral us into his idea of the ideal woman.
And Steve Harvey's ideal woman is exactly what you would expect, fitting neatly into the virgin/whore dichotomy that has plagued women for lifetimes. "You're not here for sex," Harvey says in the recording. "You're here for life. God didn't create you for sex."
And why not? Why are we not here for sex? Isn't it part of life? But more importantly, how did this conversation go from talking about sex tapes to sex in general? It's one thing to say "Hey boys and girls, sex tapes are forever. It may be sexy now, but you may not want the whole world seeing that in ten years." Sure. Fair facts. But that's not enough for Harvey, and for some reason, he seems incapable of addressing boys. Only girls. Rather than using the Mimi and Nikko sex tape as a teachable moment about privacy, permanence and the longevity of Internet decisions, Harvey can't resist transforming that moment into a diatribe about shame and God's plan for women's bodies.
You see, those who are truly interested in empowering women and girls use different words. Instead of "Think of the horrible things people will say about you," people who are truly interested in empowering women and girls say, "Don't worry about what people say. You are autonomous." Instead of, "You weren't put here for sex," people who are truly interested in empowering women and girls say, "Sex is one of many beautiful parts of life when it is consensual. You can have as much or as little of it as you want; just protect yourself." These are the words we use when we seek to empower girls and women. The kind of shaming tactics Steve Harvey employs are not only tired, patriarchal regurgitations, but they fly in the face of actual women's empowerment and turn "sex" and "women" into painful opposites that should have nothing to do with another. And everything else aside: men and boys are still absent from Harvey's lecture.
This has all been written about before. Extensively. Yet, Steve Harvey still added this to the end of his little speech:
You're putting your most precious gift out on display. For a pearl, you gotta dive to the bottom of the ocean... Ain't no diamonds laying on top of the earth: they don't grow like corn... This thing every man got to have: your body. Your precious jewel. You're sitting on a gold mine. Please act like it, young ladies. Act like you're sitting on a gold mine. Because it is what every man is after. And we will pay dearly for it.
Is anybody else creeped out? Is anybody else extremely uncomfortable about the fact that Steve Harvey is telling girls that they should treat their vaginas like a means of currency, because men will "pay dearly for it"? Let me tell you a few things, Mr. Harvey. I'll put them in bullet points so you don't miss anything:
- Women's vaginas are not our most precious gift. Our minds, our souls, our personalities, are far more precious and will do more for us in our lives than the so-called gold mine between our legs. In fact, for vaginas to be gold mines, they don't bring us much gold just sitting down there being vaginas. Ever heard of women's struggle for equal pay? Come on, Steve.
- Diamonds aren't that f*cking great. In fact, they're intrinsically worthless. Their value is based on artificial scarcity, a system created by tycoons who seek to propagate the belief of their rarity to increase their worth. It's almost like the idea of chastity. Chew on that.
- If women "aren't here for sex," yet it's the thing that "every man wants," then does that mean that men are here for sex? Why would "God" make men for sex and not women? That seems silly. No, it doesn't seem silly. It is.
- Nikko was in the sex tape too. Where's your sermon for him? Aren't men and boys' bodies just as valuable? Is their sex not also precious?
Steve Harvey's explicit advice to young women is that when it comes to our sexual activity, we should think before we act -- before we "give it away" -- because "think of what people will say about us behind our backs." And when it comes to a society that makes women's bodies and what women do with them a matter of scorn and shame, Steve Harvey knows which side he's on: The side that does the scorning and the shaming. His critique looks no further: It stops at the young women who are held prisoner by this ideology. He does not criticize the ideology itself; rather, he upholds it.
Steve Harvey is not interested in empowering or protecting young women. Instead, he joins the likes of Tyler Perry, Tyrese and Chey B, who sit on their towering soap boxes making money off policing the lives and bodies of women. Write a book about young boys for once, Mr. Harvey, if you want to impress me; write a book about rape culture and the way we teach young men that women's bodies are trophies, objects, status symbols, commodities.
Oh, wait. You already know. Because with all your jabbering about gold mines and diamonds and precious jewels, you're doing the teaching. The woman, Mimi, that you are criticizing is doing exactly what you suggest. You said what's between our legs is a gold mine, right? Isn't Mimi set to make a gold mine from this sex tape? Oh, but that's not what you meant, right? A little too much autonomy, mixed with too little care for "what people say behind her back." Have a seat, Mr. Harvey. Have this one. Or this one. Or this one. Just make sure you choose a sturdy chair, because times are changing: Women see through your crap and we're not here for it. Get comfortable. You may be sitting for a long time.