"Twerking is not feminism," Annie Lennox declared in a recent interview with NPR after Steve Innskeep her opinion of Beyoncé. "It's not—it's not liberating, it's not empowering. It's a sexual thing that you're doing on a stage; it doesn't empower you. That's my feeling about it." This is a consistent stance for Lennox. A month ago she called Beyoncé "feminism lite." Last year she decried videos by Miley Cyrus and Rihanna:
I have to say that I'm disturbed and dismayed by the recent spate of overtly sexualized performances and videos. You know the ones I'm talking about. It seems obvious that certain record companies are peddling highly styled pornography with musical accompaniment. As if the tidal wave of sexualised imagery wasn't already bombarding impressionable young girls enough ... As long as there's booty to make money out of, it will be bought and sold.
All of which raises a somewhat confusing question: Wasn't Annie Lennox herself a sex symbol not so long ago?
Admittedly, Lennox isn't selling her booty here, said booty being tastefully concealed behind her. Instead, she's selling her boots, her rakish hat, and the everything (and nothing) in between. The sexiness is in sophisticated contrast between the forthright nudity, the high-fashion accessories, and the way those accessories conceal and accentuate her crotch, Similarly, in the famous "Sweet Dreams" video, Lennox's androgynous suit and crew cut, not to mention the phallic rocket take-off, contrast with the frankly sensual close-ups of her lips singing or her eyes opening. She's sexy in that she is simultaneously available and not available, and in the self-aware, winking quirkiness with which she navigates between the two. Looking at Lennox's own history of performances, it seems clear that she's not against sexual display in itself. Rather, she's against, as she says, "overt" display. Drape that boot just so; button up just right; let the heat come from the tease rather than from the reveal.
There's nothing wrong or hypocritical about Lennox's self-presentation; the way she packages herself is consistently both witty and sexy. But does that make it better, or more feminist than Beyoncé's self-presentation, or Rihanna's? Or does it mean that Lennox is just approaching sexuality from a slightly different cultural place—a place that has, maybe, something to do with whiteness?