Have you seen Jessica Simpson's latest video clip? For those unfamiliar with the ways and wonders of the leggy young blonde (and multi-talented too! – she’s a singer and dancer and actress), it's as follows: a cover of These Boots Are Made For Walkin', with mostly puzzling demonstrations of how to dance like a country girl (yee-haw) from a scantily clad Simpson, who spends most of the time attempting to service the men she finds scattered around an oddly furnished barn.
Today is International Women's Day. Somebody should probably tell ol' Jess, before she starts into another of her booty shaking frenzies - normally, go right ahead, but today it's perhaps a touch inappropriate. Do we think that'll stop Simpson and her army of gyrating minions though? Unlikely.
Undoubtedly, the women's movement as a whole has come a long way: suffrage, enough waves of feminism to almost sink the boat of male-dominated prejudices, and actual recognisable rights advances.
But lately a variety of academics and cultural critics have been focusing on the worrying trend that is known as "raunch culture". What is it exactly? Well, the "empowered" Jessica Simpson prancing around in a bikini and giving virtual blowjobs to men young and old (er, Willie Nelson, what are you doing?) is as good a place as any to start looking.
The two main advocates of this critique have been author Ariel Levy (who actually authored a book entitled Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture) and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, whose book Are Men Necessary? covers occasionally similar ground.
Says Levy, “it is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go."
The video clip itself, all soaped-up dancing and nubile bosoms, is quite distracting for any hot-blooded heterosexual male. But it's much worse for anyone who considers themselves an even vague proponent of equality - and for an almost endless array of reasons. The clip, originally written by Lee Hazlewood and sung by the inimitable Nancy Sinatra, was initially an ode to the ability of the young female to reject a man's advances.
"These boots are made for walkin'", sang Nancy, "[and] one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you". There's little doubt as to who that "you" is, and with the final pitch of the song, men everywhere had began to have second thoughts on their next drunken and probably misogynistic thrusts towards the women around them.
Simpson however, has taken a slightly different slant on it. Despite claims that the song works just fine when taken in the context of the movie it provides the soundtrack to (the Dukes of Hazzard remake), the video itself puts to rest any serious claims to credibility.
Simpson drapes herself provocatively over cars, and kneels down subserviently (yeah, take charge Jess! You go girl!) to, well, every man in sight. Since it's all a bit worrying to me, a guy with only moderate feminist leanings, I can't imagine the effect this is having on women who see their sex as having progressed in the last 50 years. Worse still, Jessica Simpson is an actual role model (just ask my nine year-old sister, it's true), and that's the truly disturbing thing to consider.
I hate to get on my popular-culture-is-evil-and-it'll-be-the-death-of-our-kids soapbox again (hey, I'm not far off being one of those kids myself), but for the moment it's true. It hasn't always been though. Back in the 1980s and '90s Madonna, pop star extraordinaire, was known as much for her sexual provocations as her music - but at least she had some artistic pretences when she was taking her clothes off. Simpson, when all's said and done, is just a hooker, selling her body for cash and (hollow) admiration.
Perhaps it's not my place to judge – and if that's what she wants, that's all fine. Well, it would be, of course, if her fan base wasn't almost exclusively prepubescent girls looking for people to model themselves on. Hope you're sitting pretty on International Women's Day, Jessica. Actually, no, I hope you get hit by a car.