Cross-Border Female Empowerment: “Bad Girls” and “Borders” by M.I.A.
I am coming in a Cherokee gasoline,
There is steam in a window screen
Take it, take it
Wheels rumbling like a trampoline
Where I get to where I am going
Gonna have you trembling”
"Freedom, 'I'dom, 'Me'dom
Where's your 'We'dom?
Borders (What's up with that?)
Politics (What's up with that?)
Police shots (What's up with that?)
Identities (What's up with that?)"
Where’s the Meaning?
January 2012 ended with a bang as M.I.A. released "Bad Girls" to coincide with the Super Bowl. During the show, M.I.A. got carried away, and in a moment of impulsivity, made an obscene gesture with her fingers, that made her a focus of attention for the next few months. She apologized, but the audience and fans knew it was no coincidence. The song "Bad Girls" had finally released its music video and it's all about empowering women, but more essentially, about women breaking the chains of subjugation to alter perceptions that drive that kind of oppression.
Mathangi “Maya” Aprugasam (better known as the rapper “M.I.A.”) had a childhood marked by civil war in Sri Lanka and the stresses of having a father involved in the Sri Lankan separatist group known as the Tamil Tigers. Escaping the tumultuous conditions in Sri Lanka, Aprugasam spent her formative years in England, where she developed her passion for music and in the intersection between politics, rebellion and sexuality, giving rise to the activist undercurrents in her music.
“Bad Girls” opens to women dressed in traditional burkas driving at full speed over Moroccan sands that resemble the Arabian desert. The striking depictions decry the cultural oppression and the status quo of Saudi laws and customs, where women are expressly forbidden to drive unless they are accompanied by men. In “Bad Girls", M.I.A. noisily and publicly challenges women to demand freedom, and powerfully frames this message on the sands of one of the most unequal countries in the world on gender issues.
The first message in the video appears to be that “bad girls are like fast cars”. Through strong imagery, M.I.A. challenges women to be "bad", positioning themselves against the repression dominating society, regardless of the consequences. To be a "good girl" would be tantamount to accepting these repressive norms and never rising up, and M.I.A. hopes to lead by example in demonstrating the power of being a “bad girl”. In many ways this message appears to be a precursor to the larger movement brought about by then Presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s, comments about Hillary Clinton being a “nasty woman” that brought about a national movement where women celebrated being “nasty” as an example of strength, power, and a changing national dynamic.
The video concludes with a feeling that women can be free, and we should continue striving for that freedom. M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” video thus presents a call to action for women of all cultures to demonstrate their power and in the process tear down cultural barriers. Female empowerment is a recurring theme for the singer (just listen to the song "Borders" of the same album), the video reinforces the impact of the lyrics while granting new narrative elements: the desert, weapons, turbans.The wild races across the desert, the traditional attire also appear to be winks at the period known as the Arab Spring. Being from 2012, there is no doubt that this issue influenced in some way the video conceptualization.
In this song, the socio-political conflicts of the Middle East seem to act as a springboard to the benefits of being a "bad girl", placing the woman in a dangerous place that feeds their sex appeal. This scenario opens different points of reflection:
- Does rebellion also work as a type of feminist proclamation?
- Are Middle Eastern women empowered enough to act on the message that M.I.A. is presenting to them in the video?
- How is the message in her videos linked to the rights and laws that currently oppress them?
- Is M.I.A. "using" this type of background to generate noise about women's freedom?
- To whom is M.I.A. really speaking to in these songs? Is it women, wanting them to breathe the freedom of rebellion? Or is it for men, to promote a message against machism?
- Are the elements of war in the background to the video meant to serve as an added castigation of other ideological concerns, such as the abolition of weapons or the freedom of a country?
In April 2017, the ONU held a secret ballot among the 47 countries of the the Human Rights Council. Through this process, the Wahabi regime was elected along with twelve other countries to a four-year term (2018-2000) within the intergovernmental body dedicated exclusively to the support and “promotion of gender equality and women empowerment”. That was the result of the vote that was held at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
The organization known as UN Women dedicates its efforts to promote gender equality in all forms and empowerment of women. UN Women aims to accelerate progress that will lead to improving the living conditions of women and will respond to the needs they face in the world. Under this mandate, UN Women enacts a consistent and comprehensive action plan to engage society through various areas in which women perform their daily lives.The main detractor of this result was Hillel Neuer, the Canadian lawyer who heads the NGO UNWatch. When these results were announced, Neuer declared that electing Saudis to protect women rights is like "making an arsonist into chief of the fire station".