top of page
Search

Ariana Grande’s 'God Is a Woman’ – The pros and cons of unsubtle ‘feminism’

Updated: Apr 7, 2019


You love it how I move you You love it how I touch you My one, when all is said and done You'll believe God is a woman.

 

‘God Is a Woman’ (and its colourful music video) has sparked a lot of conversation, particularly of the Twitterstorm variety. Many feminists have hailed it as a catchy anthem about female empowerment, but some of her Christian fans and critics have understandably argued that she’s being blasphemous.


As both a Christian and a feminist (and a newbie to the Grande world), I’ve been wondering what to make of it all.


When I first heard the title of the song, I naively imagined that Grande might be making some sort of theological statement, which couldn’t really be much further from the truth. Her use of religious language and imagery is a way of talking about sex and female power, but I’m highly doubtful that Grande had theology on her mind when producing this song. ‘Baby, lay me down and let’s pray’ she sings, a little in the spirit of Hozier’s heathenistic earworm, ‘Take me to church’.


Some Christian tweeters have entered into arguments about the sex of God, arguing that God obviously isn’t a woman, but to be honest I don’t really think that’s the point. (Although if you like a good bit of juicy theological discussion, then it’s certainly an interesting topic for conversation.*)


The music video is jam-packed full of references to everything from Greek mythology to pop culture. And there are some totally random screaming gophers (or are they beavers, groundhogs or prairie dogs?) dropped right into the middle of it all….and no one seems to know why…


I appreciate the creative madness and boldness of this video. She hula-hoops with the galaxy, bathes in paint, pops out of a book, walks on a tightrope holding balloon planets… because why not?! Ariana Grande drives her point home with humour and creativity, and whilst some of the symbolism may seem a little out there and cryptic at times, her audience is left in no doubt that Grande is celebrating female strength and sexuality. In the video, she literally breaks through a glass ceiling. Yep, you can’t get much more obvious than that.


However, I am troubled by Grande’s emphasis upon the power of female sexuality. It feeds into a common myth about femaleness, which tells us that a woman’s power lies primarily in her sexuality.


There is certainly a place for celebrating female sexuality, and perhaps the church could learn something from Grande here. Christian writings throughout history have revealed anxieties about women using their sexuality to lead men astray, resulting in the whole ‘saintly virgin’ or ‘sinful whore’ stereotype. Ironically the Bible is far less worried about female sexuality than we might imagine. Just have a read of Song of Songs! But this biblical celebration of female sexuality is often lost amongst other Christian conversations about female modesty and meekness.


In many ways, pop culture’s obsession with female sexuality is only the flip side of the same coin. Female pop stars express their independence and confidence by flaunting their sexual autonomy and power.


But whether female sexuality is idolised or demonised, it can easily become a fixation for us, blinding us to other aspects of female strength and ability.


One of the most memorable images in the music video shows Grande standing and sitting on top of the world. Around the same time as this song was released, I noticed a similar image on a billboard advertising ITV’s dramatisation of ‘Vanity Fair’. Becky Sharp sits with her foot on top of a globe, with the caption ‘Their world. Her rules.’



There may be something empowering about these images, and yet putting women on a pedestal in such a literal way only serves to invert the hierarchy. The focus is not upon equality between the sexes, but rather suggests a need for women to exert their authority over men, particularly their sexual authority. (Yes you may have noticed Becky is wearing a red dress, the go-to garment for seduction.)


I wonder whether such unsubtle, hyperbolic forms of ‘feminism’ can be damaging in some ways. They encourage us to see feminism as a battle, and to speak using the language of power and control.


Having said all that, the shock factor inherent in such images of female dominance may be a useful wake-up call, reminding us that white male power doesn’t have to be the norm.


And here we come full circle: I know I said that Grande is not making a theological argument in this song… but whether she means to or not, she is certainly challenging theological ideas.


God is not a white male.


Christians may know this, and yet how easy is it to find ourselves thinking about God like this? The female version of Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ at the end of the video is powerful precisely because it blows our preconceived ideas about God out of the water. (Check out Harmonia Rosales’ black female version of this painting, which went viral.)


Of course, the God of the Bible isn’t a woman either! But this kind of portrayal can help remind us of some of our own historically and culturally imbedded prejudices.

We are so used to relating to God in a certain way. And for many Christians, that means that we relate to God in terms of his power, which is so often embodied and portrayed as white maleness, rather than in terms of his love.


In David Runcorn’s book, Choice, Desire and the Will of God, he describes the radical nature of God’s relationship with humanity in this way:


God recognises himself more fully in the life of an earthly slave than in the status and power of an absolute ruler. It is not surprising if this is hard for us to adjust to. We may instinctively go on relating to him through the authoritarian, directive will [that] we think God ought to have.


In the person of Jesus, we see someone who fights for the underdog, someone who treats people (and women) with great dignity and respect, and someone who fights the battle against human hatred, injustice and inequality, with love, not power.


How we translate this sort of theology into contemporary feminist conversation and activism, I’m not quite sure. But perhaps we can start by recognising that secular society and the Christian church can actually learn something from each other. As we listen to each other, we can learn to think more deeply about the language and imagery we use to talk about women, feminism, equality, God, and many other things I’m sure.


And maybe we can also enjoy a few more screaming gophers (or something in the same random, creative vein) along the feminist way…


 

*e.g. are their ways of talking about God that recognise that He is neither male nor female? How do we acknowledge that male and female are both made in His image, whilst not forsaking all biblical language about God as father? Do we appreciate the use of feminine imagery about God within the Bible? etc. But that’s a topic for another time!

296 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page