In the two weeks since it was released, M.I.A.‘s video for Bad Girls has garnered over 10 million views on YouTube and a ton of attention. The outlandish video created a frenzy that was only encouraged when she flipped the bird to 110 million viewers during the halftime show at the Super Bowl.
The video shows M.I.A. in a desert location, surrounded by women in leopard bodysuits covering their faces with only the eyes showing. Men in white dashadeesh (a long cotton shapeless garment worn in hot desert locations) stand on water pipes by the side of the road and watch two BMWs doing high-speed stunts known as “Arab Drifting”. At some point. M.I.A. files her nails whilst leaning out the window of a car driving on its two side tires.
She apparently did some of the stunts herself. According to directlyrics.com, M.I.A. was afraid she’d have to “deliver the video with no legs.”
The video was shot in Ouarzazate, Morocco, a popular location where films like Prince of Persia, Body of Lies, and Babel were shot.
According to The Complex Media and Design Blog, the video is “is one part stunts, one part sex, and two parts political commentary on the equal rights Arab women are currently fighting for — particularly the right to drive. M.I.A.‘s video fits perfectly within the Arab Spring for women as the movement is gaining momentum.”
As an Arab woman myself, I can’t say I found any images of strong women fighting for liberation and equal rights in the video.
It’s hard to see empowerment in seemingly pointless stunts and women promoting phallic symbols of power by as waving big guns.
Personally, I watched the video six times. The first time just to see it. The second time to see it with the lyrics. The third time to see if I could see what I was supposed to see. The fourth time to see if I was reading too much into it. The fifth time to see if others were reading too much into it.
By the sixth time, I’d decided that it was a predictable video that presented men and women in their globally predictable roles.
I know that women are treated as second rate citizens around the world, and Arab countries are no exception, but I still can’t help but wonder why an “empowering video” would insist on showing Arab women as nothing more than a pair of eyes?
We are not all Muslim and only a few of my Muslim friends cover themselves. Those who do have headscarves only, none of them have only their eyes showing. And Arab men dress in all different ways, they are not always in dashadeesh. So why do we only see Arabs in these images?
I can understand why mainstream media continues to present Arabs this way, but it is surprising to see M.I.A. doing it.
In collaboration with Vice magazine’s new Noisey music channel on Youtube, M.I.A. responded to a few of the 30,000 plus YouTube comments about the video. The only time the short conversation touches on any of these political themes is when a commenter asks “Why did you choose Morocco?”
M.I.A. replies, “Because…I didn’t want to go to jail,” perhaps alluding to religious prohibitions against women driving in Saudi Arabia – where the kind of drifting featured in the video originated – that would make shooting such a video illegal.
Arab women have been fighting for equality and empowerment for many years, as long as women in the United States and the rest of the world have been. And the struggle continues (Check out Killing Us Softly and read Scheherazade Goes West by Moroccan writer Fatima Marnissi for more).
If M.I.A. does fancy herself a progressive artist, she should use her videos to present women in the empowering positions we want to see them in, rather than the ones everyone already assumes they occupy.