Pussycat Dolls: Not your mama’s feminists

Last night Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll premiered on the CW, and critics everywhere heaped scorn upon the Top Model knock-off.

The Pussycat Dolls wannabes

The show features nine young women vying for a spot in the Pussycat Dolls, a pop/stripper-esque group best known for their club hit “Don’t Cha” (“Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me/Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me”). The show is hosted by Robin Antin (sister of Jonathan Antin of Blow Out) and judged by Ron Fair (chairman of Geffen) and singer/ex-con Lil’ Kim.

Last January, the show’s producers met with a group of TV critics and told them that the program is all about empowerment. Executive producer McG said: “Women celebrating one another being beautiful and, frankly, being appreciated by me, has been around for a long time. Under no circumstances is it shameful. And there’s even a position to take [that] this is, frankly, third-wave feminism.”

But what does “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me” really mean? McG answers: “It’s just like saying, ‘Don’t you wish your girlfriend could be free and comfortable in her own skin and do her own thing, like me?'”

Right. Well, those TV critics didn’t buy it then, and they didn’t buy it after they saw the first episode — in which all the girls are hit with a stomach virus and end up vomiting on-camera, some hooked up to IVs.

In the New York Times, under the headline “Empowered? Try Nauseated,” TV critic Virginia Heffernan writes, “It’s not inspiring — it’s grim — when the shivering hopefuls summon their empowerment, unhook their IVs, squeeze into their skimpy costumes and take the stage to try to become Pussycat Dolls.”

In the Boston Herald, under the headline “Mangy ‘Pussycat’: CW’s ‘Doll’ search will need all nine lives,” Mark Perigard writes, “nothing demonstrates female empowerment like dressing like a stripper, stroking yourself naughty and singing about your sexual freakiness.”

The Washington Post demands “Someone Please Call Off This ‘Search,'” and John Maynard offers: “Female empowerment, evidently, means dancing around in your sequined skivvies and uttering lyrics such as: ‘Baby, can’t you see? How these clothes are fittin’ on me? … I’m tellin’ you to loosen up my buttons, babe.'”

But wait, it gets worse! Possibly the best headline of all comes from the Long Beach Press Telegram: “‘Search for Next Doll’ just a coughed-up hairball.” Television critic David Kronke characterizes the show as “utterly generic, made worse by the exploitation of the women’s illnesses.”

What’s the real crux of the matter? Scott D. Pierce of the Deseret News (“Pussycat Dolls’ empowering?!?”) states: “For any parents to let their impressionable teens or preteens watch this show under any circumstances would be a mistake. To let them watch it and hear about how behaving like the Pussycat Dolls ’empowers’ women would be reprehensible. As is the show.”

Now, I am all for third-wave feminism and women’s sexual empowerment. And frankly, I do in fact believe that burlesque can be empowering for women. But all of these critics have a point. The problem is not that the show lauds girls for their booty-shaking abilities; the problem is that the show attempts to disguise that in a thin veneer of feminist respectability. Come on, McG. Did you even read the Wikipedia article on third-wave feminism? For more advanced reading, go here.

I think there is room, within feminism, for a reality show about girls who want to be hot like whomever. But let’s be real about it. The Pussycat Dolls are a mainstreamed version of a strip show. Being a stripper, I dare say, has its own power. That would include power over your own body, power over the men stuffing bills in your G-string, and power to manipulate sexuality for your own profit. But that’s not a show that will ever see the light of day, because in addition to all that power, there are also real issues of sexism and misogyny involved in stripping. Who wants to watch anything that complicated?

So note to PCD producers: Make your show into whatever you want, but don’t insult us by saying it’s “feminist.”