Anitta, Arcángel, and the Politics of Sexual Freedom

On March 9, the day after International Women’s Day, Brazilian singer Anitta took to Instagram to denounce men who shame women for posting nude or sexy photos or their derrieres. She wrote, “You can use women’s asses in your videos and write explicit lyrics to get views, and at the same time say that women who show their own asses on social media are not worth respect.” The post was clearly targeted at Puerto Rican reggaetonero Arcángel, who earlier in the day took to stories to say, “You want me to respect you as a woman, but you are always posting your butt on social media to get likes.”

Arcángel tried to apologize, but in contrast made it worse, saying, “Anitta, I’m the biggest fan of your butt” and “If the working, decent women got offended, I’m sorry.” This, dames y caballeres, in the year of our lord 2021. 

While Anitta later clarified that Arcángel’s message was not directed at her, she did take the time to educate the dude. It’s not shocking that a man would share this opinion today. What’s truly shocking is the sheer lack of understanding of why shaming women for owning their self-image and bodies on social media is not only harmful but deadly, and  perpetuates the damaging politics of respectability. 

Reggaeton– not unlike hip hop and other mainstream genres– has long been plagued with misogynist behaviors that have denied women the access and agency to enter its halls. Just take Ivy Queen as an example. In 2018, after decades of career, La Diva took to Instagram to say that none of the men from la nueva escuela had invited her for a collaboration. It wasn’t until 2020, when Bad Bunny included Ivy Queen on the “Yo Perreo Sola Remix” that la reina got her mainstream due. Furthermore, Ivy Queen herself has struggled to be an ultrafeminine woman inside reggaeton, saying, in the early days, she’d have to assimilate her clothes to the boys to be taken seriously, just like many other American MCs. 

Yet, there is never a lack of bums on reggaetoneros’s music videos, where women are often portrayed as fantasy accessories, just like any Lamborghini or beach-front mansion. From la vieja escuela to today’s mainstream reggaetón, male reggaetoneros have resisted the inclusion of female MCs and have perpetuated the male gaze and the whitewashing of Latinx women on screen through an attitude that can only be described as “Such is life.”

Then comes Anitta, a woman who knows that female sexuality is not defined by a man’s approval or respect. It’s a selfish act that’s born from an innate desire to live one’s life and body unapologetically. 

I first learned of Anitta in 2019, when she released the single “Bola Rebola,” featuring J Balvin, Tropkillaz, and Mc Zaac went viral that summer, garnering over 170 million views on YouTube. In the video, Anitta is dancing by the beach, wearing a knitted bikini bottom and gold pasties a la Lil Kim, while she showcases her inimitable twerking, synonymous with Brazil’s funk de carioca, a musical genre born in the country’s favelas. The camera’s not there to show Anitta as an accessory to the men in the video, but rather the woman who’s telling millions at home to move their body freely too. 

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Anitta is a pop singer, who rose to fame as one of Brazil’s biggest success stories of recent times. She released her first album in 2013, and has since grown into a global pop star with more than 51 million Instagram followers and 15 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Although her main language is Portuguese, she’s climbed her way into the Spanish-language and English-language markets with collaborations with J Balvin, Cardi B, Maluma, and Snoop Dogg. In Brazil, she’s been a champion of the marginalized communities of the favelas, where she grew up, and has supported the country’s growing number of queer and transgender pop singers like Pablo Vittar. In 2018, Netflix released the docuseries Vai, Anitta, which gave a behind the scenes look at Anitta’s massive superstardom. 

Anitta’s persona is not a gimmick. It’s who she is. She’s a lifelong singer that has capitalized on her insane ability to shake her booty while hitting all the right notes and driving millions in a crowd to sweat like the best version of a Zumba class. Her lyrics are the kind of raunchy delivery that invites the audience to be equally sexy, just to have fun, while her music videos often position women at the forefront, reimagining a world in which femme-identifying people dance for themselves and not the imaginations of men. The singer has also been vocal about her multiple surgeries, telling Spain’s La Resistencia, “I love plastic surgeries. I photoshopped one of my pictures and showed it to my doctor and said, ‘This is me with Photoshop. Do this in real life’.”

While women in urbano are paving new paths for sexual liberation, the continued narrative that only “working, decent women” are respectable hinders their ability to show a reality in which female sexuality is not up for grabs. Reggaeton and hip hop singers today are continuing a legacy created by Black hip-hop artists from the 90s and early 2000s, like Lil Kim and Mary J Blige, that owns sexuality rather than exploit it. Take, for example, Cardi B’s “WAP,”Anitta’s “Vai Malandra,” SZA’s “Good Days,” or Cazzu’s “Miedo,” where the stripper pole and twerking is not portrayed as a  punishment, but rather a continuation of self-expression. 

The portrayal of women with agency and power over their own bodies is crucial to eviscerate the femicide crisis that killed over 4,000 women in 2019, and continues to grow exponentially as the pandemic cuts off resources for women to escape potentially toxic and dangerous scenarios. A femicide is described as the killing of a woman because of their condition as a female body. The dangerous notion that women’s bodies and sexualities are to be kept shut, at home, only to be desired and owned by a man or a partner is deadly. Period. 

In 2020, 60 women were murdered in Puerto Rico, while only eight of these cases were recognized as femicide, one of the highest per capita statistics in Latin America and the Caribbean. After years of battles, the Colectiva Feminista en Construcción and other feminist organizations forced the government to declare a state of emergency, which was finally granted in 2021. In Mexico, only 1 of every 2 femicides is prosecuted, while 2,240 women were murdered in the first seven months of 2020. These numbers reflect the dark reality for women in countries where “Calladita te ves más bonita” and “Cierra las piernas” are the commandments to successful and decent womanhood. 

Arcángel’s comment is just one example of the millions of men, who still see a difference in respectability between Anitta’s twerking and corporate working women. Decency, as Arcángel explains, is seen as a value that can only be obtained by the male gaze, constantly deciding whether your Instagram post is modest enough to earn you a respectability chip for the day. 

Granted, if tomorrow’s is too racy, no cuentes con eso. 

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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