Prince Lovesexy album cover

Thigh-High Boots, Thongs and Eyeliner: Prince as a Feminist Icon

[Opinion] With his gender-bending, line-blurring and deliciously nasty persona and lyrics, the Purple One became an undisputed champion for women’s sexual freedom

Prince Lovesexy album cover

Cover art for Prince's 1988 album Lovesexy

Like many of The Purple One’s fans today, I woke up hoping yesterday was just a dream—that the world didn’t lose Prince, the musician and the magician, the revolutionary and the lover, who died unexpectedly Thursday at his home and studio, Paisley Park, in Minneapolis. Initial reports of his death left me in denial, because—first of all—Prince can’t die. 

Dying is what regular people do.  It’s boring, and lacks the kind of glamor that Prince so effortlessly mastered.  As the tragedy was confirmed though, I jumped into my feelings the way Prince jumped and gyrated on stage stage in the late 80’s. I stood dazed in my office, listening to “Lady Cab Driver” off the singer’s 1999 album. I cried and smiled and danced and gave thanks for the blessing that Prince was to my life, and to all our lives really.



“What did you love about Prince,” a colleague asked me as I tried to pull myself together. I replied that Prince had simply made me more free. 

Any conversations on freedom and Prince have to begin with the man himself.  I cannot think of one musician, one artist, who stomped through life (in heeled boots!) being more authentically and genuinely himself.  I remember specifically that my mother did not want me listening to or looking at my brother’s Prince’s albums (Yes. The actual vinyl) because she wasn’t ready for whomever Prince was, so she knew her eight-year-old daughter couldn’t possibly be. 

But who is ever ready for Prince, really? No one. So, I snuck and watched, and listened, anyway. I’d ogle my brother’s Purple Rain album cover anyway, looking in wonder at the tiny man donned in fitted purple and ruffles, wearing eyeliner and the flyest feathered, layered hair I had ever seen, but still very much sitting in his masculine power atop a motorbike. Then, Lovesexy happened with Prince sitting beautifully and nearly nude on the cover. It was my first year as a teen; it made something in my body shiver.  I was too young to remember a younger Prince on the cover of Dirty Mind sporting a trench coat, a thong (and thigh high boots when you check out more photos from the time of the album), but I’d figure out later that Prince’s androgyny was as much a part of him as him being a multi-instrumentalist (or a comedian, which he absolutely was too).

I mean, we had Rick James smudging the lines between what we thought Black manhood looked like (and many other musicians before him), but Prince did it and did it to death.  Not only did his style embody many of the traits we associated with women—heels, makeup, and a killer resting bitch face— but Prince possessed a certain sultry, Oshun-like energy that we didn’t see openly exhibited by Black men at that time.  Of course, we know that he was a radical because of how he approached his art.  He wrote, produced, arranged and played most if not all of the instruments on his albums to start—your fave, literally, could never.  But he was also radical because he helped us imagine that there was a world outside of the gender and sexual binaries that we understood. And he would deal. Because Prince intended to flaunt all of that sexy fluidity whether we approved or not.  Prince was an unknowing feminist icon flourishing right in front of my eyes, and I had no idea.

When we think of feminist  principles, we forget that the freedom movement is for everybody—that when we free women from archaic ideas about who they should be, we also free men.  We also forget that a segment of the feminist agenda is all about sex and pleasure. Who sang about women experiencing pleasure, and “getting off” more consistently than Prince? “Soft and Wet,” on Prince’s debut album For You, boasted that all the crooner wanted to hear was his lover’s “sweet love sighs.” Let’s name more of Prince’s songs that center women’s pleasure: “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Head”(in 1980), “Do, Me Baby,” “Slow Love,” “Scandalous,” “Joy In Repetition,” “Power Fantastic” and so, so many more.  In a world where women’s sexual experiences supposedly center around men’s orgasms, Prince told us he wanted us to c*me, and maybe some of us needed that permission.  Additionally, if we really want to be grown here, we’ll also recognize that Prince’s songs on sex were always accompanied by the perfect rhythms to thrust to.

But what made Prince most feminist, in my eyes, was his storytelling—the  characters that were shaped in the songs he wrote.  Prince didn't always get the girl, in his music at least. In fact, when he wasn't giving women orgasms (and getting turned out in process), he was often terribly broken hearted in his songs. Songs like “Little Red Corvette”, “Darling Nikki”, “Anotherloverholeinyourhead”, “Sexy M.F.,” and even his most recent hit “This Could Be Us,”,demonstrated that women could be wild and free, and still worthy of love and respect. In fact, Prince’s music annihilated the madonna/whore trope that said women who wanted and enjoyed sex would never been seen as desired partners, if they wanted to be partnered at all. Many of Prince’s female characters weren't even interested in being tied down. In Prince’s eyes women could play (and be players) too. He continued these kinds of portrayals of sexy, fiery and independent women in films as well.

So women from everywhere have played, and orgasmed, and crushed hard on a man who might apply makeup better than we ever could, all because of his purple majesty.  We’re all, absolutely better, freer and more feminist because of Prince, and we get to hold on to this realization, even now that he's gone.





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