The XX Factor

Jennifer Lopez’s New Video Is a Sad Premonition of the Future of Feminism

Jennifer Lopez sings, “Can we go back to how it was?”

Jennifer Lopez has done a bang-up job convincing the world that her latest single is some kind of feminist manifesto. Since the video for “Ain’t Your Mama” dropped on Friday morning, outlets have applauded Lopez for her “stereotype-smashing” and “politically charged” art, saying she “stands up for women” and “starts a women’s revolution.”

If the rebel tactics depicted in “Ain’t Your Mama”—dumping a pot roast on a man’s head and throwing around a few manila folders—constitutes the feminist revolution, we’re all in big trouble. The video reveals a few praiseworthy costume choices, including a brilliant purple skirt suit and Rihanna’s famous Manolo Blahnik bootpants, but you have to squint pretty hard to see any relevance to contemporary discussions of gender politics.

Lopez’s video starts out with a few promising, if not entirely radical audio clips from Hillary Clinton’s famous 1995 “women’s rights are human rights” speech, Gloria Steinem’s Address to the Women of America, and Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equity in her acceptance speech at the 2015 Oscars. “We have a big, big problem, ladies,” Lopez says in a TV broadcast to an audience of disgruntled housewives and secretaries. “First, you’ve got to get mad.”

The decade-hopping video gets less substantive from there, sticking to a conservative idea of gender equality that rests on petty comebacks against lazy husbands, leering bosses, and inattentive boyfriends. It’s a cute shtick when it roots itself in the mid-century fight against the image of a domestic, subservient maid-as-wife. But the song’s premise—a woman refusing to cook and launder for her husband, because she “ain’t [his] mama”—continues into modern urban life. Set against that backdrop, the idea of a woman proudly demanding that her husband wash his own underwear, as if it’s some kind of revolutionary feminist act, grates the senses.

It’s hard not to compare “Ain’t Your Mama” to Beyoncé’s “Formation,” and not just because the lyrics to the former contain the copyrighted Bey phrase “crazy in love.” In “Ain’t Your Mama,” Lopez literally gets her ladies in formation (using the Friendable app—nice product placement!) to perform a military-style march on an empty Brooklyn block. The comparison to Beyoncé’s unapologetically political “Formation” does not flatter Lopez’s milquetoast attempt to hop on some kind of least-common-denominator feminist bandwagon. Then again, since the song was co-written by Meghan Trainor, she of the least-common-denominator body-positivity bandwagon, this is no surprise.

In fact, the “Ain’t Your Mama” video might serve as a helpful illustration of an ascendant brand of feminism that boasts more marketable style than political substance. At this moment in time, when Unilever is co-opting wage-gap rhetoric to sell deodorant and period entrepreneurs are bad-mouthing feminists while claiming to be feminists, there may be no irony in the fact that Lopez’s antiquated girl-power jam was produced by infamous hitmaker Dr. Luke, who Kesha has repeatedly accused of rape and emotional abuse. “Ain’t Your Mama” also provides some of the most shameless instances of paid-placement in recent music video history: In addition to Friendable’s plot contribution, there’s a close-up on Lopez’s Peuterey raincoat, a lingering pause on her Lavazza coffee cup, and a nod to her creepy boss’s Beluga vodka. Even worse, the video promotes the Body Lab weight-loss supplements Lopez shills on days when she’s not overthrowing the patriarchy. The revolution may not be televised, but at least it won’t have any unsightly bulges or rolls.