The XX Factor

Fergie Tries to Reimagine the MILF, Fails Milkily

Fergie singing at the 2010 World Cup football tournament.

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

The new video for Fergie’s “M.I.L.F.$” features the singer alongside a Taylor Swift-worthy squad—including Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian, Ciara, and a bevy of models—all seductively engaging with milk. They bath in it, shower in it, and are mustached by it in what feels like a lusty send-up of the “Got Milk?” campaign.

Watching the video, one is easily reminded of MILF Island, the reality show parody that appeared on 30 Rock about “25 Super-Hot Moms, 50 eighth grade boys, no rules.” Both feature a group of mothers whose primary on-screen mission is to assert their hotness. The fact that Fergie had repurposed such a concept without any irony, eight years after Tina Fey lampooned it, doesn’t strike me as a feminist move. But she says it is.

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In a statement about the song Fergie explains: “Changing the acronym to Moms I’d Like to Follow is about empowering women who did it all. … They have a career, a family, and still find time to take care of themselves and feel sexy. With a wink of course :).”

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Fergie’s certainly not the first singer to try to work empowerment feminism into her highly marketable and product endorsement-filled message, but she might be the worst at it. There’s not a single moment in the video that asks us to consider anything other than whether or not these women are sexy. The thesis is, exclusively, that these women are fuckable (or “followable”!) and every frame is devoted to arguing that yes, yes they are. Female hotness is the only thing at stake. By comparison, Jennifer Lopez, with all her pot roast dumping and manila folder throwing, is a radical of Shulamith Firestone proprotions.

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American mothers are in need of a lot of things, but anointing us sexy isn’t one of them. The specter of the MILF, or “Mom I’d Like to Fuck,” is something most of us are aware of nearly immediately after giving birth, reminding us not only can we be sexy, but that we should be sexy, too. And as the phrase MILF so easily illustrates—the male gaze is built right in—it’s not sexy for ourselves.

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Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than Fergie and her production team’s decision to use milk as a tool of seduction in the video. Only those with the vaguest notions of early parenthood, which is to say young men, could harbor a lacteal fantasy about mothers unburdened by the generally unsexy reality of breastfeeding and taking care of a child too young to pour a drink by herself. Milk, the substance, the idea, is a major mood-killer. A fantasy designed for women would avoid it.

Fergie’s “M.I.L.F.$.” is the rare case in which a cultural phenomenon started by heterosexual men becomes even less feminist in the hands of a woman. According to Playboy contributor Justin Lehmiller, MILF porn has become “one of the hottest genres in porn sought by straight guys” in recent years. After ruling out the Oedipus complex, a theory that has never been substantiated by science, he argues that the men find older women desirable because of their perceived confidence and physical imperfections. Psychologist David Ley tells Lehmiller that a MILF “looks more real, like she could live down the street,” and appeals to men “who want to fantasize about sex with a realistic person, rather than a pneumatic doll.”

This means that a music video about the original MILF, with all her wrinkles and rolls, would at least be marginally more empowering for women than Fergie’s revisionist version. Because in her milky wonderland, apparently only cover girls qualify.

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