Ariana Grande’s “positions” and The Second Shift

Hello, everyone! I was listening to the new Ariana Grande song “positions” the other day and it got me thinking about Judy Brady’s 1971 essay “I Want a Wife.” I highly recommend the essay for its cutting humor and its relevancy even five decades after its publication, but for those who’d rather skip it, here’s the gist: Brady, a wife, wishes that she had her own wife to do all the domestic work that her husband expects her to do, so that she can have the freedom to live as he does. A few choice snippets:

I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs…I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying…I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it.

Judy Brady, I Want a Wife, (1971)

Why does this biting feminist critique remind me of “positions?” Let’s take a look at the chorus:

Boy, I’m tryna meet your Mama on a Sunday

And make a lotta love on a Monday

Never need, no one else babe

‘Cause I’ll be

Switchin’ them positions for you

Cookin’ in the kitchen and I’m in the bedroom

I’m in the Olympics way I’m jumpin’ through hoops

Know my love infinite, nothin’ I wouldn’t do

Switchin’ for you

At its simplest, this song is about sex, and we could just leave it at that, but it made me think about Judy Brady’s essay for a reason. To me, this song is emblematic of a significant problem that the modern woman faces today, namely the need to be a Renaissance woman, someone who is not only earning a salary, but also performing most, if not all of the domestic work at home. Sociologists call this domestic work the “second shift” because it’s expected of many professional woman to come home from their 9-5 job and cook, clean, and take care of the children for the rest of the night, while the husband relaxes and has time to himself.

The term “second shift” was coined by sociologists Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung in their book The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. Published in 1989, 18 years after Brady’s essay, their research found “that women still t[ook] care of most of the household and child care responsibilities despite their entrance into the labor force.” Though many men now perform an equal amount of domestic work and childcare as their female partners, women still bear the brunt of childcare and domestic work, only now men get more of a pass because they’ve made some contribution. A NYT survey found that during this year’s pandemic, women reported doing a majority of homeschooling, housework, and childcare, even when both partners were working from home. In sum, not a lot has changed for women since Brady first penned her essay.

The music video for “positions” emphasizes this sentiment.

On the surface, it’s empowering. Grande is the first female president of the United States, surrounded by a cabinet of women, and taking care of business while still being sexy in the bedroom and skilled in the kitchen. Great, right? Not if you think about it for more than a few seconds. Think back on our most recent presidents (not Trump); did they ever have to worry about being sexy, or have any domestic skills, or bring anything to the table besides skills related to the presidency? No, because they’re men. President Grande, however, needs to be more than presidential; she needs to be a Wife. Or else, what man would have her?

Grande’s overarching sentiment is positive and wholesome. She wants to let her new beau know that she will be everything he desires, whether that be a sexpot in the bedroom, a girl suitable to meet his mother, or a whiz in the kitchen. She will do it all so that he need never look for another woman. So cute. But what does this man do for her? His reciprocation is hardly mentioned besides the fact that he’s “down for [her],” which I’m sure has nothing to do with him performing any of the domestic duties that she has volunteered to do. She even says that she’s “jumpin’ through hoops,” which alludes to the fact that being a successful career woman and devoted housewife are not easy to manage at the same time.

Am I thinking too much about this song? Maybe. I wonder, however, if this song doesn’t fit perfectly into Ariana’s Grand repertoire. She is, after all, the symbol of the Renaissance woman, global pop star on one side, yet delicate little Lolita on the other. She has a net-worth of $150 million and has reached astounding levels of professional success as a woman, but will probably be remembered for a picture of her licking a lollipop.

Ariana Grande Licking a Lollipop | Know Your Meme

There’s nothing wrong with this duality, or her skill at playing the game of “Woman Who Does The Most.” My only issue lies in the bleak reality proposed by “positions,” a reality where women will always be expected to jump through hoops, while the men sit back and watch.

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