The pop-star Lana Del Rey denied this week that she had “slept her way to the top”. This was the patient response to an interviewer’s question about her song, “F***ed My Way Up To The Top”, in which Lana addresses the sort of wholly idiotic, culturally acceptable trope that occurs whenever a young-ish woman is found being successful at, well, literally anything.
“It’s a commentary,” Lana explained, coming across in print as more affable than I’d be during similar dimwitted probing. She wasn’t, Lana underlined, saying she DID sleep her way to the top, she was saying she was aware of that general tedious mumbling which drips from people’s mouths whenever a woman has acquired something another man - and often another woman - hasn’t.
Yes, women are just as guilty of this. It drips from our gobs so freely when we’re faced with our own shortcomings. The mythical concept of the all-powerful, bewitching vagina which can give leverage to any pay deal or promotion is so entrenched in earthly society that even women stare at other women’s success and mutter, “Who did she sleep with to get that?”
Obviously, nobody glances at William Adams - Will.i.am - who is currently enjoying the financial boost of being a partner in Beats headphones - recently acquired by Apple for $3bn - and mutters, “Pfft, who did he sleep with to get his place in THAT meeting?” Nobody glances at Will, feeling a mixture of jealousy, admiration and vague insecurity at their own relatively petty successes and invents a story, to comfort themselves, in which Will.i.am has probably slept with a lot of music industry men. And that these imaginary music industry men flipped open their laptops and said, “That was delightful. Now, how can I reward you for this?”
Nobody supposes this about successful men because when men’s achievements are focused upon, people are generally wholly reasonable and logical about the hard work, talent, determination, sacrifice and steely will it requires to rise higher than other humans.
Of course, people don't think that a man can screw another man and then the next day demand a job. Because, outside of wibbly wobbly porn land, how does this work exactly? Isn’t it more likely that the shagger would actually want rid of the shagee from his daily life once the act had taken place?
Is the shagger going to explain to all his underlings that an unqualified person is taking the role because of a sexual encounter several months ago that he's still paying installments on via a meeting here, a reference there, a promotion later. Nobody says this about men, because, logically, it makes no bloody sense at all.
You can’t “shag your way” anywhere. Yes, you can flirt your way - men and women - into a lot of places. Light flirting oils the squeaky wheels of commerce the world over. But having sex with people is a guarantee of nothing. If a sexual act acted as a binding document of trust then women wouldn’t have been sitting beside telephones waiting for him to call since approximately 1877.
I sat at a dinner recently amongst intelligent sorts hearing a very successful female friend being picked to pieces over her reported sexual history. A number of potato-shaped men were framed for 'giving her one' and thus boosting her financial acumen.
I sat with my face resting in my hands thinking of all the times I've heard this about women, not wanting to be the party pooper because they really were having a magical time self-soothing their own failures. What I wanted to do was scream, ‘How does this 'fucking your way to the top' thing actually work? And if you know, please tell me as I’ve worked almost six days a week and almost every Sunday since the 1990s and if there is a wonderful shortcut which involves me lying on my back waggling my ankles in the air, let me into the secret, as I’m really jolly tired.’ I didn’t say that of course. Feminism and the cheese and digestive course at dinner make very bad, boozy bedfellows.
I rather like Lana Del Ray as in pop star terms she's a one-off. She’s a tricky soul who doesn’t quite play the game. She denies any interest in feminism, she poses being strangled, she hovers on stage awkwardly and is a patchy but enigmatic live singer. She is still dealing with fury from music critics who, since her initial hype, have worked out she isn’t actually a genuine 50’s waitress who rollerskated through a time tunnel. She isn’t smiley. She seems a little loopy. She’s a wholly fascinating presence. I think this is why she’s so famous. Or maybe she just had sex with some people. One or the other, you choose.