Topics of popular culture are discussed by most people on a day-to-day basis. Both consciously and subconsciously we partake in conversations about music, celebrity, television etc. Recently, it has become somewhat popular to explore slightly more important issues, such as today’s post topic: misogyny in music. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a new concept by any means, but the last year or so has created a whole other level of objectifying and degrading women in music. In the past year alone songs have been released that implicitly, not sub-textually, speak of raping women and using male sexual organs to physically silence a woman.
You’ve probably guessed which song is going to kick off this debate. If I were to describe it as a song with rape insinuating, anti-women lyrics and a soft porn style music video, what is the first song you would think of? . . . If you thought of Blurred Lines by the delightful Robin Thicke *ding ding* you win! Since its release, it has dominated the global discussion of popular culture, with several establishments banning it being played entirely. If you haven’t already seen the unrated video, click here and have a little watch before continuing. Apart from the obvious objectification of the women featuring in the video, the lyrics “I know you want it” are repeated again and again, creating a general consensus that the song removes a women’s right to say no (If Robin Thicke knows you want it, you are obviously wrong if you think otherwise… right?) In an interview with GQ magazine, Thicke attempted to defend (emphasis on attempted) his actions by saying “what a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never got to do that before. I’ve always respected women” . I wonder if you’ve just had the same reaction I did when reading that?!
The unrated music video displays women with no bra and skin colored thongs, insinuating that they are going to “get it” at any time and that’s their sole purpose for being there. In my opinion, the censored version is just as scary; women are wrapped in shiny nude underwear, presenting them as toy dolls at the men’s disposal. Although there are many (and I mean many) more songs that degrade women far more obviously, this song seems to thrive on the euphemisms and sexual connotations suggested by Thicke and his fellow ‘artists’.
Strangely, there have not been many recent scholarly studies suggesting that misogynistic music facilitates sexually aggressive behavior. However, there have been many over the past few years that have strongly concluded otherwise. Without getting too academic and turning this into an essay, a study in 2006, by Christy Barongan and Gordon C. Nagayama, implicitly supports this notion; “these findings suggest that misogynous music facilitates sexually aggressive behavior and support the relationship between cognitive distortions and sexual aggression” – I don’t know about you, but that sounds like basic common sense to me!
So I find myself asking again and again, why are songs like this popularized? Surely a catchy tune and snappy lyrics don’t mask the undertones of these outright hateful songs? It is important to note that more often than not, and despite what their lyrics suggest, these male artists have not been brought up hating women. Kanye West for example, whose lyrics more than overtly sexualise women, was raised by his feminist mother, who he always had a close relationship with. It is a conundrum then as to why men, and some women (Nicki Minaj I’m looking at you), feel the need to reassert patriarchy in a way in which women have been reduced to meaningless objects.
But don’t give up hope on humanity and the future of music just yet! There are many artists who aren’t using music as a tool to promote misogyny and de-humanise women, but in fact do the opposite… and what a breath of fresh air they are.
I want to start by highlighting Charlotte Church. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, she was a child opera star, turned mini rock-chick, turned mother and feminist. In October last year, she gave a lecture during BBC Radio 6 Music’s annual John Peel Lecture, titled ‘I’m Charlotte Church. And this is how women are routinely demoralised by the music industry’. To be honest, the title alone makes me dramatically sigh in relief; perhaps I’m not the only one thinking that the gender binaries presented in modern music are totally unrealistic.
Church cleverly starts her lecture by describing ‘Jay-Z stripped down to a bikini thong’ and ‘Justin Timberlake in buttock clenching hot pants’. Of course at this point the entire audience laugh at such an unrealistic and comical thought. Why would anyone want to demoralise themselves in such a way? Think about it… when was the last time you saw a male artist barely dressed and shaking their ‘features’? It just wouldn’t happen, not now and probably not ever. Yet it is more than acceptable for cameras to close up on women’s breasts, bottoms and pelvises. Imagine a music video where the female dancers were somewhat covered, wouldn’t that be strange? Charlotte goes on to say ‘these are roles the music industry has carved out specifically for women […] ‘it is a male-dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality’.
(If you want to listen to her full lecture, it is well worth a listen, click here)
Perhaps that’s hit the nail right on the head. The male / female roles within the music industry are just that… juvenile. You simply wouldn’t get away with smacking a woman’s bottom in the office (well not unless you were looking for a court case or disciplinary), but many seem to think that would be an acceptable thing to do. Music videos are teaching it’s viewers that treating women like sexual objects is acceptable. As a result, women are expected to look a certain way and dance in a certain way. Immature and irresponsible seem to be the perfect words to describe this new misogynistic tyranny within the music world. Laura Mulvey would surely go into shock if she saw the way the male gaze has turned into total patriarchy control.
I hope you aren’t reading this thinking ‘this is just another feminist rambling from a man hater’. This is not the case at all! I place huge responsibility on women’s shoulders too. In my opinion, it is not just men that create misogyny in music (and society in general), but the women who choose to promote this. This leads us nicely on to introducing Lily Allen. Whether you are familiar with her work or not, her latest single, and music video, succeed to mock the entire issue we have been discussing. Hard Out Here, released at the end of last year, demonstrates all of the ways in which women are dehumanised and turned into products. The video starts with Lily lying on a surgical table receiving liposuction, whilst her agent mutters things such as ‘how did you let yourself get like this?’ (In-case you didn’t know, Lily took a break from music to have two children. She looks bloody amazing, but has received lots of hateful comments about her being overweight / ugly). If you’ve not seen the video, click HERE and watch it before we continue…. It’s worth sparing 5 minutes! – If you’re like me, you’ll watch it twice!
Perhaps the most ‘shocking’ (I use that word with caution) part of this video is when the star begins to dance around balloons spelling ‘Lily has a baggy pussy’. I gasped when I saw this for the first time but it made me think… why was I shocked at the implicit nature of that insult, but am less shocked when I see the likes of the Blurred Lines girls strutting round topless? Is it because, perhaps, there isn’t a well groomed man singing it to me? Allen sings ‘don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you? Have you thought about your butt? Who’s gonna tear it in two?’ Women seem to want the approval of these objectifying men, which makes no sense at all. It has become a common thought that we, women, need to lie down and be objectified. We must ask ourselves why. One thing is for sure though… Miss Allen certainly won’t be doing that anytime soon.
Thanks for reading!
If that was all a little heavy, have a watch of a Blurred Lines parody (here). With the lyrics changed to things such as “no means yes in my mind”, it’s uncomfortably interesting to watch.