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Is Pigeonholing, Social Media Pressure and Musical Judgement Causing Mental-Health Issues?
A few news stories have caught my eye…
and caused some concern recently. We are being told, as this BBC article explains, how there is a rise in cutting and self-harm by teenage girls. Maybe it is not news to some people but if you look at the numbers and statistics; it is eye-opening and alarming reading:
“Nearly a quarter of 14-year-old girls in the UK said they had self-harmed, a report suggests.
A survey of 11,000 children found 22% of the girls and 9% of the boys said they had hurt themselves on purpose in the year prior to the questionnaire.
Rates of self-harm were worst (46%) among those who were attracted to people of the same or both genders.
The Children's Society report said gender stereotypes and worries about looks were contributing to unhappiness.
The self-harm statistics are included in the charity's annual Good Childhood Report, which examines the state of children's wellbeing in the UK.
The data on self-harm was analysed by The Children's Society after being collected in 2015 in the Millennium Cohort Study, a continuing research project following the lives of 19,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2001”.
We all know how common suicide rates are among young men and the extent and severity of the mental-health crisis in the country is worrying. This article, that told the story of Jamel Pierce of Denver, Colorado committing suicide after receiving homophobic abuse at his school really got to me.
The fact that he was a nine-year-old made it even more harrowing and distrusting. His mum, Leia, stated her son was proud to be gay and confided in her this summer:
“She said Jamel wanted to go to school and tell his classmates because he was "proud" to be gay.
Denver Public Schools (DPS) say crisis counsellors have been made available to students at Jamel's elementary school.
The school system sent letters to families on Friday about the additional counselling services for students.
The letter, addressed to the families of Joe Shoemaker Elementary School pupils, says Jamel's death "is an unexpected loss for our school community" and offers parents signs of stress to watch for in their children.
DPS Spokesman Will Jones told the BBC on Monday that the district is "deeply committed to ensuring that all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or transgender status".
The fact that anyone, anywhere, would be bullied because of their sexual orientation is horrendous! I have heard, in the wake of this story, other gay men and women come out to reveal their stories of abuse and bullying. Another thing I heard, from U.S. songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, was the fact many people are judged on what they listen to.
IN THIS PHOTO: Nirvana/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Young boys who listen to, say Nirvana, are labelled ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ whilst young girls who listen to mainstream Pop are seen as ‘tragic’ and ‘lame’ by some. It is a sexism and discrimination that is contributing to the mental-health burden. You may not think there is a link between these stories but there is so much judgement, hatred and bullying in the world but, more than anything, people are being labelled, defined and abused because of who they are and what they like. I am one of those people who has their musical tastes but would never judge anyone on what they listen to. There is a lot of great Pop music and I think we should embrace everything and not lazily define people upon their tastes. I think social media is adding to this problem. There is a burden – on young girls especially – to look a certain way and carry themselves according to what they see on social media. They are told how to look and what a measure of success looks like – if you do not look like a celebrity or have a particular sense of fashion then you are nobody. Maybe this is not the only reason why the rates of self-harm have gone up. So, then…how does music come into things? I am seeing a lot of torment, bullying and labelling in the industry.
IN THIS PHOTO: Phoebe Bridgers/PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Lego for Under the Radar
Bridgers had a point when she said people are mocked because of what they listen to. Girls are meant to listen to certain music and boys another – if you fall outside the circle then you are exposed to derision. I know a lot of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and, whilst all of them are comfortable expressing themselves, there is that feeling they will not be taken seriously and not get any airplay. One of the reasons I feel a bit uncomfortable in my own skin is because of the music I like and the fact I listen to some artists who might seem ‘uncool’ to some. I shouldn’t care what anyone thinks but there is still a stigma about musical tastes and expressing yourself that way. I like to listen to some mainstream Pop and have very broad tastes. I still think we all get pigeon-holed and defined into neat little boxes and categories. People will raise their eyebrows if you, as a man or woman, like music that is normally bought by young girls; they will be sniffy and snobby if blokes, who are taught to like Rock and edgier music, likes an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist or something with a bit more personality. I, as a thirty-something man, are being marketed to like genres like Rock and Hip-Hop and that is my ‘demographic’.
I get sent playlists and suggestions that are based on nothing but stereotyping and market trends. I have never had to come out of the closest or face the same pressure young girls do regarding images; my burden is not the same but I feel there is so much pressure from society and social media. Music suffers from easy labelling and tribalism. I like a bit of sugary Pop and Country but I also like music from black artists and, well, pretty much anything. I rarely get sent suggestions regarding Queercore or feminist music – which I like – and I feel streaming services and social media are narrowing what we are supposed to be and still too reliant on cliché and expectation. Right through school, I had to see kids getting teased because of the music they liked. They were not cool or credible because they listened to stuff that was different or new. The reason I brought in those news stories and statistics is because, in every corner of the world, we are seeing the effects of peer pressure, bullying and narrow-mindedness. Whilst it less pronounced and explicit in music; there is still a lot of negativity and judgement. This article, written in 2011, asked whether tribalism is dead
“The past decade has seen a tearing down of the walls that separated popular genres. These were not always walls between warring enemies, but the borders separating different kinds of sound, whether reggae from ska or rock from indie, have been the site of skirmishes since the first track was laid down on shellac, and probably before.
"Speaking to the Observer this summer, musician and TV presenter Jools Holland commented on the shift in attitudes. "People are much more accepting of different genres," he said. "In the past, people used to actually hate people who liked different music to them." And while Holland conceded some regret at the passing of these passions, he is pleased that most fans are not "so blinkered any more".
The real heat of tribal animosity was certainly still in evidence in the 1980s when the so-called "hip-hop wars" raged within the offices of influential music magazine NME. "A huge battle was waged about whether or not you could put Public Enemy or RunDMC on the front cover. NME readers largely felt that it should always be the Fall or the Smiths. It was at that point I realised that most of its readers were actually pretty conservative," said Observer writer Sean O'Hagan”.
Whilst I have felt uneasy about liking particular music and expected to listen to a certain sound; maybe the vulnerability and I others feel can be a strength. Phoebe Bridgers, when speaking with NME, talked about her unique music and being herself:
“…She continued: “I think I did an OK job of being enough of a fully-formed human being in my art to show my personality and just to be myself – instead of having to fit a weird mould. I think I can do whatever I want for my next record. It’s vulnerable, but it’s nice that I don’t have to fake it.
“People are realising that vulnerability isn’t a weakness, and the rise of mental health-related humour is making vulnerability feel like a strength”.
Maybe it is a complex argument but I think we need to look at judgement and discrimination in wider society and use music as a positive tool. Maybe there is not the tribalism of past years and, with streaming services, we are exploring music in new ways. We are all broader and able to experience so many different kinds of music. I still think mental-health issues surround the way music is marketed and who is meant to like what. I feel one of the reasons there is a relative lack of exposure for L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and less attention paid to black artists because we still have these clans and expectation of what is seen as popular, acceptable and fashionable. Social media has helped push artists to public consciousness but I feel it could go further and help battle sexism, racism and discrimination. I still get playlists and adverts relating to what men my age are listening to – not based on fact or personal perspective. I am very broad with my tastes but I hesitate listening to some music, not based on quality, but how I will be perceived.
IN THIS PHOTO: Rihanna/PHOTO CREDIT: Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for Vogue
If I came out and celebrated a new song by an artist marketed at young girls or showed some love for an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist then I worry about what the reaction would be. Similarly, one reason why so many teenage girls are self-harming is the images of their favourite stars online. There are these glamorous and glitzy shots that give this viewpoint of an ideal shape and look. Living up to that is tough and unrealistic. We have come a long way in many respects but I feel there is far too much judgement and tribalism still left in music. Maybe it is not based purely on genre and what is trending: many artists are struggling because their music is being targeted at particular groups and not seen as mainstream-worthy. This causes depression and anxiety in them and, for their fans, there is a mirrored pressure. There are walls to be broken down and I feel music has the power to unite people and help improve society. Perhaps we are more accepting of people who listen to different genres to us but we still have a way to go. It doesn’t help when you get targeted by sites like Spotify or you see artists being marketed narrowly. I feel everyone should be able to listen to anything and there is no such thing as ‘girl music’ or ‘boy music’.
Girls should be celebrated for liking Nirvana, say, and boys for liking artists like Rihanna or Lady Gaga. Music is music and there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure or an ‘appropriate’ sound. I feel one of the reasons I have warned myself off mainstream Pop is because it is not directed at me – it is seen for younger audiences and, in a lot of cases, teenage girls. A lot of artists are feeling confined and down because they are expected to play and market themselves to their ‘fans’ – defined by the media and history – when, in reality, every artist should be marketed to everyone. I know my mental-health would be improved if I felt safer confessing my appreciation of certain music and did not feel isolated. Maybe it would not involve me going to a Taylor Swift concert but there are so many artists marketed at particular groups I like and I feel, if I stated that on social media, it would be met with raised eyebrows. In all areas of life, the rise in mental-health-related deaths and injury is rising. Identity and image play a big part in these statistics. Music is a powerful and beautiful thing that can change the world. I feel more artists should come out and sing/speak against labelling and groups; how important (or not) image is and why certain music is marketed to particular groups. So many of us feel overlooked and lonely because we feel different and not part of ‘normal’ society. The truth is, in society and in music, we are not all different: regardless of tastes and choice, we are all worthy and…
WE are all the same!