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Can We Ever Be Rid of Sexist and Misogynistic Ideologies in Music?
MAYBE things have become cleaner and less explicit…
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Rex
in relation to decades-past, but I wonder whether music will ever get rid of sexist and offensive language. Artists like Eminem, even in 2018, are employing homophobic terms and language in his songs. Whether he wants to shock or is not willing to listen to anyone else; I feel he needs to change what he does and consider how his words will be received. It may seem funny to some people but I feel homophobia is still rearing its head in genres like Rap and Hip-Hop. Many might say that sexism and offensive language against women is still common in these areas of music. Sexism and misogyny are not new in the world of music. Artists like The Rolling Stones, on Under My Thumb, have used their lyrics to project women as submissive and inferior. Whether that ties in with the groupie culture and the ‘power’ bands had – women and girls at their mercy and keen to get close to their favourite musicians – I am not sure but you can look back at the history of popular music and there are plenty of examples of sexist and misogynistic songs. I will bring some of those in but I feel, even today, we have not completely got rid of that fetid and rather worrying side of music. Whether it is a Pop artist referring to a woman as a ‘bitch’ or ‘slag’ or the sort of explicit lyrics you can often hear from male artists – is it something we need to crack down on?!
In terms of swearing, it is allowed in music but it does not make its way to radio. Bad language is edited and does not reach the ears of many younger listeners but you cannot say the same for misogyny and sexism. Rap and Hip-Hop are not the only culprits. There are a lot of male performers who see women as their submissive underlings and objects they can control and, so long as they have money in their pocket, they can do what they want to them! Perhaps we do not have as many cases of explicit and worrying misogyny in music; a kind of sexism that was more evident decades back but, more and more, I am hearing male artists either objectifying women and reducing them to their appearance or acting like they are an ancient king – giving them free license to pillage and behave in an appalling way. It is a cockiness and arrogance that is beginning to wane but I wonder, in 2018, should we have to look through music and eviscerate artists who are guilty of such faults?! There are young listeners who will aimlessly sing along to something offensive where a woman is being demeaned and degraded – they might not know what they are singing along to or feel like it is a normal part of society. Artists like Robin Thicke and Kanye West have been accused of sexism before and, whilst the latter has cleaned up his music a bit and is starting to show maturity, there is still too much casual sexism crude imagery in genres such as Hip-Hop and Rap.
Even in Pop videos, where you will see a female in tight underwear and made to gyrate; I wonder what this says about music and how women are portrayed. Of course, many might say there is a fine line between art and offence: if a woman is comfortable doing it and it gets people talking then what is the harm?! I agree with many female artists when they are challenged about wearing little clothing and provocatively showing their bodies, that they are showing empowerment and confidence. They are not asking men to leer at them and using videos as a way of selling sex. The nature of body image and fat-shaming has come into the media the past couple of weeks. It never really seems to go away and I am concerned about how women are seen and viewed in the media and music; whether they have a ‘role’ to play and be more subservient and tame. This article looked at an example of an older song where the language was sexist/misogynistic and forwarded the clock to a more modern example:
“A quick backwards glance and it’s clear that the arena of popular music has never been a brave bastion of political correctness. Time was when threatening a woman with violence was tantamount to foreplay. Young Girl, a 1968 ditty by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, includes the lines: “You’ve led me to believe/ You’re old enough/To give me love… Get out of here/Before I have the time/To change my mind… Better run girl”. It’s got Yewtree all over it. Brown Sugar, The Rolling Stones’ seminal 1971 hit, is about African slave women being raped in the American Deep South. Tap your feet to that one”.
“…And what do we have today? Kanye West has been vilified for his 2013 album Yeezus, which had some sparkling imagery (“Eatin’ Asian p**sy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce”), Jay Z and Beyoncé had their hands slapped for seemingly glorifying domestic violence in Drunk In Love (Jay Z raps about Ike Turner forcing his then-wife Tina to eat cake) and then we have Robin Thicke telling us all how much we want it, while slime-ing around a studio set with three naked women, all at least a decade younger than Thicke”.
Look at some of the most-watched Pop, Rap and Hip-Hop videos and you will see a lot of cases where women – either as the lead or an extra – is dressed in little clothing and the male artist gyrates and controls her. Again, one can say there is a fine line between sex selling/salaciousness and misogyny. It is fine if the intent is good and there is general consent and harmony. In a lot of cases, these videos are reflecting lyrics that employ horrifying and sexist language; the images that tumble out would feel more at home in the 1950s! Sex has always been a part of music (and art in general) and we need to distinguish between crude and casual sexism and language that is valid and okay. Whilst it is okay to hear flirtation and seduction in lyrics, I argue against those artists who feel it is okay to demine and degrade women; a rather brutal and sick set of lines that make you wince. The article I have just quoted talks about parental guidance stickers that used to appear on C.D. warning of adult language and adult themes.
There is still a bit of competition in certain corners where artists go out of their way to outdo their peers and be more offensive. The sense that crudeness and being sexist makes them popular and edgy is something that needs eradicating. I have mentioned artists like Eminem, who is noted for his misogyny and sexism, and these big artists are influencing others and, more worryingly, those listening. Young listeners might parrot those words to girls/women and feel like that is what they are supposed to do.
“And while we may not be fully processing the words coming out of a pop star’s mouth, the next generation are. These lyrics, lurking beneath a catchy beat, teach teens that abuse of women is acceptable and girls that it is the norm to be objectified, so intrinsically woven are those messages into mainstream pop culture. So next time you find yourself singing along to the radio, it’s worth remembering these songs are, in their extremity, striking a chord with developing minds. Suddenly, it makes that poppy hook just a little less catchy”.
I know most male artists are fine and not guilty of stepping into this rather dark territory. One would imagine, with movements like #MeToo in force, they would take heed and realise there will be repercussions for treating women like meat. Maybe that is a problem: labels are not warning their artists and, so long as the song gets hits and streams, then you can say what you want!
Another article I found looked at one song, Devilman’s Drum and Bass Father, and how the author was hooked by the beats and tune but became worried by the lyrical content:
“From the first listen, all I gathered was Devilman ‘aint got no animals’ but he’s a ‘farmer’ and he ‘Don’t wear Gucci, Don’t wear Prada’. It wasn’t until I had listened to the song several times, that I discovered the grotesque and objectifying lyrics alluding to violent sexual abuse of women. One of Devil Man’s lyrics includes the lines, ‘When I have sex I like to push it in harder’ and ‘strangle the bitch with her I-Phone charger’. As if this brutal imagery wasn’t enough, the video, which now has over three million views on YouTube, features women, clearly heavily under the influence of drugs and alcohol, thrown around like pieces of meat”.
I listened to the song and instantly got what the writer was saying. He (Lawrence Gordon) argues that things are getting better and language is being watered down to an extent. Are we still letting too much of its through and not really concerned when an artist releases material that is filled with lewd images and disrespectful remarks aimed at women?
“What strikes me most about the sexist terms and phrases, so frequently used in music and consequently more prevalent in our everyday language, is the absence of equivalent abusive terms for men. Instead, in cases of inter-artist rivalry, the abuse hurtled at one another will involve curses directed at a competitor’s current or past intimate partners. Although, in twenty-first century music, women are unlikely to be named a ‘spinster’ or ‘harlot’, the same misogynistic values remain in language, with lexical choices such as ‘bitch’, ‘thot’ and ‘hoe’ being used to address and belittle women instead. This connotes to the ‘difference model’ in which Tannen describes men as using certain language to achieve and maintain high status. It could be suggested that male artists use particular lexical choices to describe and label women in order to be seen as more dominant, living up to the masculine stereotypes they hold dear”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Eminem (who often uses sexist and misogynistic language in his songs)/PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Is the crude and casual misogyny that we hear in certain songs a way of selling the music and trying to become more commercial? Does the artist really support and believe in what they say or are they adopting a persona in order to push the envelope? This is not my consideration but others have asked this. Is Eminem, under the mantle of Slim Shady or Marshall Mathers (his real name is Marshall Mathers III) playing someone else and, therefore, fictionalising these lyrics? Does it make it acceptable for Eminem to use awful language and shocking images if he is playing a ‘character’? It is a hard debate in some senses but, in any case, young people will be listening to these words, intent and true or not, and repeating them through the school. The penultimate article I want to bring in looks a Weeknd song, Starboy, and how it takes you back:
“…But if both women and men know that their favorite pop song contains rather crude lyrics and blatantly supports sexism, how are people being so supportive? For example, a feminist woman like myself still jams out to the newest song called, “Starboy,” by the Weeknd (also known as the “king of sexism meets steamy lyricism”) even while I am aware of the highly degrading remarks about women. One of the lyrics say, “Main b**** out your league too, ah / Side b**** out of your league too, ah” These lyrics are not even the considered to be the most “sexist” or “violent” lyrics.” Though I love to jam out with this song, I stop and catch myself wondering how these types of lyrics are considered to be “acceptable” to be released and listened to worldwide with very easy access to younger audiences”.
Many artists, female and male, have called for tighter restrictions and firmer actions against artists who write offensive and sexist songs. Nicki Minaj has spoken out against it and, in fact, you would struggle to find a female artist who finds the current state of music to be fair and clean. None of them wants to be objectified and most, you feel, have experienced misogyny and sexism during their careers. You feel songs that fuel the impression it is okay to be offensive to women is okay. Kim Deal (The Breeders, Pixies) has said misogyny is the backbone of the music industry and the business would not exist without it. This article brings together female fans who name the greatest (in a pejorative sense) sexists from music. There is this culture of denial that assumes the problem is being exaggerated and it is doing no harm. It is not only a problem in lyrics and music videos. Away from the studio, many women coming out and sharing their experiences with misogyny, sexism and sexual assault – either by a musician or a male figure within the music industry. It all comes down to a lack of respect and this feeling of being superior. This rather animalistic and disrespectful attitude to women, as Sarah Gidick wrote in this piece, is worrying:
“Denial and misogyny seem to plague this industry, where, at times, it feels like women simply aren’t welcome. According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s inaugural study, in 2017, female artists made up only 16.8 percent of the music industry. And nothing says “you’re not welcome” like lyrics (from some Grammy nominees, Childish Gambino, Travis Scott and Big Sean among them) calling women bitches, hoes, pussy, gold diggers and status symbols.
In 2011, Grammy-nominated Big Sean was arrested in Buffalo, New York, for third-degree sexual abuse, second-degree unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching of a 17-year-old. Cleared of sexual assault charges, the artist pleaded guilty to misdemeanor unlawful imprisonment of the 17-year-old fan. If he were anyone else, Big Sean would have been forever banned from teaching, flying an airplane or myriad other types of work for this charge. In the music industry, well, Big Sean is nominated for a Grammy this year”.
There are countless other articles that talk with female artists and lay out the obvious: whilst it might not be as rampant as years ago; sexism and misogyny are present and being cultivated in every crevice of music. I worry we will never be able to get away from this attitude where women are seen as game and receptive to incredibly juvenile, offensive and vile language. We can draw lines when it comes to female empowerment and confidence in videos and music but it is easy to detect obvious and unapologetic misogyny. Things are getting slightly better but we need to start sending messages to artists that their lyrics and behaviour is hugely damaging and is being absorbed by impressionable listeners. Rap and Hip-Hop are not the only guilty genres but it seems to be more prevalent here. Mainstream Pop is not immune and, from videos where the women are tied in bondage gear or pushed aside by the man; there are so many worrying and explicit images that are being commented on and shared by many out there. Some see it as okay and part of what sells the music. The thing is, you never get the opposite problem: how many women are abusing men in videos and sending out lyrics that reduce men to the level of lice?! There are some cases, for sure, but they are severely minor when compared to the men. Music needs to clean itself up and have a look at what is going out to the people. You can create memorable and popular songs without tossing around crude innuendos, blatant sexism and misogyny that would make Jim Davidson wince! The sooner we tackle those offenders and let it be known it will not be tolerated…
THE better it will be for everyone.