*** This article discusses the spectrum of American music solely through songs by American artists to give an insight into how the idea of how sexism is perpetuated by the entertainment industry.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that music plays an irreplaceable role in our lives, and we are affected by the music we hear. As we’re caught up in the swings and rhythms of songs, it may be unnoticeable at times that under these lyrics slither the daunting ideas of subtle, to not-so-subtle, hints of sexism, thus perpetuating rape culture. As the inner feminist inside me bursts, I’d like to analyze how this so-called gender discrimination shows itself in these songs.
- Taylor Swift – Better Than Revenge
This is embarrassing to admit, but I used to be a fan of T-Swift until I, well, grew up. Taylor Swift has tried to build an image of a feminist who loves to empower women. Yet, if you ever tried to trace back to her songs, you’d see a different reality from the glorifying words she has said. In Better Than Revenge, she sings:
“She’s not a saint
And she’s not what you think
She’s an actress, whoa
She’s better known
For the things that she does
On the mattress, whoa
Soon she’s gonna find
Stealing other people’s toys
On the playground won’t
Make you many friends
She should keep in mind”
Well Taylor, I have to say that you’re not a saint either. First of all, Taylor has referred to the girl who presumably “stole” her boyfriend as “better known/ for the things that she does/ on the mattress” with a satirical “whoa” to show her disdain. Even from afar, I can smell the slut-shaming scent lingering here. I have tons of questions for Ms. Swift: If a relationship failed since one person cheated, how would it only be the female’s fault who “stole” your boyfriend? And even if she’s known for the things she does on the mattress, what is wrong with that? Are women supposed to abide by some sphere of principles? Secondly, by assuming that her boyfriend can be stolen, she has successfully objectified him (congrats!). Basically, T-Swift has brought her sexist attitudes into the songs. Taylor’s subtle sexist attitude and her support for white feminism in real life would influence the minds of her main listeners in a bad way, in my opinion.
- Hotline Bling – Drake
When this song came out, most people mainly focused on Drake’s unusual dance moves. Even Bernie Sanders made a parody of this dance. However, as I delve into the lyrics of the songs, I’d like to bid farewell to it, even though it was so catchy.
“Ever since I left the city,
You got a reputation for yourself now
you started wearing less and goin’ out more
Glasses of champagne out on the dance floor
Hangin’ with some girls I’ve never seen before”
Drake spoke of the phenomenon of his ex-girlfriend socializing with the world after a break-up in a tone that is not too positive. Just to clarify, I don’t believe that these words come out of his consideration for the welfare of his ex but rather a well-hidden complaint since she doesn’t act the way he wants her to. You can see more of this in the latter line of the song: “Going places where you don’t belong”. I’m very confused with the criteria with which he viewed the places his ex went to as places where she “don’t belong”. This reminds me of the so-called “norms” in which the female has to ask for permission from a male to go to places she “belongs” to. Dear Drake, just a life hack: you can’t tell a woman if she “belongs” to some places or not. I think she can decide that for herself. Last but not least, here is another part of the song:
“Used to always stay at home, be a good girl
You was in a zone, yeah
You should just be yourself
Right now, you’re someone else”
Ah, everything is now explained! Drake associated “always stay at home” with being “a good girl” and thus, his ex “going out more” must be a huge disappointment for him. He then kindly advises her to “just be herself”, or to be more correctly translated: “be the self I want you to be”. If Drake’s goal in the song is expressing his whiny self, then well done!
But seriously, people, this song is a manifestation of caged gender roles and sexist attitudes, and sexist attitudes are abominable.
- Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell Williams
The big hit of 2013, Blurred Lines is the ultimate item in the Sexism Starter Pack! For the sake of having music to dance to or hum, many have overlooked its horrible lyrics. Nevertheless, it brings up the question of how anyone can dismiss something so awfully patriarchal and sexist, like this:
“Ok, now he was close
Tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal
Baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
You don’t need no papers”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is downright degrading to women. Thicke used the word “domesticate” to describe the action of the male as dominant and superior and thereby, making the image of the woman animalistic — what a gentleman, you may say. Oh, and, actually, he overtly mentions that in the next line (“But you’re an animal”). When he sings “That man is not your maker/And that’s why I’m gon’ take ya”, he implies that he is her maker, and need I say more how sexist this is? The recurrent “I know you want it” and all of that “Hey, hey, hey” that are repeated over and over again throughout rape culture, and in what way are these words respectful to women? None. For more evidence of the obvious sexism, you can view more at “Had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you”, or “He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that”, or all of the song. This song exemplifies what degradation of women looks like. Groping, catcalling, objectifying; the song, sadly, has all of it. And most people don’t care.
- Rude – MAGIC!
At first listen, this seems so Romeo and Juliet – a girl’s boyfriend (presumably) tries to ask her father for“permission” to get married to her. Yet as the lyrics go, I keep wondering where the girl – one of the most important part of this story – is. To be honest, the whole lyrics of:
“Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life?
Say yes, say yes ’cause I need to know
You say I’ll never get your blessing ’til the day I die
Tough luck, my friend, but the answer is ‘No’”
Seems like an exchange, an act of buying and selling, a transfer of an object, to me. First of all, the girl is totally under her dad’s control – which sparks in my head the “Why” questions. Second of all, getting married is not possessing your soulmate, so you can’t go “Can I have her?”, MAGIC!. Everything went over my head when I heard these lines:
”You know she’s in love with me
She will go anywhere I go”
This girl, who doesn’t even get mentioned properly, has been removed of her own autonomy. She is presented as an object which is being transferred between her father and current boyfriend, yet this transaction was not going well. The part of the song where he sings:
“Marry that girl
Marry her anyway
Marry that girl
No matter what you say”
Is creepy to me instead of romantic. The woman in the song is described as having no say in her own life. Nobody asks for her opinion, and nobody cares. Looking further into the song, the removal of autonomy could lead to sexual coercion, safe words violations, and many more issues. I’m not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but acknowledging the problem exists is one way of working towards solving it.
- Blame It (On the Alcohol)
What should you do when you do something wrong ? Jamie Foxx has taught us the most precious wisdom-piece of our generation, and it’s very simple: Blame – it – on – the – alcohol. Jamie Foxx, 2008, sang:
“I hear you saying what ya wont do
But you know we probably goin’ do
What you been feigning deep inside
Don’t lie now”
Foxx has proved that other than being a great tip-giver, he’s also a mind-reading super power who advised women specifically not to lie. On a more serious note, Jamie is a blunt sexist, and although we couldn’t do anything with this song, “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” sadly instills the belief that whatever one, preferably a man, does to a woman, including rape, the rapist should not be held responsible for the rape. Oh, and alcohol is a good justification.
“She spilled some drank on me
No telling what I’m going do
Baby I’d rather show you
What you been missing in your life when I get inside.”
The situation Foxx is trying to describe here is rape, justified by the completely conscious rapist, as an accident caused by alcohol used by the woman who is raped. Such logical explanation! Stemmed from the ongoing sexism in our society, this song is a manifestation of rape culture: when a woman is raped, she is in the wrong because she used alcohol, not because the one who rapes her has no ethics. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that people realize what’s so wrong in this song.
In the end, many should be more critical towards songs because they may have spread sexism and perpetuated rape culture, victim blaming and discrimination unknowingly. This article could be interpreted as an exaggerated, unnecessary one targeted at random songs by “another misandrist” — as some anti-feminists would say. However, one should be aware that at the core of each song published and each entertainment medium out there, lies the unpredictable power of indoctrinating minds and turning the unethical into the ethical. Thus, both producers and consumers of such songs should be responsible, or held responsible, for what they support, consume, and spread.
Written by: Giang Pham
Edited by: Shy Zvouloun
Image credits to Flush Fido