Talking about portrayals of gender in the media has gained in popularity recently, and advocates from every political arena have begun to weigh in on issues of gender representation. People often jump to rap or hip-hop videos when discussing gender in music, but it is far from the only genre that plays host to troublesome representations of gender. Messages about gender-appropriate behavior are sent to our sons and daughters the second they begin listening to music, and often those messages are cloaked behind dance tunes or catchy lyrical hooks.
Influential artists like Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry are in the bedrooms of girls ages 9 and up all across the country, and their music is sending some troubling messages-not only to those girls, but to their male counterparts as well. It is not only the lyrics that create worrisome notions about gender roles-the visuals in each of these music videos play a huge role. Lyrics like “he cold, he dope, he might sell coke” accompanied by bras that shoot whipped cream at the crowd teach young girls that being the object of sexual desire is tantamount to their purpose in life. That is the goal, and young girls absorb that message all too easily. It does not help that these songs limit girls to a sexual role while communicating that men can do anything they please-selling drugs, acting violently, or simply showing a lack of compassion for those around them-and they will still deserve unwavering female support and attention.
Country music can be lauded for many of the messages it sends to men and women across the country. While patriarchy certainly plays a role in many of the songs and music videos, there are plenty of songs that, in attempts to construct the “Country” or “Redneck Woman,” outline strong women who do not depend on men. While that message appeals to many women and has the power to teach young girls that their self-worth is not attached to their relationships with men, it is not the only gender-related message in country music. Taylor Swift is one of the most popular artists in music today, crossing the line between pop and country fan bases easily. Her videos are parent approved, with little nudity, and the images are almost always safe for kids to view. Her lyrics, on the other hand, often perpetuate traditional gender roles that can be harmful to both men and women. Songs that condemn the pretty, popular girl for “what she does on the mattress” and laud the band girl who stays carefully within the boundaries of the “good girl” confine our daughters to one side of the whore/Madonna complex. These songs are directly aimed at high school girls, who are often eager to fall into line with any behavior that is deemed socially desirable.
The rap and pop music industries are some of the most infamous sectors of the music industry in terms of music videos that feature women in less than modest clothing choices. Unlike pop and country, which often resort to visual communication and subtle lyrical messages, rap explicitly relegates women to a class that is less worthy than that of men. This certainly is not true of all rap artists, but it is common enough to be worth discussion. Rap lyrics are often guilty of detailing sexual exploits and attaching literal consideration to women outside of a means to achieve gratification. Sometimes rap lyrics even propose rape or violence against women as a socially acceptable action to take, sometimes for social acceptance, sometimes to “prove you’re a man,” and sometimes simply for fun.
While each of these musical areas sends a poor gender-related message to our kids, it is the combination of the three (as well as other genres) that is the most concerning. None of these songs reaches our kids in a vacuum: each is heard in context of the others. When young boys and girls listen to a catchy tune on the radio that tells them that it is okay to deal drugs and that one is followed by a music video that shows a girl in scantily clad clothes to gain attention, both genders absorb messages about how they should act. Girls come to expect poor treatment, and they willingly subject themselves to it, while boys grow to believe that they can act with little respect for the humanity of women.