You know that awkward moment when you’re sitting in the car with your mom, a good song comes on and all of a sudden the lyrics get sleazy and sprinkled with cuss words? It gets really uncomfortable. When did Selena Gomez and Justin Beiber’s songs get so sordid?
Songs now aren’t any more sexist than they used to be. ”Brown Sugar” (1971) by The Rolling Stones details the rape of an African American slave woman. “Blurred Lines” (2012) by Robin Thicke jests about sexual conquest and entitlement, effectively condoning rape. It’s disconcerting how normalized lyrics like these have become.
Artists are praised for (and even fight over the right to bear ownership to) songs that subjugate and objectify women. Even women have joined the game, singing songs about virtual enslavement to male sexual desires, advertising themselves as simple playthings. When a man’s ready, he can “come and get it.”
Why has the generational propensity for this type of music not dwindled? Sex simply sells. There’s no secret that human beings possess a natural inclination for sex. Advertisers are especially adept at exploiting sexual desire in youth culture. It’s part of the human experience and will always live in our society. What is most troubling is that there are powerful men who stand on pedestals and choose only to disseminate messages of violent, non-consensual sex.
These messages are finding their way into the impressionable Millennial subconscious—although not equally. According to Audrey Becker, who wrote for the Journal of Popular Culture, women are much more susceptible to implicit messages in media. Modeling is a means of learning; females more readily emulate the idols they listen to than their male counterparts. Furthermore, young women look to stars like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus for lessons on popularity. Research has shown that girls look to media for sex education. The more sexual content young adults are exposed to, the more likely they are to engage in sexual activity. Stars both desensitize fans to sexual objectification and are entrusted with giving sex advice — sounds like a conflict of interest to me.
While women in music and media tactfully model the submissive sex toy, men model the overpowering conquistador. Lyrics are chock full of abusive behavior, cheating and ignorance — not exactly the kind of virtuous example the role models of the Millennial generation should be following. The double standard in music is ominous and endless.
Many of my male counterparts are now quick to point out songs that categorize all men in a negative light and portray women as powerful. Yes, women too have begun to join the attack party. Taylor Swift has made a living off songs vilifying her ex-boyfriends. While her frivolous dating habits and broken heart lamentations are single-sided and vengeful, they are not sexist.
Sexism is the prejudice and stereotyping on the basis of sex, but stereotypes hold no weight without power. Women do not hold the same political, economic or institutional power as men: oppressors do not come from a lesser states of advantage. Thus, by means of the patriarchy, sexism pervades music.
Patriarchy feeds us this music. Patriarchy profits off this music. Patriarchy facilitates this music’s incorporation into our beings. As long musicians continue to sell and market sex, and as long as we continue to listen, sexism will always be in songs.
KATELYN COSTA is a first year Nutritional Science major clearly studying the wrong material. Her sweet tooth prompted her to investigate life alternatives. Instead of vegan recipes, her Twitter feed is now flooded with political articles and feminist tweets. Her job in this column will be to hunt the Elephant in the Room: challenging your safe conceptions of unspoken issues and cultivating a healthy discussion. Cheers to perspective!
You can reach Costa at firstname.lastname@example.org.