Categorized | Op-Ed

Feminism and Music: The Hip-Hop Director’s Perspective on Sexism and the Music

Posted on 04 May 2012 by Casper

The only picture I could find of Jay-Z's ass. This becomes relevant later.

I woke up this morning to find our server on fire.  Why?  Rachele, our industrious and hardworking Top 200 manager wrote an article called, “Feminism and Music: A Post That Is Going to Make a Lot of Girls Try and Make Me Burn the Bras I Practically Never Wear“, which after spending about 2 weeks unmolested on our site was discovered by the Facebook PC police and subsequently torn a new one.  And I don’t blame them, there is almost too much wrong with this article to respond to, but at the same time Rachele’s views are completely understandable if you break them down into their component parts, and if anybody should be blamed for this article it is feminism itself for its failure to relate to modern women.

Rachele’s argument consists of basically 3 parts: she has never been discriminated against as a result of her gender/sex, she hates feminism, doesn’t believe in the relevance of the feminist movement or in the existence of sexism and that she can support these claims using the contents of her Ipod.  Instead of crucifying her for making these claims, we should look at why she believes them, and understand what we can do to change them.

The crux to understanding her article itself lies in the title (which might as well be, “Feminism is no longer relevant to me because society doesn’t care if I wear a bra or not”); Rachele still associates feminism with bra burning, and while this is completely misinformed, the fault lies not with Rachele,  but with feminism itself.  The first time a feminist burned a bra, she set feminism in opposition to femininity, setting up a situation where if a woman wanted to be feminine, she couldn’t be a feminist  Modern feminism isn’t about not wearing bras, it is about women making their own choices, but to Rachele (and a lot of other people) feminism is still about burning bras.

My motivation for writing this article is that I’ve read both sides, and I feel that neither side has done a good job of making their point.  The problem modern feminism is that sexism is no longer about people saying, “No, you can’t do that because you are a woman.”  I’m sure that Rachele is 100% correct when she says that no one has ever told her she can’t do something because she is a woman.  She grew up in a fairly progressive time, and she goes to a fairly progressive school, and for the most any obvious sexism in our society has been stamped out.

Even less obvious forms of sexism have gotten harder to find.  For instance my good friend, who I’ll call Hilde, is doing a project on sexism in the media and she asked me to help her think of examples of recent popular songs that objectify women. You know what?  It’s really fucking hard.  For instance, at the time of this article, “We Are Young” by fun. is #2 on the billboard top 200 charts.  Watch the video (it’s a great song) and then tell me what about it is sexist:

Having trouble?  If you aren’t it’s probably because you have taken a class or two on feminism.  Up until recently, I wouldn’t have found any problems with the video.  There is so much right about this video and song.  Unlike song of yore, this guy doesn’t expect this girl to love him, he understands that she has other people.  The song even has Janelle Monae in it, who is like the poster child of modern feminism.

What is wrong with this video is what you can’t see, and what you can only get by putting this song in context with all of the rest of the songs that came out this year, and the music industry in general.  What Rachele doesn’t see when she looks at the names on her Ipod, and what you don’t hear when you listen to the lyrics of that song are all of the little ways in which sexism is still present.  I will personally guarantee that that song is produced by a male producer, as are probably 95% of other songs on the radio.  And even though Rachele’s Ipod is 50% women, I’ll bet less than 25% of the women in the bands overall are women.  While society might have accepted women as the lead singers of bands, how many bands have drummers or guitarists that are women?  Most of the other examples of women in music I can think of are bassists (Deerhoof, Drive-By Truckers, etc.), who are almost always in the background in a band.  From the looks of the video, fun. has one person in their band who is a woman, and she plays keyboard, and we see her for about 10 seconds in the entire video.  The camera focuses entirely on the male members in the band.

Let’s talk a little bit about the camera, and how that relates to sexism.  Rachele is mostly right when she says that naked is naked, but at the same time, when women are put in front of a camera they are much more naked than when a man is put in front of a camera.  Sure, Beyonce’s net worth might be than the net worth of Jay-Z, and that might say something about equality in our culture, but try finding a picture of Jay-Z’s ass.  When we put Beyonce in front of a camera, she becomes an object, and the same does not happen for Jay-Z.  If you want proof of this, watch this Vizio ad:

Sure the point of the commercial is that the Vizio is more lifelike than life, but at the same time it does a great job of proving my point.  Beyonce is nothing more than an object in this video.  At one point the “scientist” in the video turns up the “Beyonce” and the camera cuts back to the actual Beyonce, and we are forced to accept the premise that somehow this dial affected the actual Beyonce’s sex appeal in order to understand the commercial.  Not only is Beyonce’s sex appeal affected by the knob, but the “scientist” who is control of the knob is a male.  This might seem to be a small point, but of the 4 people in the video (the two people in the booth, and the man the test is being performed on), Beyonce is the only woman.  And what makes this video sexist is that if any of the people in the video were replaced with a member of the opposite sex, the video wouldn’t work, it depends entirely on everyone fulfilling their gender roles.  We can’t imagine the man looking at the TV instead of say, Jay-Z, and we can’t imagine a woman watching the TV instead of watching Beyonce herself.  Additionally Beyonce doesn’t exist in video because they want to showcase her music, she exists in the video for her sex appeal. The video would have the same point if It’s a small world were playing instead of whatever Beyonce song is playing.  In fact the fact that the man doesn’t look a Beyonce and instead looks at the TV actually does more to objectify her than anything else, because he is concentrating on Beyonce the image instead of Beyonce the person.

But like I said, If you really want an easy way to prove that there is still sexism in the music industry, (or in general) try to find a picture of Beyonce’s ass, and then do the same thing for Jay-Z.

The point of all of this is that even if no-one ever tells another woman they can’t do something because they are a woman, it doesn’t mean that feminism has achieved its goals.  Sexism exists in many forms, and they aren’t something that they you would necessarily be able to notice without someone telling you what to look for.  Just because you don’t notice it, doesn’t mean sexism doesn’t exist, but it also doesn’t mean that people who don’t notice it should be crucified.  That does nothing except to alienate them.  If we really want to make a difference we need to guide people to the answer instead of alienating them, and I hope I have guided a few people to what I think is the right path with this article.

 

Please post your comments.  I’m sure I screwed something up with my theory (probably the part where I claimed feminism itself is partially to blame) and I’m interested in your take.

Edit – A good point was made, which was that bra burning is largely a media construction; bra burning was never a big part of the feminist movement and is much (or more) a creation of media sensationalism as it is a creation of the feminist movement.  I don’t know enough to comment either way, but this seems plausible.  Either way feminism does suffer in public perception from the bra burning thing (but maybe it is as much the media’s fault) and the overall point stands.

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