Sexism In Music Videos: Is It Getting Any Better?
Once upon a very long time ago, there were no such things as music videos.
Music was strictly an aural experience sold from dedicated high street stores to an even more dedicated audience. The visual revolution was yet to happen and if you wanted to know who would be your next obsession, you were forced to huddle around your radio on a Sunday night to hear the chart show. Oh my, how things have changed…
Since that first video, the ironically titled Video Killed The Radio Star, was played on MTV back in 1981, the digital revolution has far superseded the visual and now the entire world can embrace artists’ latest offerings on every device imaginable. Unfortunately, all of society’s ills also decided to go for the ride with the one sitting in the front seat most often – sexism.
Innovative and iconic status have been championed and cemented through videos – watch Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Remember The Time if you need a reminder – but more often than not, video directors just wheel out the same old tired sexist tropes to supposedly entertain us for three and a half minutes. Half naked girls, subservient girls, desperate girls, and constantly sexually available girls are the norm in so many videos that we have almost become immune.
But we are more enlightened now, right? With female pop stars such as Taylor Swift able to call behemoth companies like Apple and Spotify to account, we’ve made great strides in the fight for balance in the representation of women, right?
The idea that a woman in a visual context is mere decoration still pervades and the use of us as stylised body parts still persists but there is a slight push back.
Hip-hop has long been one of the greatest offenders, but with artists like Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole at least offering an alternative narrative on occasion it may seem like there’s hope for change. However, the sexism hasn’t disappeared; it’s just taken on new dimensions.
There are concessions to being ‘conscious’ and producing almost female-friendly tracks, but these are juxtaposed against sometimes the very same artists releasing tracks that are blatantly misogynistic and hardened in their attitude towards women. There are songs for women and then there are songs for ‘bad bitches’.
It’s like “Here’s a musical pacifier for all you whiners, but we’ll be in the corner with the trap queens”. The language and attitude used now is probably more aggressive than ever. It smacks of an anger that women are choosing options that are not agreed with and, on that basis, the right of women to be treated with even the basic amount of respect has been negated.
But it’s not just the guys…
Take for instance Megan Trainor’s recent hit Dear Future Husband.
In it she lays out all the things that she expects her potential future husband to do to remain in her good books.
“‘Cause if you’ll treat me right
I’ll be the perfect wife
Buying what you need”
It has to be said that this is a tongue in cheek track, but this idea that the correct response to good treatment is to complete domestic duties is problematic. The 1950s housewife video setting does nothing to help either. Not only is her stance questionable but could there be a little reverse sexism going on? This idea that a man’s default position is to agree with whatever we say and then maintain that composure for sexual favours is also rather questionable.
There’s also the deep and ongoing conversation we could have about the way women represent themselves. Whether it’s Nicki Minaj or Mariah Carey, there is always the argument that female musicians in a bid to ‘empower themselves’ have just taken male fantasies and enhanced them. Yes, you can wear what you want and speak as you wish, but that fine line between empowerment and exploitation is not being walked well by many. It will always be a double-edged sword.
I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that having a man do what Rihanna does in #BBHMM would or should be condoned, but is it so shocking considering videos that have come before it? Was it not only in 2013 that the buying public were happy to revel in scantily clad models prancing around Robin Thicke before realising that the lovely ditty was crammed with misogynistic lyrics that possibly suggested rape? Our invisible collective outrage pushed it all the way to number one in 20 countries.
Double standards anyone?
Women can now be objectified by women. Nevertheless, if they decide to formulate an image that runs contrary to the norm or go a step further and even attempt to objectify rather than be the objectified, the rules of feminism get cited. Oh dear.
The non-surprising conclusion: sexism in music videos is alive, well and shaking its well-proportioned backside.