Progress or Appeasement? Defining Feminism In the Music Industry

By Morgan Fisher

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When it comes to gender equality, the music industry has evolved into somewhat of a paradox over the years. On one hand, you have wildly successful female artists such as Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, whose girl power songs have contributed immensely to their prominence in the industry. But then you have artists like Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Li’l Wayne, and Eminem whose misogynistic song lyrics are vulgar enough to make us wonder if any true progress for equality has really been made. Add to that the controversy surrounding whether or not choosing to expose yourself (like the women in the “Blurred Lines” video) or swinging on a wrecking ball naked (like Miley Cyrus did) is considered progress because women are “taking control of their sexuality,” or if it’s a gigantic step back because it’s the opposite of what is supposed to be happening. This is a complex, murky dilemma that doesn’t seem as if it will be resolved anytime soon.

Beyoncé has become arguably one of the most iconic musicians of all time. She is a self-proclaimed feminist, and as much as people love her for it, she also receives a great deal of backlash for it. A big reason for this is because of the way she goes about expressing her sexuality. The clothes she wears for performances and in music videos are often notoriously revealing, and her lyrics sometimes call into question whether or not she is actually perpetuating anti-feminist stereotypes with some of the things she sings about. It’s difficult to reconcile these two very opposing ideas, and it seems to serve as further evidence of the gray area that comes from trying to define feminism and what it means in the music industry.

This begs the question: Who’s to say that embracing your sexuality is bad? For artists like Beyoncé, they claim that it’s how they share their feminism with the world. They see feminism as: “I am a beautiful woman, and I have no problem letting people know that. I am not doing this to please men, but to please myself.” Other artists such as Miley Cyrus have adopted this ideology as well. To Miley, the double standard that exists in the music industry, where men can be provocative in their music and it’s just “men being men,” but women receive intense backlash for being provocative (as she did during the 2013 VMAs) is outrageous, and she believes that she is contributing to ending the perpetuation of these contradictory rules.

This form of feminism is highly controversial, but I have to say, it makes a lot of sense to me. In this day and age, sex is everywhere. The media is filled with it, and regardless of whether or not that’s good or bad, it’s not going away. So some of these women seem to be making do with the society they live in: they’re taking control of their sexuality, and they’re embracing it, instead of allowing it to be exploited. That being said, it’s not much of a solution. It still perpetuates the idea that sex is what sells—not talent. This seems, to me, like a gigantic step back. But to artists like Beyoncé and Miley, this is the solution. And their success, privilege, and sex appeal will keep them on top regardless of the backlash that they receive.

On the complete opposite end of that spectrum is Taylor Swift. Previously denying that she considered herself a feminist, Swift has since reevaluated her perspective on the definition of the word and decided that she’s on board with it. And as awesome as I find her girl power break-up anthems, she receives ridiculous amounts of criticism for writing about her ex-boyfriends. Taylor Swift herself acknowledges the double standard that exists in the music industry when it comes to singing about exes, and she’s fed up with it. No one bats an eye when men write sad songs about their exes, but when she does, everyone mocks her and calls her “crazy”. This obnoxious sexism is an ancient joke at this point, and Taylor Swift’s success is evidence of the fact that more people appreciate her honesty in her music than ever before.

Looking at the music industry, it’s easy to see that we’re not at a point where feminism is thriving. On one hand, artists who have embraced their sexuality as a way of taking control of it may seem like feminism. But truthfully, the mere fact that there exists so much controversy around whether or not that’s actually progress proves that we’re still a long way from where we need to be. Misogynistic rap lyrics and double standards still dominate the industry. Artists such as Taylor Swift do, however, suggest that we are getting to a point where talent matters more than anything else. Women who have made it in the music industry, and have been successful with their talent should be recognized for just that: their talent, not their obsession with their exes or the way in which they choose to express their sexuality. When misogynistic rap lyrics are eliminated and not simply ignored because rap is a form of “art,” I will believe that some level of equality has been reached. When women are selling as many records as men, when they are earning the same amount as men, I will accept that progress has been made. But until we can get to that point, we still have a lot of work to do.

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