Music of the Past and Present

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Music has constantly been used as a medium in the spread of gender stereotypes through misogynistic lyrics, sexism as well as the objectification of women. Despite the active involvement of females in American music since its early commercial years, they are still not of equal status of their male counterparts and that present contributions appear to denote women status further in the society. On the other hand, because of commercial demand for sexually explicit image in media, it has become easier to wrongfully communicate feminist ideology to the public than before. Consequently, presently feminists might transcend inappropriate representation of female that enforces traditional gender stereotypes. And that despite the advancement of technology and mediums to spread feminism ideals now, women in the past were better able to counter stereotypes. Therefore this paper will seek to prove that music in the past are much more capable in countering gender stereotypes as compared to the present. The paper will classify feminist effort in music before the 21st century as the past and present efforts in the 21st century as the present.

The formation of gender stereotypes in music

These stereotypes that deem women as a subclass towards men were stemmed from the traditional patriarchal beliefs driven by the White supremacist capitalist during the colonial rule (Linda, 1993, p.639). The development of a patriarch in structuring the economic, social and political systems of America allows the white supremacy to racially and sexually oppress women in a legitimate way at the same time (Adams & Fuller, 2006, p.942). Music has always been used as a vehicle of human expression as society evolves. The Sapphire and Jezebel images which evolve into the concept of “bitch” and “ho” are embedded into the lyrics of music (Adams & Fuller, 2006, p.945).

A large proportion of youths listen to the hip hop and the rock genre due to existence of popular artistes like Pitbull, whose song “I know you want me” which peaked the U.S. billboard chart at 2nd place. This shows youth are attracted to radical music that contains both misogynistic lyrics and sexual objectification of women (Hust & Lei, 2008, p.18). To worsen the situation, men are affirming hegemonic masculinity by ideologically legitimatising the global subordination of women to men forcing women to domestic job roles, thus placing themselves as the dominant force (Weitzer & Kubrin, 2009, p.6).

Female artist countering stereotypes

In response to the stereotype imposed by the American patriarchal system, some females start to perpetrate into the music industry to express their feministic idea through music. Through the lyrics and visual representation of themselves, female artistes like Queen Latifah (Robert R, 1994, p.245) and Madonna (Lugo & Carmen, 2001, p.9) are able to further bring forth their feministic message. However it is imperative for one to note that in the past, the message bought forth is stronger than the present because of several reasons which will be discussed in the following sections.

Past has More Genuine Cause

First and foremost, there seem to be a more genuine cause before the 21st century for conveying feministic message to break away from the traditional stereotypes labelled on women. In the past, there were more socio-political issues with regards to racism and sexism in the American society and this was further aggravated due to the strong discrimination against African Americans (Adams & Fuller, 2006, p.941).

One of Queen Latifah’s video “Ladies First” focuses on promoting women’s importance, demanding equal treatment for women and that demonstrates the need for women to support each other (Robert R, 1994, p.245). She uses African and African American traditions of music to create identities and culture in countering racism and gender stereotypes. “Ladies First” music video also try to promote their feminist message by offering positive images of women that contradict stereotypical images of African American women such as “mammy”, “sapphire” or “whore”. Queen Latifah also draws on the tradition of African and African American music to create identities and culture so as to counter racism and gender stereotypes issues (Robert R, 1994, p.245).

Comparatively in the present, the racism and sexism problems are less extensive due to the implementation of more legislations and policies that promote equality in America. The intentions of artistes in the present are becoming more diluted by popularity, profits and appeals, hence the promoting of feminism ideals is reduce to a smaller role. Furthermore, artistes are now more inclined to gain recognition and to be more wealthy, and as a result whatever they portray in the music may not be reflective of a feministic agenda and that feminism is just a means of making their artwork more lucrative because it’s a mere response to the demand of feminist (Weitzer & Kubrin, 2009, P.6). For example Britney Spears is widely perceived to be a feminist but not many are convinced since most of her videos do not contain that many elements of feminism. Majority of her video are highly suggestive and sexual in nature. Examples would include “Toxic”, “I’m a slave for you” and “Womanizer”.

Therefore, putting the two examples side by side, a comparative analysis of the content would reveal that music videos like Queen Latifah “Ladies First” had a clearer source of motivation whereas music videos of the present distorted illustrations due to the influence of entertainment, the profit driven and the desire for fame. Hence singers in the past had more reason to feel their art and this can be reflected to artistes like Queen Latifah and Madonna.

Better Music Content in the Past

Next, having less sexualized content in music in the past gives artistes a more favourable approach to countering stereotypes as greater amount of attention was paid to the message instead of graphic content in music videos.

In the past, Queen Latifah’s and her back-up dancers were more conservatively dressed in their videos. Thus, the message that Queen Latifah was trying to send across was more explicitly clear. By dressing conservatively, audiences can pay attention to the message conveyed by the song without being distracted by sexual innuendoes. In saying this, Queen Latifah did not portray herself and back-up dancers as sexual objects. Not only did she do that, she also used the military dress to exude an aura of dominance over her male counterparts without having to resort to dressing scantily.

As compared to the present, influential female artistes like Lady Gaga dressed outrageously and often involves themes of bondage in their songs and videos. In Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro”, Lady Gaga is seen engaging in sadism and masochism imagery showing the need for love and satisfaction. Britney Spears, another female artist icon of the present, uses sex as the primary driving force behind most of her work. One such example is the music video of “Womanizer” where she bared her upper body as shown in parts of the video and was also seen grinding other men. While it may be true that the female artistes may have intended to sexually empower their female audiences to take charge of their lives or aim to inform other women of the dangers of men with adulterous-like behaviour (like Britney Spears “Womanizer”), these messages may not be fully understood by the audience and be blurred due to the sexual distractions represented in the videos (Linda, 1993, p.646). Consequently when the message has failed to reach the audience, all that is left is a false representation of women.

Hence, in terms of transmission of a clear message, the ability to convey meaningful content that counter these stereotypes is being distracted by videos & images that may not be relevant to the lyrics and ironically reinforces stereotypical values instead.

People are More liberal in the Present

In the present age, women have climbed up the social ladder and are more educated and open-minded to new age social mores, they are more likely to be more accepting of “controversial” issues like homosexuality and greater roles of women that expand beyond the traditional domestic roles (Lugo & Carmen, 2001, p.9). The past, however, pales in comparison with regards to this aspect. Therefore music was then better to counter stereotypes as more different views could be accepted by societies. One supporting point is that music videos in the past did not incorporate murder, however in Lady Gaga music video “Telephone”, a mass murder of men was carried out to show that women do not have to tolerate immodest behaviour and sexual objectification. After watching these videos, however, there had not been any reported cases of outrages that follow the action of Lady Gaga, but it became a top debut in the U.S. Billboard Charts. Whereas, in the past such videos are unlikely to be accepted by society, as they are controversial and thus has a lower willingness to accept new change since society previously was dogmatic one. And hence it can be safely say that it was much harder to counter such durable stereotypes before the 21st century, when there was more unwillingness by societies to accept them.

However, this was just the restriction of a conservative society that artistes in the past had to work with. These restrictions, however, did not bar some artists from producing their work, helping them garner a lot of popularity and awareness for countering stereotypes.

More Influential Artistes in the Present

Compared to the past, there are currently more feminist and influential artistes like Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Pink. The influx of these influential artistes has raised the publicity of feminist agendas. Nonetheless, creating changes are in line with activist agendas. These artistes have also asserted their power for the greater change in other aspect of the society. For example, Lady Gage LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) movements had allowed the legalisation of homosexual marriage in New York. In the past, there was evidently an absence of such a strong female voice to bring about real change. Queen Latifah having only been able to raise awareness to the general public, though she did not resolve the race and gender issue for African American women (Robert R, 1994, P.256). Thus, there were comparatively lesser influential female artistes in the past who were active in advocating greater gender equality for women.

Once again however there are limitations to these numbers as what truly matters are the quality and not the quantity. Taking for example the case of the icon of feminism, Madonna. Not only is her influence is global, but her commercial success is also vast and her wealth reaches millions of dollars (Lugo & Carmen, 2001, p.5). This is evident in her humanitarian efforts and activist contributions which makes the contributions of several artiste of the present (combined) pale in comparison.


In conclusion, the past and its corresponding circumstances presented a much better breeding ground for feminism as compared to the present for a variety of reasons. Specifically, music in the past demonstrates greater sincerity in fighting for women’s right. In fact, feminists’ efforts in the past served as a necessary catalyst to counter stereotypes through their demonstration of a clearer and non-sexualised image of women. These efforts distinctly represented women in the positive light, which transmit very clear messages about women into their audience. While clearly, the majority of the present generation of artistes have succumbed to the demands of sexual-explicit portrayal of the stereotypes, it does not diminish their ability to counter stereotypes in future. A few reasons that would support this school of thought would be the advancement of technology that will make the distribution of their music more extensive and the increased amount of independent young talents to audition via numerous platforms like ‘American Idol’, ‘X factor’ and even YouTube. Hence the future may hold some promise for society to reduce the number of stereotypes via the medium of art called music.

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