J’Accuse: Sexism In The Music Industry

Stop making excuses. It's time to make way for female sexuality that's not just for men



Now that I have your attention – let’s get down to business.

People will go a long way in order to make lame excuses when it comes to sexism. Supposedly, we now live in an ‘equal society’. But if this were true, surely we would be able to treat artists and bands the same way, regardless of gender. Sadly the music industry is still permeated by patriarchal values, and the frequency with which women are put down by a business so dear to me, makes me feel dead inside sometimes.

A few weeks back Tove Lo’s short film ‘Fairy Dust’ was pulled from YouTube due to its ‘sexual content’. This film, which accompanied her recent album Lady Wood, features nudity and a scene where Lo is masturbating. OK, so that part is clearly sexual; but labeling something ‘sexual content’ as soon as a woman is naked, says more about the person doing the labeling than anything else.

The music industry has a long and shameful tradition of encouraging female sexuality, i.e. sexual content, but only when it serves the male gaze, i.e. how men like to look at women sexually. We’ve all seen thousands of music videos where females are used as sex props obliged to subordinate themselves to men’s needs. Yet as soon as a female takes control of her own body and her sexuality, this is seen as vulgar sexual content.

“In the media, whenever you see a naked woman it’s always sexualised, or to please someone else’s eyes. I want to get to a place where women can be naked the same way that men can – funny naked or naked just to be naked,” the Swedish artist told NME.

To prove her point, on the red carpet at the ARIA Awards in Sydney, Lo wore a dress decorated with a print of female reproductive organs. The Daily Mail duly described it as ‘bizarre’ – a further instance of narrow-minded males still dominating the commentary on women’s appearance. Meanwhile Lo simply stated that it’s a “vagina… or a pussy… whatever you want to call it.”

It makes me ecstatic to see a role model for girls who emphasises that body confidence isn’t strictly related to beauty – especially not tied to a man’s idea of female beauty. It’s a refreshing attitude, much needed in the glossy world of commercial music.

Music itself – not only the image-making that surrounds it – continues to suffer from the dead weight of patriarchy. Jessica Hopper recently asked: “Can you ignore the lyrical content of the Stones’ ‘Under my Thumb’ because you like the song? Are you willing to?” Sadly, she could have been referring to any one of hundreds of lyrics which are degrading to women, many of them written five months or five years ago rather than fifty years back. If only this ancient Jagger-Richards composition were the only one. But for all these years the industry has been closing its eyes to sexism and even now it’s still listening to the sweet music of the male-sponsored cash register.

Some people will say: “it’s just music”. But is that really an excuse for constant visual and lyrical degradation of the female sex? Music is far too important to be left to the sexists, I say.

Women taking control of their sexuality – a sexuality normally made to fit the marketing plan drafted by all-male management – is just one step, but a very important one! It holds out the prospect of a female being more than just a male prop; it asserts the hope that she and her sexuality, are just as valid as a man’s.

It frustrates me that even now, in 2016, I still have to introduce the topic of gender equality. It’s a question of fundamental rights, and I feel like we should be further down the line.

But that’s not how it works.

So right now, boys, just shut up and listen. It is not ‘just music’; female sexuality should not be shameful; and sexism will never be okay.

Home page image by vanleuven0 from Pixabay, used under Creative Commons License


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