Music makes a point!

Music, as far as I’m concerned, has and always will be one of the best forms of self expression. It is a great way of making a stand for something you believe in. Look at the punk movement – one of the best examples because it actually made a difference. It was American bands like the New York Dolls who were one of the first groups to come out with punk music. Malcolm McClaren saw them, liked them, and wanted to bring that kind of DIY attitude to the UK, hence setting up Sex Pistols.The punk movement was one of the biggest and most effective attitude adjustments we’ve ever had as it is still pretty strong nearly forty years later. Clearly music is pretty powerful.
So, I thought why not look at how women are portrayed and talked about within the music industry. But rather than look at just the artists and the latest tabloid headlines about Rihanna or Lady Gaga, I’d rather look at what the music itself is saying.
I want to look at two songs, one from the present and one from maybe thirty years or so in the past. I’ll be mostly discussing the lyrics but also looking a little bit into the performers too. I am interested to see the differences and possible similarities between the two songs and the artists to whom they belong.

“Feminism is a belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth” (Freedman, 2003, page 7) and the first song that I have chosen is one of the most obviously feminist songs I have heard.
My first choice is ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ which was written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart and sung by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. Although “in 1980 the New York Times assured readers that the “radical days of feminism are gone”. (Freedman, 2003, page 10), this single was released in October 1985 by RCA Records. (Discography, http://www.annielennox.com)

Okay, so a little bit about Annie Lennox herself.

She is an incredibly strong female character who has presented herself as a very independant and capable woman. She is a very inspirational person as she has had an active role in the campaign to raise awareness for HIV and poverty in Africa as well as being an ambassador for Oxfam and UNAids.
In many of her music videos she is seen wearing masculine cut suits with short boyish hair and so looks fairly androgynous. The idea behind this was to make herself look similar to and ‘equal’ to Dave Stewart (her partner in Eurythmics). Laura Mulvey continuously presents the idea that a woman is just a castrated men, giving the idea that we are all men (and therefore all the same/of equal worth) but some have a penis and some do not.
Lennox doesn’t just want to be known for her music as she tells an interviewer from The Guardian “I want people to understand me as a person with views, not just performing songs,”. (Lennox, 2012)
Now to look at the music.

Now there was a time when they used to say
That behind every – great man
There had to be a – great woman
But in these times of change you know
That it’s no longer true
So we’re comin’ out of the kitchen
‘Cause there’s somethin’ we forgot to say to you (we say)

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves
Standin’ on their own two feet
And ringin’ on their own bells
Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

Now this is a song to celebrate
The conscious liberation of the female state
Mothers – daughters and their daughters too
Woman to woman
We’re singin’ with you
The “inferior sex” got a new exterior
We got doctors, lawyers, politicians too
Everybody – take a look around
Can you see – can you see – can you see
There’s a woman right next to you

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves
Standin’ on their own two feet
And ringin’ on their own bells
Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

Now we ain’t makin’ stories
And we ain’t layin’ plans
‘Cause a man still loves a woman
And a woman still loves a man
(Just a same though)
The main point of the song is to establish that women are no longer relying on men as they are capable of doing it all themselves.
To be honest, my main problem with these lyrics is in the last verse.
“Cause a man still loves a woman, And a woman still loves a man” just sounds like they’re saying ‘don’t worry, we’re all straight!’ which kind of annoys me because although I am aware that a lot of fairly ignorant (and often obnoxious) people will think that most feminists are man-hating lesbians, it seems to me that it is saying that women should be treated equally but maybe not homosexuals yet.

The A.V. Club criticized Lennox for these lyrics, saying “it traffics in cliches about women as much as it disproves them”. (Heller, et al, 2010) They also picked up on the same lines that I have mentioned, as well as “Women are ”comin’ out of the kitchen” to tout their ”new exterior” as if feminism was a shiny paint job.” (Heller, et al, 2010)

 

The second song I want to look at is ‘If I Were A Boy’ by Beyonce.

If I were a boy even just for a day
I’d roll out of bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted
And go drink beer with the guys

And chase after girls
I’d kick it with who I wanted
And I’d never get confronted for it
‘Cause they stick up for me

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man

I’d listen to her
‘Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
‘Cause he’s taking you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed

If I were a boy
I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone it’s broken
So they’d think that I was sleeping alone

I’d put myself first
And make the rules as I go
‘Cause I know that she’d be faithful
Waiting for me to come home, to come home

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man

I’d listen to her
‘Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
‘Cause he’s taking you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed

It’s a little too late for you to come back
Say it’s just a mistake
Think I’d forgive you like that
If you thought I would wait for you
You thought wrong

But you’re just a boy
You don’t understand
And you don’t understand, oh
How it feels to love a girl
Someday you wish you were a better man

You don’t listen to her
You don’t care how it hurts
Until you lose the one you wanted
‘Cause you’re taking her for granted
And everything you had got destroyed
But you’re just a boy

 

She mostly talks about how guys have it so much easier than girls, because they don’t care as much and therefore don’t get hurt as much as girls do. She also implies that guys can pretty much do what they want without getting too much hassle for it; “I’d kick it with who I wanted,
And I’d never get confronted for it”.
To me this is implying that women are also weaker than men as they are relying on a man to keep them happy, even though this guy is out doing whatever he likes and the girl is just waiting around for him. The lines “‘Cause I know that she’d be faithful, Waiting for me to come home” reinforce the idea of the naive, weak woman sitting around awaiting the man to come home.

The words “but you’re just a boy” are repeated a few times within the song, which could be saying two different things. The first could be comparing a boy to a girl, making the male sound inferior because the male is ‘just’ a boy. The second could be comparing a boy to a man, making it an excuse for his poor behaviour – he is only a boy, he hasn’t grown up to be a man yet. This presumes that when the boy becomes a man his behaviour will improve.

It is mostly the third verse from the bottom where the female actually sounds strong.

“It’s a little too late for you to come back
Say it’s just a mistake
Think I’d forgive you like that
If you thought I would wait for you
You thought wrong”

She finally says that the girl wont just wait around and let the guy do what he likes.
She finally gives herself some value!
Beyonce is another powerful, often thought to be inspirational, woman. She is a successful singer, songwriter and dancer as well as a devoted daughter, wife and now mother.
Some seem to think that you cannot preach feminist views and make sexy, provocative music videos. Beyonce clearly disagrees. The reason, I think, she can get away with doing this is because she is embracing her sexuality, using it to become empowered rather than degrading herself by sleeping around or being ‘slutty’. Laura Mulvey talks about the “male gaze” (Mulvey, 1975) and how women are looked at as objects of desire. Beyonce takes this idea and uses it to her advantage. Men will stare or ‘gaze’ at her, and so she can show them how strong she is while she has their attention.

 

References

Freedman, E. 2003, No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, Ballentine Books.

Heller, J., Koski G., Pierce, L., Robinson, T., Ryan, K., Withrow, E., Zulkey, C. 2010.
A soundproofed room of one’s own: 17 well-intended yet misguided feminist anthems. Available at: avclub.com/articles/a-soundproofed-room-of-ones-own-17-wellintended-ye,39169/

Martinson, J. 2012. Annie Lennox: The world has bcome more sexualised. Available at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/mar/05/annie-lennox-world-more-sexualised

Mulvey, L. 1975, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. [online] Available at: http://imlportfolio.usc.edu/ctcs505/mulveyVisualPleasureNarrativeCinema.pdf

Schneir, M. 1994 Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings. Vintage, London.

http://www.annielennox.com

http://www.cduniverse.com

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