If You Want It, Come and Get It: How Today’s Music Defines Female Sexuality
(This project is under the representation of Keller Media Literary Agency, 2015)
I want that red velvet
I want that sugar sweet
Don’t let nobody touch it
Unless that somebody’s me (Maroon 5, “Sugar”)
Do today’s girls really need to listen to songs about their vagina – about how sweet it is and how it tastes like sugar? What about other parts of them, like their potential, their brain, their talent? Aren’t those part of the female experience? Sadly, not in today’s music.
As a mother, feminist, and college professor who teaches Women’s Studies courses, it’s becoming difficult to empower young women to use their intellect rather than sex to get what they want in their personal and professional lives. “It’s just entertainment,” they defend when I point out lyrics that offend me – and should offend all girls and women. If it’s just entertainment, then why are our college campuses being attacked for not preventing rapes or sexual harassment against our girls when it has been noted by the American Association of Universities that one in four undergraduates are being raped/sexually harassed during their four years at the college? Teaching media literacy to my students is at the forefront of my teaching philosophy and objectives, and I have to be on top of the music and television and movie industries to be able to counter the messages they send my students – both male and female. I also have them do their own research, requiring them to find songs that degrade or empower women, teaching them to make important decisions about what they listen to and how females are presented in the songs they listen to. Sexism and female degradation is not entertainment, as it can have detrimental effects upon both sexes, and after twenty years of teaching, it has become my job and my endeavor to teach my students to read past the music, past the entertainment factor, at the veiled (and sometimes very overt) messages that objectify and diminish the power and identity of our young women.
With 93% of the US population streaming music through their iPods and iPhones (more than 25 hours a week), If You Want It, Come and Get It confronts the downward spiral of the music industry as it sacrifices art for money through the exploitation of girls and women (Nielsen). Girls between the ages of 8-10 are targeted by the music industry as the core audience for much of the music being produced for the public, and these girls are being portrayed in such a manner that diminishes them to sexual objects worth nothing more than their willingness and ability to please men. Research shows that songs and their lascivious lyrics alone affect the positive mood of girls in that this mood is diminished (Bell et al. 2007). The degrading sexual messages that infiltrate today’s top hits are heard by our children, and it’s not just body image that is in danger when it comes to our girls – it’s their self-image, who they are as girls and who they want to be as women. According to the Girls’ Attitudes 2014 Survey, 45% of 11-21 year olds interviewed feel ashamed of the way they look, and much of this attitude has to do with the media’s representation of girls and women (Girlguiding). It has also been noted that girls who suffer self-esteem are more likely to find themselves sexually victimized (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1998), and it’s no wonder with the burgeoning combination of sex and violence embedded in song lyrics available to all children.
Girls today don’t get to say how they want sex; they don’t have a chance to figure it out on their own. The songs – through the mouths of their favorite artists – tell them who they are and how they should want it. Fifth Harmony’s Camila, a girl, suggests that if a guy you meet at a club takes you outside and has sex with you, then you must be worth it:
Come harder just because
I don’t like it, like it too soft
I like it a little rough
Give it to me, I’m worth it
They go as far as telling girls how this hard, wild sex is what they are made for, how they can get the guy they want if they just embrace their animalistic desires. Through today’s music, girls are being told how to like their sex, and boys are being told how to treat girls – like trash, like expendable, serviceable receptacles of male lust. Pitt Bull croons that boys should grind against girls and instructs girls how to move their buttocks for male validation:
… back it up
Push your booty out
Move it in
Move it out
Now wind it up
While I grind it up
Like a twenty sack
And roll it out.
The music industry is sending kids mixed messages about what girl power is; yes, go to school, get a career, have babies like Beyonce and JLo, but you better be hot like them, too. And of course, you can have a big derriere like them, and like Nikki Minaj, but make sure to shake it, twerk it, and dress it up with all the trimmings of a sexualized target so the men in the industry will approve. You’ll be big (excuse the pun), famous like them, and rich, too. You can have it all – as long as you look and act like these musical starlets. Your sex sells, so use it to your advantage, is the lesson most girls hear when their favorite songs are accompanied by images of their favorite female artists. And this attitude is so normative that no one refutes it. In fact, it is what cultural feminist Susan J. Douglass defined as “enlightened sexism” in a postfeminist era. Now that women have gained equality in the public spheres of our society (and they haven’t), media undermine this supposed power and equality of the sexes by reminding girls and women of their rightful place as the hottie, the sex-kitten, the vixen. They can wear the starched suits of professionalism by day, but by night, they should also know how to bake in the kitchen and feed the sexual needs of their men in the bedroom. They should even go so far as to take oral sex classes, dress up in dominatrix-style leather teddies and red, spiked heels, learn how to pole dance for fun, and arouse their men into titillation by stripping.
With the advent of media exposure, teens have been found to listen to 10.1 hours of music on the radio a week and watch MTV music videos at least 6 hours a week, and both these media outlets are saturated with sexually violent and degrading imagery that posits the female body as object and victim (Teen Research Unlimited). The sexually explicit images that pervade their senses and their basic understanding of human sexuality undermine confidence and self-respect. What chance do girls have of becoming empowered without resorting to feminine wiles and sexual innuendo to get where they want to go? What chance do boys have of seeing girls as equals – in the boardroom and in the bedroom? As parents and teachers, we tell girls that there are infinite possibilities available to them through education and individual empowerment, but the media they are exposed to, and in this case, music in particular, provide them with a different message, one that conflicts with the meaning of power. In a postfeminist era, girls – and boys – are learning that female power is indicative of sexual power, and that is not power at all. It’s sexual objectification feeding on female degradation, and our girls are worth more than that, more than what M. Gigi Durham pens as “Lolitas,” young sexualized girls taught that their path to freedom and equality is not through their achievements and triumphs but through the pornification of their bodies, their selves.