The Stigmatisation Toward Female Sexual Expression in Music
The Stigmatisation Toward Female Sexual Expression in Music
Are women empowered within the music industry or are they objectified? For many years, the ideology of women has been to appear sexually attractive to the heterosexual male viewer. Of course, in music videos most of the females displayed are confident in their sexual expression. However, are they only seen as overtly sexual because the female performer is breaking the codes and conventions of what society sees as a traditional feminine role?
In any case, why is it seen as a negative thing for a woman to be overtly sexual? My opinion is that as long as the female is confident and comfortable, that is the only condition that is relevant. They’re not being objectified as it is a creative choice that they have taken. There is the argument that there is a large majority of female music role models who do participate in sexual performances, but I counter this with the idea that this is simply because we are inherently sexual beings; it is our natural state. Sexuality constitutes a central feature of identity and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with wanting to display this central pillar of identity openly.
Within the hip hop industry there is a stigmatisation and misconception that this genre represents women poorly by degrading them as sexual objects, as one of the main themes in both male and female artists’ songs tends to be sex and the female form. Through clothing, camera address, and visual images, women in hip hop videos are depicted as having both great sexual power and sexual desires. Khia, ‘Lick it’, is probably one of the most powerfully overt displays of female sexuality in the music industry with lyrics undeniably depicting sex, “Lick it good | Suck this pussy just like you should, right now | Lick it good | Suck this pussy just like you should, my neck, my back | Lick my pussy and my crack.” However, there is a difference between a female being overtly sexual about herself versus a male being overtly sexual about a female. Khia is, in essence, taking full ownership of her sexuality and therefore it cannot be translated as objectification.
In this way there is definitely a difference between females being overtly sexual about their bodies versus a male being overtly sexual about the female form. For example, within Tyga’s song ‘Make it Nasty,’ the lyrics: “Oh, bend it over, make you touch your toes | I like how she merry-go-round round the pole | Pose, ha, open, close | I like when my bitches don’t wear no clothes”. This is accompanied by the phrase “Due to the sexually explicit content you must be 18 years of age in order to view video” at the beginning of the video implying there will definitely be objectification of some manner. The difference between Khia and Tyga’s depiction of the female form is that Khia is expressing sexuality and therefore it is a form of female empowerment. Whereas Tyga degrades females through the use of the word “bitch,” the possessive pronoun “my” and the females in the video are performing for the heterosexual gaze.
Although it is true that in some male videos and lyrics objectification of the female form is evident, it is not true for all. Many male musicians mention the female form in a manner of appreciation. Take one of the most famous rappers of all time, Tupac Shakur. His song ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ has various incredibly empowering lyrics about women: “And since we all came from a woman | Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman | I wonder why we take from our women | Why we rape our women, do we hate our women? | I think it’s time to kill for our women | Time to heal our women, be real to our women.” Or ‘Common’: “It’s important, we communicate | and tune the fate of this union, to the right pitch | I never call you my bitch or even my boo | There’s so much in a name and so much more in you.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but there seems to be a lot of love for women in those lyrics.
Aside from looking at males, there are many females in this genre of music that have been breaking boundaries of female empowerment from the moment they entered into it, like Foxy Brown and Destiny’s Child or Aaliyah – before her early passing. Essentially they showed through their performances and lyrics that being female was never a setback, in fact it was an empowered part of their identity. This transcends to other genres of music, the iconic video of ‘Spinning Around’ by Kylie Minogue whereby the artist caused shock and outrage due to the close up shot of her derrière, simply because she was supposed to be ‘cute sexy’ not the sexually open female in the famous gold hotpants the video displayed. Need I mention Beyonce as a solo artist? Whatever music genre you love, Beyonce has made leaps and bounds for females, young and old alike. In her song ‘Sorry’ Beyonce states “Stop interrupting my grinding. I ain’t thinking ’bout you,” empowering women to realise they are strong enough to be independent without being degrading toward men. Furthermore, not once has she compromised her sexuality, in fact utilising it and confidently loving her ‘thick thighs’ before the world saw it as an ideal body type. We’re learning to love our bodies through these women displaying theirs so proudly despite size, age and shape.
Unfortunately, individuals are to a great degree defined by themselves and others, both socially and morally, in terms of their sexuality. This leads to the consistent media slander of female musicians by the media for ‘not being a good role model to young women’.
For the young females that can’t relate to the predominantly sexual female musician, there are plenty of feminine female musician role models who simply don’t want to wear figure-hugging clothing. There are also many who don’t want to appear overtly sexual in the stereotypical female role in their lyrics or videos and I stress again, simply because they don’t want to. For example; hiphop queens like MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill, newer jazz inspired musicians like No Name or Nao and for those rock-inspired females, Tash Sultana. Honestly I could list for days. Of course, these females are sexual in their own way, as like I said we are inherently sexual beings, but it isn’t incorporated as a primary part of their music, or it is incorporated in a way that society doesn’t view as shockingly sexual so they aren’t portrayed as such.
So I find it a somewhat brainwashed point of view when individuals make the claim that female artists objectify themselves for the male viewer. Plenty of female musicians are perfectly successful without including what is perceived as prominent sexual aspects in their artistry, but what I’m trying to say is: who cares if they do or they don’t? Do they make music you want to listen to? Do they inspire you? When you close your eyes and listen to them do they make you feel their words? Or when the first beat comes on, does it make you want to jump up and start dancing? That’s what matters.
There’s the old saying: ‘you want to be loved for your brain, not your looks’, but I know that I also want to be loved for taking ownership of my sexuality. And I will happily watch those that do so through incredible musical talent.
Written by Roisin O’Hare
Visuals not owned by XXY Magazine