Music reflects changing roles of women over time
Editor’s Note: The following column contains song lyrics that some readers might consider offensive.
The roles which women have been allowed by society to embody have changed drastically, even within the last 50 or 60 years. Women may question their roles because of what they see portrayed by the mass media or popular culture. Change in the female identity can be seen in how women are viewed or how they portray themselves in popular culture, specifically through music, film, and literature.
How women are perceived during a certain time period can be discerned by the music of the time. Many songs from the 1950s and 1960s treat women only as the object of a man’s desire, or only as one half of a romantic duo. Most popular songs from these decades focus on getting the man, or being broken hearted if the women do not succeed.
For example, one could compare oldies singer Leslie Gore with modern artist Christina Perri. Leslie Gore’s well-known song “It’s My Party” details what happens when a girl gets her heart broken. The girl’s boyfriend leaves her and goes off with her friend. The girl subsequently sings, “You would cry too if it happened to you.” In the sequel song, “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” the girl takes the boy back.
Christina Perri’s 2011 song, “Jar of Hearts,” handles a similar situation differently. The singer is dealing with her ex-boyfriend, who wants to resume their relationship, to which the singer replies, “And now you’re back, you don’t get to get me back.” She also asks him who he thinks he is, that he can go around and cause so much damage, then expect to rekindle their romance.
This shows that not only does the singer in this present-day song hold the man accountable, but she lets go of the relationship, proving that she has the capability to be independent, an ability which Leslie Gore does not really seem to have.
Some songs show how women handle the effect of relationships on their identity. Little Peggy March’s 1961 song, “I Will Follow Him,” portrays a girl who will do anything for her man. The woman says that she will follow him wherever he goes, because she is in love with him, and it is her fate to always be with him. This is a weak female character that is singing this song. The girl will basically be blindly following the boy around, and this shows a disturbing lack of personal identity.
In contrast, Amanda Palmer released a song in 2008, titled “Ampersand” in which a girl fiercely holds onto her independence. She values her identity so much that she refuses to “…live my life / on one side of an ampersand / Even if I went with you / I’m not the girl you think I am.”
This lyric means that she is hesitant to be known as part of a couple; she wants to live her own life, regardless of what the man thinks. This is a complete turn away from the values that Little Peggy March upholds in her song, where she will do whatever her man wishes. Amanda Palmer is the exact opposite and is completely unwilling to compromise her identity for a man.
Music discusses domestic abuse also. In 1962, girl group The Crystals released a song entitled, “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”
In this song, the singer, is actually happy that her beau has abused her, with the words, “He hit me/ And I knew he loved me/ If he didn’t care for me/ I could have never made him mad/ But he hit me/ And I was glad.”
In comparison, Miranda Lambert’s more recent song “Gun Powder and Lead” tells of a woman who deals with her abusive boyfriend a little differently, as she waits at home for him with the intention of shooting him when he walks through the door. The line “His fist is big, but my gun’s bigger / He’ll find out when I pull the trigger,” demonstrates that she is not only not glad that her boyfriend hit her, but she is going to do something about it. The difference between these two songs truly shows how the female role in the music industry has progressed, even over a time span as short as fifty years.
One area of music where feminism has not really hit has been the hip hop industry. Although there are now extremely popular female rappers such as M.I.A and Nicki Minaj, most rap songs are degrading towards women.
Many involve women being solely useful as a sexual object. A prime example of this is the 1990’s rap song “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Dr. Dre raps “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks / Lick on these nuts and suck the dick.”
Other rap songs echo the same sentiments. American rapper Mac Miller shows how he values women in his song “Knock Knock” with the lines, “Mouth my words, don’t say shit, shhh / Shut up bitch and ride this dick.”
Male rappers also write songs which show extreme violence towards women. Eminem has a song entitled “Kim” in which he fantasizes about killing his ex-wife, telling her “Sit down bitch, if you move again I’ll beat the shit out of you.” These extremely distasteful songs are, unfortunately, just a few of the rap songs which are popular with today’s teen culture.
Women in music have gained a lot of ground. Not only are there many strong, female artists, but also writers, producers, and music executives. Instead of songs about just loving men, female artists now sing about other facets of life.
Today, Regina Spektor writes songs about women as biblical figures, being ignored. Katy Perry sings about kissing women and playful views on sexuality. The Dixie Chicks sing about killing abusive husbands. Canadian indie group Stars, led by female singer Amy Millan, sings about war in the Middle East.
In the 90s, Paula Cole wrote a tongue in cheek anthem saying that she would gladly cook and clean if only her man would go out into the work force. Joan Jett wrote about being a badass in the early 80s.Twenty years earlier, the Marvelettes were singing about pining away for a letter.
While earlier music can be evidence of a day when females were viewed as weaker characters, it should still be listened to and thought of when considering how far women have come in pop culture.