Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Nicki and Jenny: Different Approaches To Being One Of The Guys

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September 5, 2014

I have a love for music videos. I remember getting ready for middle school and having VH1 on (The Top 20 Video Countdown remember?) in the background. I would stare at the women on the screen and idolize them. To me they were the epitome of fame, beauty, and femininity.

As I’ve grown older my love for music and music videos has remained with me, but one thing has changed dramatically. Now I view every piece of media I consume, not just music videos, through a critical lens. I hate to admit it, but sometimes it takes the fun out of a piece of media that, had I just consumed blindly, I would’ve completely loved. But it makes me realize just how important it is that the media that is presented to viewers, especially young girls and women, be critiqued because they will ultimately end up internalizing whatever messages are presented to them.

I know this because I did it myself, and I still sometimes do it to a certain extent. That is see images of female sexuality presented to me and wonder if that’s how I’m supposed to be presenting myself as a woman. Fortunately women in the music industry have become more vocal about sharing their struggles of trying to conform to the patriarchal standards of the industry they belong to.

I’m going to share two examples of music videos that has been released recently to try and help illustrate my point that while feminism has become branded by the media lately as more celebrities take on the title, it doesn’t mean that the media climate is making it easier for women to put the title into practice.

One example is a song that was released in July by Jenny Lewis entitled “Just One Of The Guys.” If the title doesn’t already give it away, the song focuses on Lewis lamenting the fact that although she tries her hardest to be “just one of the guys” she cannot seem to escape her own female biological clock. The video features her in a rainbow jumpsuit playing guitar while Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, Brie Larson, and Tennessee Thomas accompany her adorned in drag for half the video.

This is one of those times where viewing things critically can really suck. Initially I fell in love with the video. The song was catchy, the video was aesthetically pleasing, and it featured some of my favorite female celebrities taking what I believed to be a very feminist standpoint. But just taking a quick examination of the lyrics makes you aware of their contradictory nature. Lewis writes in her chorus,

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys

There’s a little something inside that won’t let me

No matter how hard I try to have an open mind

There’s a little something inside that prevents me

When it comes down to it, all Lewis is really doing with her song is reinforcing the notion that the only way for women to achieve success and happiness is to rise to the bar that has already been set by men, that being a woman isn’t enough. She then takes a stab at her femininity again by explaining how it’s inescapable and getting herself trapped in a cycle of gendered expectations.

She writes how the only difference between her and the man that presumably left her heartbroken is that whenever she looks at herself all she sees is ‘another lady without a baby.’ Which in a way is a little less problematic because at least she is acknowledging the societal pressure of women having to maintain a career while at the same time sacrifice it to embrace motherhood. But in the end, Lewis only acknowledges it from a very elementary level. She doesn’t challenge or try to dismantle it, she just accepts it as an absolute.

Alternatively, Nicki Minaj recently released a video for her song “Anaconda” that has sparked a flurry of internet debates that center around the song and video’s overt sexual content. Reclaiming lyrics from the misogynistic 90’s hit “Baby Got Back” Minaj unapologetically asserts her own sexual agency. In contrast to Lewis, Minaj is one of the boys, and she does it with the intent to subvert what it means. But regardless, Minaj has received a backlash of criticism for the song saying that it too plays into the hyper-sexualization of women’s bodies. 

It seems as if there’s no winning, you’re either too safe or not safe enough. And with still such a gender gap in the music industry, women still have to fight to be noticed at all. But as consumers of this media we have to remember to remain critical of what’s being given to us. We have to remain conscious and analyze why celebrity women are choosing to combat sexism the different ways that they are. And most importantly explain to girls early that their gender, sexuality, and expression is their own to control.

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