Gender & media
Music videos are definitely a major component of the media thatidentifies a new direction on gender and sexuality. Several studieshave looked at a number of various artists both male and female fromvarious races to explore how they address the issue of gender asproducts of the modern culture and as drivers of the modern culture.The hip hop music genre and its derivatives is an important site tostudy and assess the sexualization of women in the media across therace. Although hip hop has predominantly been associated with AfricanAmericans or blacks in general, it is interesting to note that theirimpact on society is not specific to African Americans alone.Furthermore, the trend of collaboration between white artists andAfrican Americans artists or collaboration between artists fromdifferent genre has complicated the study of music in general. Thispaper looks at two female artists, Beyoncé Knowles and Miley Cyrus,and how their music videos, “run the world (girls)” and “wecan’t stop.” As media channels, the music videos will be analyzedand used as lenses through which the American culture of race, genderand sexual politics can be explored in relation to cotemporarytheories media and gender.
Heritage or ethnicity and gender are common determinants of anartist’s direction in their music. Looking at Beyoncé, a woman ofAfrican American heritage and Miley Cyrus of a white Caucasianheritage enables this study to explore to divergence lines ofethnicity and two convergent line of gender. Furthermore, Beyoncéhas maintained a key following in the R7B category while Miley hasconcentrated on soft rock and pop music. However, latestcollaborations have seen her music shift southwards in a subgenre ofHip hop called crunk synonymous with southern states. Thisversatility is not unique to Miley alone as other musicians havecollaborated with other artists from other genres of music and fromother countries around the world to reach a wider audience and putacross their messages. Balaji (2010) cites Hesmondhalgh who says thisshifting in music messages, genres is not only influenced by anartist’s desires and those of the market but also by the largecorporations such as Warner Music, Sony and others that control themusic industry and thus demand music that is marketable to themasses.
Run the world(girls) by Beyoncé
In “run the world (girls)” Beyonce appears to address a similarsubject of women empowerment that is covered in some of her songssuch as ‘survivor’ and ‘independent woman’ with Destiny’sChild and ‘put a ring on it.’ The video samples several beatsfrom around the world such as from Jamaica and Africa. In fact, thesong has some dancehall beats combined with an African touch thatgives it feeling of a dance song. The lyrics in the song address theempowerment of women in modern times. However, it is interesting tonote that the empowerment that the song addresses is based on femalesexuality, the female body rather and even education. Some of notablelines in the song are:
“Thisgoes out to all my girls, That`s in the club rocking the latest,
Whowill buy it for themselves and get more money later.”
“Hopeyou still like me, F- you pay me”
“Strongenough to bear the children”
“Helpme raise a glass for the college grads”
The video shot in a post-apocalyptic scene starts off with Beyonceatop a horee leading troop of girls. There are also images of heratop a burnt car with ‘revolution’ sprayed on it. One women isdepicted as wiggling herself from a cage while another is nailed to across like Jesus only that the cross is down and not upright. Thistroop is apprehended by what appear to a troop of antiriot police.When they face off with the police, Beyoncé is without her armor butin a rather sexy dress and so are her fellow girls. Their faces donot reflect the post apocalypse environment they are in. they areneat, well groomed and sexy. Their dressing does not reflect a battleground but rather an erotic scene. The video then continues withBeyoncé dancing around in a routine with her girls as the men watch.
We can’tstop by Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus,previously known as Hanna Montana, after her character in a teen TVshow by the same name has gained much attraction in the recent past.Her performance at the 2013 VMA has been discussed at length and sois her video “can’t stop.” Previously seen as a teen role modelfor young girls through her character Hanna Montana, Miley has gottenthe public worrying through her explicit costumes and performances.The lyrics of ‘can’t stop’ portray a sense of deviance throughthis party song. The song talks of doing what the teens want andpartying till morning and dancing high on drugs. In one line shesings
Welike to partyDancing with MollyDoing whatever we want.
She continues tosing
Tomy home girls here with the big buttShaking it like we at astrip clubRemember only God can judge ya.
The lyrics go oneto depict a free party life that glorifies female sexuality, partylife, deviance, independence and drugs.
The video drives the message of the lyrics home. The video starts offwith Miley cutting loose an ankle free monitor suggesting she is adeviance in nature and under house arrest. During the party depictedin the video, Miley engages in some weird facial and mouthexpressions. She goes ahead to kiss a fellow female doll and nearlyevery activity has a sexual undertone from her dressing and twerking.These images support her claim that as per the lyrics that “t`s ourparty we can do what we want/we can say what we want/we can love whowe want/we can kiss who we want.” The video is just a depiction ofsexual deviance where girls are dancing like strippers, all thepeople are drinking and snorting coke and taking ecstasy (molly)which is comparable to a sex orgy. It is also interesting to notethat she uses African American girls as prop in accentuating the“home girl with the big butt”. It is also clear that Miley wearsa grill something that is largely associated with the bad boylifestyle of the so called gangster rappers.
In the first lines, she glorifies deviance and doing drugs, in thiscase ecstasy also referred in slang as molly when in pure form. Inthe second case, she glorifies deviance and rebellion against parentsand societal morals. By saying that only can judge seeks to reaffirmthat society has no right to judge one’s actions are morallyacceptable or not. In one of the lines, she talks of girls with bigbutt shaking it like they are in a strip club. This clearly alienatesthe personas of the black girls from their bodies and uses them assexual objects (White 2013). The girls are used and presented in thevideo as a reenactment or display of ‘girls with big butt’ as perthe lyrics.
The objectification of black women takes a racial direction inMiley’s video. Balaji (2010) notes that historically, the westernconstruction of African American woman negates her emotional andintellectual worth but emphasizes on her physicality. This thirdparty sexual objectification has led to girls embracing this foreignidea of themselves and as a result, they are eager to display theirphysicality and ignore their emotional or intellectual worth. Thishas been construction of the African American women or black woman ingeneral has led to females enhancing their physicality throughbleaching their skins or having body enhancements especially on theirposteriors (Lee, 2010 Conrad et al., 2009). While the lyricsdo not highlight any racial aspect, the video confirms this portrayof an African American woman with emphasis on her big butt.
Self-objectification is also evident in the video. Miley alongsideother props in the video sexually objectify their bodies. The AfricanAmerican girls twerking and one other that takes a sexual positionbehind Miley all show that they perceive themselves as decorative andsexual objects used to drive home the message of sexual deviance. Thesituation is different in Beyonce’s video where the reenactment ofthe woman ruler is absent but rather sexual objectification of girlsis evident. Their dressing alone accentuates their body more thananything else. A different message would require a different dresscode (Conrad et al., 2009). This seems to imply that the bestway that girls can dominate and rule the world over their malecounterparts is exploiting their sexuality.
The various sexually suggestive postures that Miley takes in thevideo is evident she self-objectifies to a great extent. Railton andWatson (2011) explain that such activities as depicted in Miley’svideo are driven by fantasy, pleasure and the need for commercialsuccess of the music video as an integral competent of music. This isfurther strengthened by women’s acceptance of sexualobjectification. Egan (2012) says that women’s willingness toembrace sexual objectification to an extent of taking pole dancingclasses for use at home, a practice that objectifies women andstrongly opposed by feminist theories, portrays falling moralstandards in society. She hypothesizes that with increased exposureto such sexual objectification, women might lose their identity asequal humans rather than just sexual objects. In this sense, thesexual objectification of girls in the video is not Miley’s doingbut rather the doing of society as a whole through continuedexposure.
Society has played this role in different ways. Levande (2008)attributes this trend of objectification and hyper sexualized womenin music videos to media owners and producers. It is a long heldbelief that sex sells in numerous media platforms it is for thisreason that, music videos are viewed as an integral component onmarketing music in its ability to visualize the message. In thiscase, the twerking in Miley’s video are geared towards not onlydramatizing the music but also generating commercial interest. Thisencroachment of sexualization of videos for economic reasons isevident in the sexualized dance moves and provocative costumesBeyoncé uses in her video, something that is contrary to what thesong addresses. While she talks of female empowerment and dominatingmen, she portrays through the video that women can best use theirsexuality to control men. Interestingly, one of the key lines in thesong, “Help me raise a glass for the college grads”, is sungwhile Beyoncé and her female dancers are on their fours. Her dresswhich has high slits also exposes her thighs and the image issexually provocative.
This depiction of gender and sexuality is also evident in bothvideos. In Miley’s video, the inclusion of African Americans in thevideo to demonstrate a big butt that is largely associated withAfrican Americas underlines the fact that white sexuality aspresented by Miley is different from African American sexuality hencethe use of the black girls as props. In fact, Sander Gallimas 1985essay explains by saying that “by the eighteenth-century, thesexuality of the black, male and female, becomes an icon for deviantsexuality” (White, p.611). This difference in sexuality by race isalso evident in Beyoncé’s video though rather from a black woman’sperspective. While the black race is associated with strength,fertility and toughness, the white race is associated with timidityand gentleness. This is because one Caucasian girl is nailed to across while another one is enclosed in small cage but is freed. Thiskind of depiction is evident in American society stereotyping ofdifferent races.
Beyoncé’s video is a direct endorsement of the feminine movementthat has pushed for equality and empowerment of the girl child andwomen in general. However, what is suggested by the line “Hope youstill like me, F- you pay me” objectifies the female body as asexual object that can be purchased or hired. This does not inparticular capture the implied independence from their men. Itsomehow suggests that women should prostitute their bodies foreconomic gain but not seek fulfilling partnerships and equal partnerswith the opposite sex. The dress code of the females in the videocompared to that of men preaches misogyny while the video seems topreach against male dominance (Aubrey, et al 2011). The men in thevideos are fully clothed in their black uniforms as antiriot policewho just stand and watch (except for the two males that dancetogether with Beyoncé) while the women are scantily dressed anddance provocatively keen to flaunt their bodies to the men watching.Majority of the police are African American with darker skin tonesthan the female African Americans. Ideally, this portrays theantiriot police as criminals and the oppressing force that women haveto fight against (Conrad et al 2009).
Music videos play an integral part of entertainment and socialdevelopment. It is clear that these videos communicate intricate andcomplex messages both intentionally and unintentionally to theaudience. Some of the messages communicated affirm to societalbeliefs while others seek to challenge them. In the case of ‘runthe world’ it clear that the lyrics communicate a different messagethan the video. The video is driven much by economic gains as it issexualized. Miley’s video on the other hand dramatizes the lyricsand popularizes deviance. African Americans are used to portray andemphasizes sexual deviance. All in all it is clear, that the musicvideos and the media at large play a fundamental role in gender andsex studies.
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