I am not embarrassed to admit that, in my car, I blast top 40s Hip Hop. Despite 7 years of academic gender training, I have maintained the ability to sing Beyonce and Lil’ Wayne songs until my voice cracks. It’s a skill I’m proud of. Judge me if you like.
Some of my peers think I’ve yet to “decolonize” my mind, that I’m still subscribing to patriarchal scripts that shape my desire to dance to lyrics that objectify and hyper-sexualize women’s bodies. I think I just like to dance to good beats and sing easy hooks that, like it or not, resonate sometimes.
I like to think of it as staying abreast of current trends in feminist movement (and nonmovement). There is a ton of information that is embedded in the beats and hooks of popular radio that is relevant and highly significant of the positionality of girls and women. As girls prepare to come of age in the U.S., feminists of the second, third (and arguably) fourth wave hold our breaths in hopes that we’re adequately preparing them for their struggle against the shape-shifting structures and technologically advanced mechanics of a highly patriarchal society. Collectively we sigh in disappointment every time the ‘creative’ teams in television, music or film re-produce the “rich bitch” or the “sweetie pie” or the “sex-kitten” in new configurations that seemingly solidify the subordination of women. And, rightly so. I don’t know many women (consciously feminist or not) who relish in being reduced to shaking asses and bouncing boobs, even if we do mimic this image on the dancefloor.
So, do we just stop listening?
I suppose the answer really is individual for each of us. There are some women who simply can’t stomach songs that idolize the image of the tipsy clubgoer rejecting/accepting advances of strange men no matter how good the bass sounds. There are others, like myself, who simply can’t help pointing a ring-finger in the air and twisting my lower half every time Beyonce cautions “if you like’d it you should’ve put a ring on it.” It doesn’t make me any less a feminist who can both conceptualize and actualize my feminist ideologies. In fact I happen to think it is exactly this that helps me to clarify and express the brand of feminism that guides my life. But, I’ll save this for another post.
My ride home tonight made me think of the fluid nature of female oppression, of how the patriarchal structures that codify womens roles are not and have never been static. While we seem to know this, we too often still write about misogyny and womens empowerment utilizing historical foundations that aren’t flexible enough to keep up with the constantly evolving constellations of girls’ realities.
In 2000 what was once the group Destiny’s Child released the song “Independent Woman” as the theme song for the Charlie’s Angels film that topped the charts for weeks. While the song is ripe for critique in it’s definitions of womanhood and independence that are founded in consumerism (“the clothes I’m wearing, I bought it, because I depend on me”), it maintains some semblance of empowerment in it’s proclamations of female independence. The music video’s only male presence are either being flung off a roof or chest kicked matrix-style and the women sit CEO style at the head of the conference table singing “you don’t need no one else to give you what you want.”
Okay stop rolling your eyes.
The song is troubling in a multitude of ways. It reifys all the same familiar old scripts in it’s proclamations of independence, it requires women ‘buy’ their individuality at the mall, the women dance in scraps of fabric draped seductively across body parts as to accentuate their most sexualized parts, etc., etc. I’m by no means calling Beyonce Knowles and her entourage groundbreaking feminists. Nonetheless, it is an incredibly powerful moment to watch a group of young girls collectively raise their arms in response to the call for “all the women who’re independent [to] throw your hands up at me.”
It is an interesting moment to contemplate. What made the social atmosphere ripe for this song to catch fire? In what ways did it resonate with American women and girls?
Particularly for girls, music plays an integral part of how they see themselves, how they learn social normative values, how they envision themselves and others. Songs like this, at some point, stop existing as just hooks and beats, they become concepts and these concepts become, in either whole or part, ideology.