Today’s sex ed class is filled with talks about issues of consent and respect in healthy relationships, and these issues are definitely important in maintaining a healthy relationship. However, the problem with this is the contrast that students experience in popular culture. As we continuously see in contemporary music (and in some older stuff) and film, women are constantly being made the object of attention, and usually either in a degrading or submissive way. Meanwhile, this comes at a time where we see politicians and companies moving towards greater representation and equality. When asked of his fulfilled campaign promise of gender parity among cabinet members, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied “because it’s 2015.” If this is true for politics, then why is it not the same for music and film? If we can move past gender inequality in politics because it’s 2015 (2016 now), then why can’t we move past issues of respect for the same reasons?

I have to say, watching the music videos and listening to the songs that I did for this assignment was one of the hardest academic things I’ve ever had to do. In some cases the images and lyrics are actually quite vulgar, and yet the music remains popular. Some artists did face backlash, and I believe that is important, for without this backlash, I would have lost faith that society was moving indeed forward out of its patriarchal hegemonic system. Yet despite this backlash and all the criticisms, artists continue to write these songs, displaying sexually explicit content in lyrics or in their music videos, which sometimes practically resemble pornography. And yet the music remains popular! It begs to question whether the success of the sexualization of the music industry has any correlation to or is in response to the abstinence methods taught in previous sex education curriculums.

One particular example which has recently gained a lot of media attention for its sexual element is Robyn Thicke’s Blurred Lines, which speaks of “good girls” being the object of attention in the song.

As might be expected, these women are not shown in a very positive light: They are shown to have been with men that “tried to domesticate [them]”, but Thicke’s lyrics imply that he can liberate them from this domestication by giving letting himself “be the one [they] back that ass up to,” as opposed to the men they had been with before, who later are shown to have been too soft on the women (2:50). This is highly contradictory: “[They’re] not like plastic” but are “animals” whose “nature” it is to “wanna get nasty.” Yes, this does play right into the title “blurred lines,” but Thicke’s lyrics not only call women animals, but also degrade them to the point of being “the hottest bitch in this place” (objectification) and being submitted to “[smacking] that ass and [pulling their] hair.” In terms of the music video, the men are shown to be in suits, watching the women strut around, as if for the men’s viewing pleasure. This is highly inappropriate for today’s goals of gender parity and the deconstruction of gender norms. The song even goes as far as to suggest “pimping.” For it’s disregard of consensual sexual actions, and displaying an unsafe space for women, Thicke’s Blurred Lines by far gains a top spot on the list of misogynistic lyrics and images.

A second song worth a look at is Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda, a hip hop song speaking about the sexual appeal of a larger woman. However, in my opinion, this could have been done in a much better way. Instead of saying “love me for me,” Minaj has a man saying that his “anaconda don’t want none unless [a woman’s] got buns.” The imagery is profound. Not only is this man suggesting that he is only attracted to a woman who has a large butt, but his “anaconda” itself is. In fact, it seems his brain has nothing to do with the decision.

This isn’t even the worst part of the song in terms of the hyper–and overly unnecessary–sexualization of women. Besides the refrain being repetition of the phrase “Oh my gosh, look at her butt,” the song also implies that the female subject of the song is on drugs, actively using cocaine, and letting men “hit it” and “eat it with their grills.” This takes away from the concept of a healthy, consensual and mutually respective relationship. In addition, the song suggests drug usage, an issue of legality in today’s society. As shown in the music video and her single’s album coverAnaconda displays women in sexually vulnerable poses and clothing, making the video much more pornographic and adding to an air of rape culture, explicit sexuality in popular culture, and violence or violent sexuality in relationships. Minaj was not the first artist to popularize the action of “twerking” (we can largely thank Miley Cyrus for that), but it is present in the video, creating an image to which the new “sexuality” might be connected. In my opinion, artists should not condone this type of culture, but should rather write songs that promote healthy, consensual relationships, where both men and women are represented in positive lights, being mutually respective of each other. Anaconda does not do this, but instead displays women in a submissive role. However, and something I will acknowledge, is that Minaj does challenge the typical gender power structure when she does not allow Drake to touch her, despite her intense sexual image, crawling on the floor towards him in the clip. Although I am not sure if this translates to the masses to provide criticisms of rape culture, I will acknowledge that perhaps there is a sliver of light to Anaconda. 

A third song I’d like to have a look at–which, admittedly, was something of an anthem to my classmates and I in grade 9–is Fountains of Wayne’s Stacy’s Mom. This song comes from the perspective of a young boy who has fallen in love with his classmate’s mother. The boy hangs out with his classmate, Stacy, to admire her mother from afar, whose husband left her. The boy feels like Stacy’s mom “could use a guy like [him]”.

Although the lyrics don’t ever explicitly reference consent or respectful, healthy relationships, it does promote a confirmation of the patriarchal system in representing Stacy’s mom as a classic “milf.” If you don’t know what that means, here is a link to Urban Dictionary. In addition, she is constantly being referred to as “got it going on,” instead of “having a great career” or “being a friendly member of the community,” showing how the song once again places purely feminine physical traits at the forefront of being a woman, thereby playing into gender stereotypes. In the video, Stacy’s mom is seen to be wearing normal dresses, occasionally being seen through windows in her underwear, but the boy is looking without her consent. In addition, at around 2:24, the boy is seen to be sitting next to Stacy on the couch watching a movie, but he turns around to look at her mom’s breasts as she cleans the kitchen. At the end of the clip the boy even goes as far as to masturbate to the thought of Stacy’s mom in a bikini. While this may be considered to be “age appropriate” behavior, I believe that without intervention, the boy would grow up to have serious sexual issues.

Let us move on to Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch,” in which it is inferred that we are all animals and should in theory then give in to our urges. The message of the song could be very simplistic: That sex is ok; however, it takes on some darker tones.

The lyrics connote a rather one-sided sexual encounter, where the woman is expected to “put [her] hands down [his] pants [until she] feels nuts” and “come quicker than FedEx [but] never reach an apex.” This is not a respectful experience, but still one that could lie within the realm of fantasy for even a healthy couple. The real darkness of the song appears in the music video in which not only are women drugged and caged, but by other methods so too are two gay men, three chefs, and a person of shorter stature. This is problematic as there are three minority groups being caged for display. I’m not sure what the chefs have to do with the equation. Perhaps the group didn’t mean for it to come across in this way and is purely coincidental, but the drugging of the women at the beginning of the clip definitely reinforces rape culture and even trafficking, as the women are then carried off to another location (the cage). Without a critical eye on music through sex education, it is impossible for students to be able to differentiate between good touch and “bad touch” in the lyrics and the clips.

Last but not least, I’d like to dive into the realm of country music, a genre that seems to hinge on the wooing of women, living on the land, driving a truck, drinking beer, having one’s heart broken, or dreaming of a perfect relationship.

Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse” invokes a saying that circulated around the internet recently, along with things like “save a whistle, blow a lifeguard.” If I could summarize the song, it would go something like this: “So a cowboy walks into a bar, buys everyone a shot, and walks out with a waitress to have a little hanky-panky in the back of his truck.” That basically sums it up. It includes the four basic elements of a country song: beer, trucks, horses, and women. The song speaks of a one night stand between the cowboy and a women in the back of his truck. He seems to have a great time:  “I was going just about as far as she’d let me go” (2:28) while drinking beer out on some back road in the middle of nowhere. Sounds creepy now, right? In the music video, the women are all dressed in short dresses, crop tops, garters, and daisy dukes. In one scene in particular, Big & Rich actually have a doll in their car as they drive into the city, something problematic in the representation of the women not only in the clip but also in how they are represented in the lyrics’ narrative. However, most importantly of all, at the end of the video, the doll is shown to not actually be a doll at all. It is in fact a woman, who merely complied to the hands and actions of the two men in the car as they push her around. I think this song is actually the worst one out of these five that I have surveyed in that it shows a culture of disrespect for women and disregard for consent, displayed alongside flashy cars, money flying in the wind, and a witty, sexual title.

Above all, I believe that the incorporation of discussions of consent and gender stereotypes is important, regardless the medium, so that we avoid issues such as this:

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