Women have come a long, long way since the Women’s Lib first emerged, especially in the West. The general perception these days is that the West – let’s say the US and the UK – is where one goes to be ‘liberated’ from cultural/social restrictions common to the East, especially the restrictions placed on women. A woman can wear what she wants and do what she wants, without society saying ‘no, this is how a woman should behave’ – a common line used by Asian conservatives of the older generation, especially concerning a woman’s sexuality. But in the pursuit of female sexual liberty in a world of MTV videos and image-is-everything – have female musicians in the West just gotten entrapped in a new set of restrictions? A set of restrictions as deadly as those rung round their foremothers centuries ago because the women themselves perpetuate these restrictions by consenting?
Pictures speak a thousand words, like they say, and I Googled some images of mainstream female musicians from the 60s, 80s, 90s and then the ones from 2005 onwards; hover over the pictures below with your cursor if you want the names of the artists. I believe music, like any art, is a reflection of the environment it is created in – and so mainstream music is a reflection of the society that buys the albums.
Concert/album shots of mainstream female musicians 60s-90s:
Concert/album shots of mainstream female musicians today:
Mainstream Girl-band and Album cover (The Bangles) 80s:
Mainstream Girl-band and Album cover (Pussycat Dolls) today:
Madonna, Beyonce, Nelly Furtado 80s-90s:
Madonna, Beyonce, Nelly Furtado today:
The most obvious observation is that clearly, mainstream female musicians just don’t like wearing clothes anymore. But this isn’t just about clothes – below, 60s musicians Julie London and Peggy Lee are dolled up in a typically feminine way that accentuates their physical assets as women – but there’s a difference between these images and the ones above.
Here are the observations I’ve made (scroll up and look for yourself):
1. The looks on the faces of the today musicians – are vacant and expressionless, mechanical. They all look at the camera either in an innocent stupid way or with an empty come-hither glare. If you enlarge the Pussycat Dolls pic you’ll notice the looks on their faces have expressions – but very staged, varying between innocent, coy and sexually inviting. The looks on the 60s-90s women hold very natural spontaneous human emotions.
2. The today postures compliment the looks on their faces — they’re all in very purposefully posed positions that say ‘look at my body’/ ‘look at my chest and ass’ – if you look at Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, their postures are exactly the same and are often imitated by other female celebrities, hinting that celeb photographers give the same direction to women they want to portray sexually: the posture puts the focus on their chest and crotch, selling the female body. Whereas the postures of the 60s-90s women are ordinary, natural.
3. The 60s-90s women actually look in total control – of their bodies, of themselves. The other women are not, like somebody had given them strict instructions and placed them in that position – hence the vacant looks, because the postures are meaningless to themselves. This is ironic since at the start of the millennium there was the rising notion of female self-empowerment via self-sexualization.
4. If women today dressed like some of the 60s-90s women (particularly look at Christie Hynde), they’re often speculated for being ‘dykes’ – the slur for lesbians. Ergo there is not as much freedom today for female musicians to dress as they please – the media and the viewers consequently relate everything to their sexuality.
5. The images of the 60s-90s women – if you look again – will remind you of modern-day indie-musicians – you know, those obscure musicians that most people have never heard of, on the sidelines of the industry, not making as much money as they should since people don’t want to buy meaningful music, they want to buy sex.
You can see an identical degradation and a consequent lack of art in a general sense – in the following artists when comparing their music videos in the 90s to the ones they’ve made today: Nelly Furtado in the 90s – I’m like a bird & Nelly Furtado today – Promiscuous; Mariah Carey in the 90s – Always be my baby & Mariah Carey today – Touch my body. The change is profound, as though they were different people entirely; and it’s not about aging either, as you find female musicians today as young as 17 and 18 mimicking the same.
Is it a crime for women to sell their bodies with their music? Like they say, sex sells, it’s what the public wants from them; it’s why almost all mainstream songs today are about sex or something that leads up to sex. And some say, what’s the big deal – it’s the woman’s body, she can do with it what she wants. But does it stop with the woman in the video itself? And even if it does – is it healthy for your self-worth to base the success of your career on the basis of your body parts? Do women being portrayed in videos and pictures as feelingless things who want to only have sex – affect the way men in general perceive women, and the way in which young impressionable women themselves perceive their bodies?
Yes, it does. And I think visually sexualizing women in this way is only taking a huge, huge backstep in the course of female empowerment, especially since it’s in Western music which is so widely circulated worldover – I’m sure it even serves as inspiration for mainstream musicians in other countries. I hope it’s just a phase and we all grow out of it; I get that it’s a woman’s prerogative to wear what she wants and do what she wants, but even though it may look like that is what these women are doing, in truth they are only slaves to a commercial industry, one which facilitates the sale of themselves in return for fame and success, propagating under the disguise of ‘girl power’ the degradation of female value; an industry that has lately been churning out confused, insecure, completely powerless disasters:
Look at these two album covers below and answer me, judging purely from the images as if you were being introduced to these artists for the first time:
Which woman of the two are you more prone to consider with respect as an intelligent talented musical artist?