Women In Western Music 1960s — 2012: The Dehumanization & Fall From Grace

Posted: February 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

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?


  1. Azrael says:

    A great article. The answer to your question, Blondie, definitely.

    Popular music in general seems to be in a downward spiral ever since the 2000’s. I guess it’s because the record companies are more interested in their bottom lines than putting out great music. However sex sells, so it’s not surprising it’s what they want to portray. it’s the same with music videos these days. Music videos from 80’s &90’s are much more entertaining and compliments the songs. These days it seems like how you look is the important factor, not whether you can actually sing or not. And don’t forget the headline grabbing scandals. Hard to sell records without one of those under your belt. I guess artists will have to go along with the trends if they want to survive in the business, otherwise the record companies will drop them like a stone.

    • Dee says:

      As Pink put it –

      LA told me, “You’ll be a pop star,
      All you have to change is everything you are.”
      Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears
      She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me…

      😦 so sad… :/ I’m terrified about the perception our kids will have about their bodies and outward way of doing things… D:

  2. Chavie says:

    Adele showed ’em! 😀

  3. Gehan says:

    I get and agree with what you’re trying to say, but I’m not so quick to place the blame on the artists.

    Like you said, it is a reflection of society and the times; so I’m not sure I understand you’re statement regarding girls from today dressing like the 60’s – I wouldn’t dress like my Dad did in the 60’s either.

    Yes, sex sells, but whose fault is that? The industry is simply pandering to what sells the most. They realised that someone like Katy Perry can break industry records held for decades, including those of the great Michael Jackson. Is she talented? Sure. Is she talented enough to get by on her vocals alone? No. Enter tights and a corset..

    Agreed, it is damaging to the next generation to have these sort of female ‘role models’, as it were. In my opinion, it is our society and our values that has dissolved though, which has paved the way for these sort of ‘artists’ to become famous as long as they record a steamy music video.

    The big question is: would Mariah be as big today if she released “Butterfly”, “Rainbow”, “The Emancipation of Mimi” and kept to her demure apperances from the 90’s? Perhaps not, but is it fair to expect her to not change with the times?

    • makuluwo says:

      True, it’s obviously everyone’s fault, not just the people’s and not just the artist’s – it takes two hands to clap. I mention at the start of the post that mainstream music is a reflection of the society that buys the albums.

  4. Jack Point says:

    As Azrael says, the problem may be that the music no longer sells, therefore they need to find something else to sell.


  5. Angel says:

    Go Blondie! And I can’t get over how awesome Nelly F looks in the first pic. Seriously scared for the next generation, tho…

  6. Well said! Great post.
    This is sexualisation of music imagery, not for the sake of the music itself, but for the sake of commercialism.

    Check out similar sentiments on our blog. Actually…. can I post this on our blog? Shara.

  7. Binku says:

    Agree with this, Not only music, But also Fashion has became victim of commercialism too. If you compare with most fashion shows from same designer and same brand, You will notice that pretty well. Anyone can argue with it, but the truth is ourselves. Most people buys sex, therefore commercialism capitalistics produce them.

    In other hand, Another reason Musicans do this is to make money beyond Singing, Contests and Copyright holding.

  8. Izzy Labbe says:

    I stumbled upon this blog while researching the history of sexualization in the music industry for a blog I’m writing for SPARK Summit, the organization I work for. This is spot on. All of the points you make are relevant, and the truth, although painful, shines through in your words. The pictures are shocking, but they really emphasize your point.
    This blog is one of the best I’ve ever read about sexualization!

    • makuluwo says:

      Wow thank you, Izzy! I really appreciate your feedback (: this post is something I really feel strongly about, I’m glad it could be of some help to your research. Maybe you could link me to your blog once you’re done with it, sounds like an interesting piece.

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