“It’s a lot to process because we do exist in this society where women in entertainment are discarded in an elephant graveyard at 35,” Taylor Swift said. “Everyone is a shiny new toy for like two years. The female artists have reinvented themselves 20 times more than the male artists. They have to or else you’re out of a job. Constantly having to reinvent, constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny” 

It’s no surprise that the music industry, and media as a whole, has exuded an ever present double standard among men and women. For decades, mainstream conversations about gender in media have moved all too slowly, with cis-gendered females still challenged as musical talents, the sexist structures in place flourish despite being somewhat altered by feminist incursions. This article uses my own binary experiences with music, but evidently, there remains a vast number of injustices and double standards for artists who exist beyond gender-binary expressions.

The notion that inequalities thrive in the music industry is often easily identifiable through differences in pay wages, those who top the charts and win at award shows. But, perhaps there also exist less obvious norms, which work in tandem to reinforce such double standards. Distinctly different gendered vocabulary, “controversial” song lyrics (and who is/isn’t allowed to write them), reinventing oneself through fashion, touring, and one’s behaviour are only some of the ways in which the industry reinforces such standards. Most recently, discourses of gender have been highlighted through ‘controversial’ forms of entertainment including Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana” documentary and music video for “The Man”, as well as Meg Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s unapologetic and liberatory  anthem “WAP”. 

Beyond the works of Swift and Cardi, female artists face a constant pressure to disclose personal relationships. This reenforces the narrative that female artistry is never enough on its own and ought to be reduced to superficial means, rather than be recognized for their work. When a woman writes music, with a relationship as inspiration, she is framed as obsessive. When a woman writes about her sexuality, the public is scared off – slut-shaming her as “dirty” and “inappropriate”. And yet, when a man uses derogatory language in lyrics, it is not only seen as acceptable, but these songs often  become chart-topping hits, and our go-to “pre” songs as we sing along mindlessly to belittling lyrics including: “Almost drown in the pussy so I swam to her butt” or “Pussy got that wet, wet, got that drip, drip”. Although this article can only do so much – and can only reach so many – my goal is to enlighten you, the reader, to the ways in which Western society has subscribed to an unjust and sexist music industry, highlighting the double standards that are continuously overlooked and the pressure to stay relevant as a cis-female artist. 

With the constant pressure to reinvent oneself as shiny, new, and young, it comes as no surprise that the media fiends Taylor Swift’s multitude of “eras”. When we use a critical lense to examine exactly why these shifts exist, it doesn’t take long to comprehend that the pressure to be everything to everyone is something that men will never experience in a parallel way. In her latest documentary, “Miss Americana”, Taylor recounts the confusing notion that Western media enforces: “Be new to us, be young to us, but only in a new way and the way that we want and reinvent yourself but only in a way that we find to be comforting but also a challenge for you. Live out a narrative we find to be interesting enough to entertain us, but not so crazy that it makes us uncomfortable” (Swift, 2020). This patriarchal ideology was recently highlighted in her 2019 music video for “The Man” as Taylor imagined the simplicity of fame, as a male star. The gendered flip tackles the trend of male-dominance, each of which return to the upbeat chorus chanting “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man / And I’m so sick of them coming at me again / ‘Cause if I was a man / Then I’d be the man”. Though both “The Man” and “Miss Americana” undoubtedly highlight the ongoing pressures women face, to no surprise, their release led to a number of hateful tabloids including: “The ridiculous victim mentality of Taylor Swift’s ‘The Man’” and “Dear Taylor Swift, you are not a victim, so stop acting like one” – ultimately revealing that Western society is nowhere near ready to universally uncover the inequalities that exist among the binary expressions of male and female identities in the industry. 

When Taylor isn’t on a massive world tour, equipped with costume changes, choreography, flames, fireworks, stunts, light shows, and game-changing performances (remember that whole shiny and new, reinventing stuff?), she can often be found on radio and talk shows – promoting (or, at least trying to promote) her music. Unfortunately, females in the industry often don’t get so far as promotional appearances, and instead, are used as comedic relief as hosts frequently prefer to discuss (and poke fun at) superficial means, including relationships. One example (of many) is Swift’s career throughout the past 13 years on The Ellen Show. From these appearances alone, numerous articles appear with titles including: “I don’t have a boyfriend, I keep telling you that!”, “Ellen asks Taylor Swift about the men she’s dated”, and “Taylor Swift Talks Boys!” enforcing the unjust narrative that female songwriters are entirely consumed with trivial topics, ultimately belittling women.

Another double standard that is often overlooked pertains to song lyrics, and with the recent release of the belated song of the summer, “WAP”, there is no denying that what makes a song ‘controversial’ or not, is simply defined by who performs it. Prior to its release, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion explained that YouTube would not accept the original (more explicit) version of the video, nor would radio stations even broadcast the “clean” version of the song. Although WAP undoubtably uses inherently unapologetic sensual language, the song is nowhere near as risqué as many of the lyrics publicized by the male demographic (The Guardian, 2020). While WAP isn’t shy or coy, it’s loud articulation of female sex, as one wants it, centers them as “active participants with agency” (The Guardian, 2020). To no surprise, the backlash sought to defame the women from “celebrating their genitals and coital desires, in a manner not reserved for male rappers or singers” while others saw the song as “disgusting and vile” (The Guardian, 2020). Unlike WAP, countless sexually explicit songs by male artists have been broadcasted on YouTube, radio stations, and even at award shows. 

This hypocrisy and slut-shaming underlines the media’s disapproval of a woman’s pleasure from sex, as though its merely acceptable when recounted by a man or used to cater towards the male gaze. “It is the same hypocrisy which excuses Donald Trump’s ‘Grab ’em by the pussy’ comment, which implies non-consensual acts of sexual violence, while simultaneously condemning Cardi and Megan for publicly discussing their prowess and preferences” (The Guardian, 2020). Unlike many of the derogatory, popularized songs written and performed by male artists, WAP strives to unset the dehumanizing ideology that robs women of sexual agency, and asserts inclination in a manner which prioritizes female enjoyment (The Guardian, 2020). “In a world where sex work is increasingly becoming more equitably commodified by women, but where rape culture and patriarchy are still frighteningly dominant, there is something rebellious and subversive in women, especially oversexualized black women, openly discussing enthusiasm and predilections for intercourse” (The Guardian, 2020).

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my “Pre Playlist” songs just as much as the next person, but as consumers, we need to recognize the ever-present double standard in the music industry and hold all artists to the same standard regardless of their gender expression. Artistry should be recognized for what it is without enforcing the need to reinvent oneself as a shiny new object to toy with.


FEATURE IMAGE FROM: http://www.artnet.com/artists/michelangelo-di-battista-tina-berning/

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