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The Sound Of Misogyny

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This paper will explore the themes of sexism and misogyny in popular culture through an examination of the lyrics of Jason Derulo’s hit single Swalla.

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The U. S has a culture where the promotion of male dominance and female submission is normal, where it is perfectly acceptable to treat women as objects instead of people, as a form of amusement or entertainment instead of humans with feelings and desires of their own. This mindset can be seen virtually everywhere, from books and tv shows to the music that plays on the radio. In music, especially, the tone is set that women are inferior and at men’s disposal, and we are so used to listening to the message that we forget to object to the underlying issue. We simply accept it.

Part of why this is so common might be because we are socialized to accept gender roles and stereotypes that include such attitudes and behaviors and are surrounded by examples of it from birth. If you grow up with the idea that women are inferior and belong to men continuously reinforced by the lyrics of the music you listen to, the characters of the films you watch, and even your own family and friends you are less likely to see a problem with it even if you are on the receiving end of it. This is an example of normative culture. ‘Normative refers to what we perceive as normal, or what we think should be normal, regardless of whether it actually is. Normative refers to beliefs that are expressed as directives or value judgments. ” (Cole, 2018) Things like the belief that women should always be smiling, going along with whatever men say about them regardless of how demeaning it is, and playing their role passively, all are part of normative culture, and the media is playing a larger part in spreading and perpetuating it than ever before. Sexism is now the norm.

Sexism refers to the beliefs, behaviors, and prejudices that assume and reinforce the superiority of one gender over another (Curry et al, 2018). Though sexism takes different forms and applies to discrimination of both genders, the paper will focus on sexism towards women, specifically in the form of objectification and sexualization. Through the lenses of the Symbolic Interaction Perspective of sociology, sexism is the result of common images and identities associated with women that are created and maintained through social interaction. Since our society is built on interaction between people our perception of worth or gender-appropriate roles is largely based on how we are socialized to see others. If we spend our formative years absorbing the ideas of sexism, then we too will think and act in sexist ways and in so doing we help maintain it. Individual acts of sexism in everyday life don’t have to be noticeable and extreme, and many are small enough to slip past the radar and are forgotten–at least by the one responsible. Behaving in sexist ways becomes normal enough that many people cease to think about the message their actions send, or why women object in the first place. Sexualization of women in popular culture is normal enough that most men doubtless take the image of women as objects for granted, as something normal and within the bounds of acceptable behavior.

Any mindset or idea becomes natural when a person is confronted with it enough, and the continual promotion of sexism and misogyny has had the effect of making us largely blind to it. This is true most particularly for children. “The average age of hip-hop listeners is the lowest of all major music genres in the United States. Because of this impressionable demographic, the content of hip hop and rap music has particular potential for impact” (Nwoko, 2018) This quote comes from an article on misogyny in rap music that was published in the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper of Harvard University. In the article, the author discusses how music can be both a powerful medium for change and an effective way to reinforce the acceptability of misogyny. Hip-Hop is a genre full of objectification and the normalization of the idea that women exist solely for the amusement and convenience of the men in their lives, and the children (and adults) who listen to this are internalizing the message. We are being socialized to accept a sexist version of the world.

A sample of the lyrics of the song are as follows:

“Love in a thousand different flavors

I wish that I could taste them all tonight

No, I ain’t got no dinner plans

So you should bring all your friends

I swear that-a-all y’all my type”

(Derulo et al, 2016)

The song suggests that girls should behave in ways that men want, be available whenever it suits their male companions and yet fails to take into consideration how women feel about their assigned role. In countless songs, women are defined as too clingy or demanding when they grow attached, but let the reverse be true and it becomes a problem.

In Swalla there is repeated reference to girls and what they can do, and are expected to do, for men:

Swalla is a slang term with several meanings, but the one that fits the theme of the song best is less than appropriate.

The line “I ain’t got no dinner plans, so you should bring all your friends–I swear that a-all y’all my type”. (Derulo et al, 2016) If analyzed, this line ties in with an interesting double standard; a man can keep company with multiple girls, but If the situation was reversed and a woman expressed this same sentiment she would be labeled as a slut, hoe, or other derogatory terms for women that fail to meet the standards set for them. But because it is a man, in a song written by men and a genre dominated by men, no one bats an eye. The double standard of male vs female behavior shows up in numerous other songs such as Gold digger by Kanye West and Jamie Foxx, where a woman that has dealings with multiple men is derided as an opportunist and a whore. As long as women play by the rules (rules that are written and enforced by men) they are deemed worthy of continued support. Good girls, in other words, get the reward of male approval and protection in exchange for playing along with whatever whims the men in their life have at any given moment. Women are accessories and playthings to be used and discarded at will, a message reinforced and reiterated in the vast majority of songs about relationships.

It should be surprising that Nicki Minaj collaborated with Jason Derulo for the song Swalla when the lyrics are clearly demeaning and she is a self-proclaimed feminist, but what is truly sad is that this type of occurrence is common. Women play into gender stereotypes and discrimination all the time. Why? According to the Symbolic Interaction perspective of sociology, most languages are gendered; that is, they have words that are categorized as masculine and feminine, as well as words and usages that refer to gender. (Curry et al, 2018) In addition, anyone socialized into gendered language is going to think in terms of masculinity and femininity, superiority and inferiority, and this attitude is a breeding ground for misogyny. Language determines our perception of the world, our thought patterns and even how we behave toward each other, and gendered language is far too often insulting and demeaning to women. We assume that Nicki Minaj should know better–a result of our tendency to blame women rather than men–but the blame doesn’t all rest with her. She is the product of the culture she was socialized into, as are countless other artists of all genders and genres. If a woman grows up hearing about her own inferiority and role in life, she is much more likely to perpetuate the problem than break out of it. In conclusion, while the lyrics of this particular song may not have the level of objectification and sexism as others of the same genre, it is still indicative of deeper issues; that of what has become the typical male-female dynamic, the default response to women, and the extreme inequality of genders in our culture.

Works cited:

  1. Cole, N. L. (2018, August 27). What is a Norm? Why Does it Matter? Retrieved October 13, 2019, from https://www. thoughtco. com/why-a-norm-matter-3026644
  2. Curry, T. J. , Jiobu, R. M. , & Pelak, C. F. (2018). Sociology: Evidence and Insight (Vol. 1). Pearson Education Inc. Retrieved October 18, 2019 from https://platform. virdocs. com/r/s/0/doc/432033/sp/68053840/mi/291262415?cfi=/4/2[P700101497200000000000000001016F]/2/2[P7001014972000000000000000010170],/3:0,/3:0&fi=P700101497200000000000000001016F&menu=table-of-contents
  3. Swalla-digital single. (n. d. ). Warner Bros. Records.
  4. Nwoko, U. P. (2018, February 27). Alleviating the Effects of Misogyny in Rap and Hip Hop Music: Arts: The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved October 13, 2019, from https://www. thecrimson. com/column/where-rap-meets-race/article/2018/2/27/whererapmeetsrace-installment2/
10 December 2020

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