French painter Simon Vouet illustrates the eldest muses Urania and Calliope.
The paradigm continues to shift on men’s and women’s roles in this world.
Since its first real movement in the early 19th century, feminism has blossomed into something that strives not just to fight for and protect women’s rights in politics and education, but so much more.
It encourages empathy toward people’s individual struggles. It brings to light issues on discrimination and prejudice in society, explaining why they have a negative impact on all of humanity. It captures stories of women’s success in fields dominated by men, in a way that pokes fun at but does not diminish their male counterparts. It helped relinquish female sexuality to women.
Music bore witness to these deeds and triumphs.
Feminism is a reminder that God’s prophets would not have succeeded without the help of women. From Adam to Moses, Jesus to Muhammad, these men endured the brunt of the wrath imposed on them by forces more powerful and influential than themselves. All to spread the gospel that would make their society a lot more human. In an era headed toward destruction, women gave them encouragement and companionship.
God’s prophets, in turn, are a prime example of the long campaigns feminist groups must wage and all the hardships they must face just to carve out a safe space for girls in a world concerned with itself and always bowing to reality. Their stories also warn us that feminism, like any gospel, can turn into a religion. Like any religion, it can be hijacked and manipulated by radical ideology.
Music has done a lot for feminism – empowering, preaching, healing, even challenging it. It has the potential to do so much more.
Female musicians have a reach far bigger than feminist groups, as people tend to shy away from the latter since there’s topics like politics involved. Female musicians rule the charts in the most number of followers on Twitter and Instagram, and have much higher engagement rates. As of 2017, music videos are the only ones to breach a billion views on YouTube, with only 3 exceptions.
Humans gravitate towards music, because they are drawn towards beauty and pleasant sounds, and want to feel like they are understood. It’s a deeply personal experience. It’s also a distraction, casually consumed in the background during travel, in restaurants, in the gym and other forms of media, like on Twitch streams.
Female music artists, believing in the good and being aware of the dark side of feminism, tap into their reach to carefully paint their artwork on silence. In a world that’s growing more apathetic toward feminist ideals due to diatribe, their songs reach the stars.
This is how the music you listen to in your everyday lives can drastically shape your views on feminism.
Music brings to light social issues in the most powerful way.
Through videography that vividly captures the nightmares haunting rape victims long after suffering it, a voice saying you don’t know how it feels, and a message imploring you to change your neutral stance, Lady Gaga emulates the muse of tragedy in her music video for “Til It Happens To You” in 2015.
You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together, you’ll be fine
Tell me, what the hell do you know? What do you know?
‘Til It happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels
‘Til it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real
This song was recorded as the promotional video for The Hunting Ground (2015), a documentary movie focusing on rape culture in college campuses in the US. In her lyrics, she speaks up as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a rape victim herself, and uses her influence as Lady Gaga the musician to reach the hearts of millions of people watching.
Victims are feeling less alone.
She also showed great support for her fellow musician Kesha’s case.
Case study: Kesha x Dr. Luke rape allegations
This is a very infamous case that shone the spotlight on how young women are treated in the music industry by male bosses, to great public contempt. Not that people’s impressions were stellar in the first place. She received overwhelming sympathy from her peers in pop music, such as tweets, but legal bindings will mean she needs to battle in court for a long time.
Rarely has a controversy sparked such a level of urgency, spawning dozens of columns in the media, red pills on Reddit and other platforms where individuals wrote their own concerns about what they felt needed to be addressed about rape culture.
Female entertainers using their platform to address abuse against women is nothing new, but the impact is great nonetheless. Rape hangs around like a spectre, much like abuse, haunting bad relationships, sour dates, even careers. It’s brandished like an axe in false accusations and heavily scrutinized in genuine cases. It’s something that can really destroy a relationship, personal and professional, and make people lose faith in humanity.
Thanks to pop music, these human rights violations are taking centre stage in people’s timeline of concerns. This is the first step needed to advocate change, by invoking strong emotion. Perhaps nowhere near as tragic and evocative as the picture of a dead boy on the beach, but strong nonetheless.
Music implores women to take care of their health.
Part of this campaign is to educate girls on what being attractive really means, to stop them from indulging in unhealthy habits perpetuated by pop culture. Unfortunately, positive body image is but the tip of the iceberg and much easier to solve compared to this other issue.
What being attractive really means.
One of Sia’s most famous songs would be Chandelier in 2014, now sitting at 1.5 billion views on YouTube. Here she confronts a harsh reality of herself in the past, as a girl guilty of indulging in self-destructive habits to drown her stress and feel like she is loved. Being the type of girl who is:
I’m the one “for a good time call”
Phone’s blowin’ up, they’re ringin’ my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love
And getting addicted to this kind of love is like a drug, exactly like ecstasy. It didn’t help that she also took to abusing painkillers. This is a song that topped the charts for a few weeks, because it delivered a dose of reality that felt like a painful confession. This was someone admitting that their rational mind can no longer stem their body’s desires to destroy itself just to seek pleasure. The ultimate nightmare scenario.
Compared to this deadly disease, procrastination is like a common cold.
Sia’s track is very like Nancy Jo Sales’ coldly truthful analysis of how young girls crave for approval on social media like Instagram and Snapchat, and place judgement upon their own self-worth as well as other based on their likes and engagement in an article written for TIME from her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers in 2016.
There’s this need for validation that needs to constantly be fed, as humans do feel the need to belong and be accepted. Music becomes the catalyst for authors and researchers to tackle the ever-changing nature of problems affecting women’s health.
Japan’s adorable muses encourages girls to pursue their passion, without losing themselves.
BABYMETAL wasn’t well received by hardcore metal fans, predominantly men from the West who saw their kawaii concept as degrading to their culture. Not that Western impression of Lolita was overwhelmingly positive in the first place.
But BABYMETAL had a plan and pressed on, captivating local and international audiences with raw passion and dedication with each performance. From MEGITSUNE in 2014 to KARATE in 2016, they built up their stunning repertoire like a true Metal Resistance.
Everything they produced was quality. They never once buckled from their kawaii concept just to pander to the Western ideal of metal music. Neither did they lash out, or doubted themselves. They always remained professional.
Great management + passionate artists = 🔥❤
This is exactly how you do cultural appropriation of both metal and Lolita concept into Japanese folklore, as an incarnation of music. Over time, their powerful voices reached the souls of the pioneers of metal itself. Prominent names such as Rob Zombie and Judas Priest, saw their own passion reflected in the hearts of the young girls, in a way that was healthy, and now we witness them performing alongside each other.
It’s an incredible juxtaposition of vocal chords – one high-pitched and child-like while the other is a melodic chainsaw. When these music veterans, who are considered rock legends in their countries, share their stage with a band of young girls barely past teenage age, even defending them from online criticism, you know you are witnessing real passion.
Lolita is slowly being appreciated.
Then we have REOL, representing music in anime culture and girls overwhelmed with first world bullshit. For those who prefer not to be nudged as they compose music, write, or create art. For those whose refuge is indoors, who would love a good book or video game while chilling to music.
Yeah, first world has problems too.
The love songs that all the modern girls fall for
Don’t line up with my love, Na babe?
Stuffed in the usual framework–categorized
They’re stupid, boring, and I don’t want ’em
In a world that blows up a girl’s inbox asking for ridiculous favours like they’re so free, a world where this dumb couple doesn’t seem to know that their fucking PDA is blocking the road, a world where people love to brag about their selfie with this famous person, a world that has click bait that all turn out to be garbage, a world that keeps talking when you need peace and quiet, a world where ads and signup boxes pop into your face every 5 clicks, a world where some old men like to randomly spit on the road, a world where your face is probably in somebody’s selfie somewhere…
REOL tells them to “Gimme A Break, Stop Now” in 2016 and whispers to us to live your REOL life instead of other people’s lives.
Don’t have to be polite to people making you uncomfortable.
Your personality is what shapes you and gives you your talents, so don’t let other people’s Instagram determine how exciting your life is, especially when you have your shit together for once.
If you don’t know your personality, you can take a MBTI test and find out.
Feminism is a global initiative.
This report by Reuters in 2016 reminds us that feminism is even harder to wage in other countries, but they’re not giving up either. At 19, Afghan teenager Negin Khpalwak is a girl out there, doing their best every single day to make other women’s lives better in their own community. Even in the face of threats and family dissent.
Music is the resistance as Afghanistan’s young women seek to forge their careers in the orchestra in a country that punishes what they consider the devil’s art. Feminism becomes the force that will eventually drive the Afghan classical music scene onto the international stage.
Hallyu’s muses take their sexuality into their own hands.
K-Pop girl groups are getting more sexualized and badass. The frontline of K-Pop’s femme fatale doesn’t let up from sexually charged and very provocative dances in their videos. They do all these with a deliberate, purposeful consistency to echo their Western peers and forge the mindset of their young audience on how to look at women in the East.
To that end, their albums are a real work of art. For women.
Gain – Bloom (2012), Paradise Lost (2015)
Don’t believe in it
All other words that aren’t my voice
“Bloom” explores the exploration of pleasure in the eyes of a woman having sex for the first time. In “Paradise Lost”, she challenges the Christian concept of Eve’s sin from the Bible, redefining her as woman with a modern mindset instead of a woman who doesn’t obey authority.
Instead of conforming to what netizens deem acceptable, she carves out her own path. She’s pushing the boundaries in K-Pop’s female sexuality, and isn’t not just getting away with it, but inspiring other girl groups to follow suit.
This is how women gain autonomy over their own body.
Hyuna – Red (2014), Roll Deep (2015)
A monkey’s butt is red, what
Red is Hyuna, Hyuna is ah
Don’t judge a boob by its cover. In “Red” she puts red lipstick here, there, and says she’s red like a monkey’s butt. In “Roll Deep” she pokes fun at people who envy how much swag she has. She doesn’t take people’s expectations on how a lady should behave or what she should wear seriously. Heck, she doesn’t take herself seriously.
But if there is one thing she projects on a consistent basis, it’s confidence.
A slutty image not because others want her to, not to rebel against those who criticize her for it, but because she’s just capitalizing on her youth, her time and her energy, and because meh, she feels like it.
CL – Baddest Female (2014), Hello Bitches (2015)
This is for all my bad girls around the world
Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good you know
She’s armed to the teeth in “Baddest Female” and ready to wreck someone’s tea party in “Hello Bitches”. This is braggadocio, doing whatever they want, doing it well and profiting from it instead of fucking up, and challenging anyone to try and judge them for their methods.
They don’t shy away from visuals that would make anyone, man or woman, use the words slutty, bitch or ratchet. And they keep doing it too.
Those words are typically slurs, but because they’re banking on them, visually redefining them as a dance style, blazing something trashy as a luxurious fashion trend, advocating a lifestyle, and doing so with such confidence, a wink of arrogance even, the impact simply bleeds onto their audience.
Most impressionably young girls. This is the kind of power only performing artists can claim. They are not the first, won’t be the last, and most definitely won’t be the only culprits.
Observe the lyrics and choreography from these K-Pop females, and you’ll notice that they’re not using language or gestures that makes women the weaker sex. Their songs are not as cute as they like to act. They’re not trying to win love by begging for affection. Their lyrics are full of commands, musings and persistent affirmations about what they are.
Music echoes your self-affirmation.
Their voices pull you in like a siren, then suck out your soul like a succubus. You become obsessed with decoding their lives, loving, hating, observing them. With every music video and the like, the media scrambles to capture photos of their abs, colour code their lyrics, fan cam their performances and GIF their expressions in dozens of places from Koreaboo to Tumblr. At the same time, lots of conservative people criticise their lifestyle and lots of bitter folks send them hate mail. But all they do is keep fighting.
They’ll keep doing it until you can dump the world’s misogyny onto a young girl and she’ll not even care or feel anything, in a good way. Heck, it’s those kinds of guys that are going to feel hopeless this time, like how a lady gamer called Geguri kicked their ass in Overwatch, gets accused of cheating by these sore losers, but gets her name cleared by the company itself, then goes on to prove her skill in an awesome live stream.
The music industry, now having more women than ever in its executive seats, backs instilling confidence in women to speak up and prove their worth.
Like always, the industry’s goal is profit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hijack its marketing reach to further your agenda. Because of feminism’s ideals breaching inside music and pop culture, you see a rising trend of teenagers and young adults unabashedly brandishing the word bitch in their Twitter and Instagram profiles as if it were a badge of honour. Women who’d gone under the knife don’t even feel bad anymore. This is just icing on the cake.
The same girls influenced by badass pop idols tend to end up having more confidence, developing thicker skin against online douche bags and are more ambitious.
Maybe not what Pulitzer Prize winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich meant when she wrote Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, but then again this is music.
This is called reclamation.
Music lets women vent a little. Nothing envisions equality more vividly than revenge, and hip hop loves to take that literally. Rihanna goes on a killing spree on men in quite a few music videos, from “Man Down” in 2011 to “Needed Me” in 2016. Katy Perry plays the tyrannical pharaoh who rejects men, then casually cooks them with lighting in “Dark Horse” in 2013. Heck, Justin Timberlake gets “T.K.O” in 2013 by a cunning lady in his own video.
I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.
– Tom Waits
Bubble gum pop is sweeter, but not more innocent. In 2012, Cady Groves reminds boys that even “This Little Girl” is capable of “murder” and Victoria Justice sings together with Elizabeth Gillies to bitch about boys who just can’t “Take A Hint” when they nicely reject them. Don’t even get me started on metal. All female band Castrator doesn’t hold back with the brutal revenge fantasy in 2015, with tracks like “Honor Killing” and “The Emasculator”.
This theatre of reverse violence might glorify misandry. You could say this is a subtle response to violence against women, gender wage gaps or male chauvinism. You could argue that violence is never a way to deal with the problem. You could mention that we should not adopt the ideology that we’re fighting against. That’s correct.
But music loves to reveal the carnal desires of humans for bloodlust.
Get back to the kitchen, eh?
The satisfaction we get watching this is like watching a horror gore film on Friday night, or stacking kills in Overwatch. Machiavelli’s muses (and Machiavelli himself after studying war and politics for so long) teach us that some people can never be reasoned with, no matter how hard you try or how many chances you give, that ridicule is the answer, because they are just that insecure.
That is when you simply tune them out, and conquer your doubts. There are always those who will try to plant seeds of doubt in your head. There is a difference between feedback and harassment.
So, live your life in pursuit of your goals, surrounded by supportive people, because if there’s anything that gives autonomy it’s money and influence. They give you a pedestal to preach from. Somebody pushing an agenda will always need a platform of some kind, so focus on building it.
These muses heed advice from the works of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli in their art. It may seem counter-intuitive to read something written for men, that uses hegemonic masculinity (subjugation of women) as a metaphor to tell you how to deal with fate, as per the infamous Italian diplomat’s words in Chapter 25:
“…it is better to be impetuous than cautious, because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary, if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her down.”
But there is always something you can learn by looking at the perspective with less rosy writing, in the eyes of men. Pick up cute books like Sun Tzu’s Art Of War, Machiavelli’s The Prince or Robert Greene’s 48 Laws Of Power as a guilty pleasure.
Which leads us to the next point.
Music envisions women in leadership positions.
Telling girls to advance toward fields dominated by men, to take control of their lives. The muses do so by using vivid imagery in their videography and conviction in the delivery of their lyrics, grinning fiercely as if challenging anyone (men still in 1974) who would dare suggest otherwise. They present it with such certainty that you get feeling it’s inevitable.
Girl’s Day – Female President (2013)
Our country’s president is now a female
So what’s the big deal?
Why can’t girls do it first?
Though this is a cute love song urging the girl to take initiative, it makes references to the fact the women can lead the country. It laments on girls always feeling like they have to look small in front of guys.
Women feel like we need permission. We need to lead and change that.
– Emma Watson
Beyoncé – Run The World (2011), Flawless (2013)
I’m repping for the girls who taking over the world
Help me raise a glass for the college grads
Beyoncé tends to put up a phenomenal theatre of dance and pop music that would set the world on fire and inspire a gorgeously fearsome cult of young girls to brandish themselves as queens. Such songs celebrate the success of women, particularly hers, and drills in the idea through repetition that women already have influence in the world’s affairs.
As political as it is flamboyant.
Miss A – I Don’t Need A Man (2012)
I don’t need a man I don’t need a man
I can live well without a man
I pay my rent with my money
I buy my own food, I buy my own clothes
An ode to all the independent ladies who choose their pockets and their own careers over their family or friends’ protests to rely on a man financially. It’s fine to walk solo.
These kinds of music, put together to advocate a change in perception by making references to women’s achievements gives courage to women. It’s the push needed to help women visualise the type of position they could reach in their careers, in a way that earns them respect but doesn’t limit their freedom, especially when it comes to their bodies. Though it might be easier said than done, small steps and some persistence can lead to big changes.
One such step, outside of music, is writing. Beyond romance novels and Charlotte Bronte, watch as women breach into the type of literature dominated by men, by writing books for women in business such as Sophia Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Louis P. Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.
Feminism continues to challenge stereotypes.
Feminist music subtly begs the questions:
Should a woman never be considered for politics just because she was also a sexy lingerie model? Why must her prospects be punished for her choice to capitalize on her youth? Why must she be a nerd or a saint to reach up in science? Shouldn’t capability be the measure? Why do women who even do all these, too, end up being in an inferior position to their male peers?
What does that have to do with anything?
If they can view naked statues of the muses or naked paintings of Venus or Athena and still recognise them as female Goddesses with great power, why do they see a lady in a slightly revealing outfit with a pouting expression and simply judge her as a bimbo? Why must women feel like they need permission to do so many things?
These sentiments, led by music, are echoed in photography, visual art, writing and so much more, provoking us to always notice double standards and stereotypes. Especially for women. In a world where even Hillary Clinton was on the receiving end of misogyny declaring her unfit for presidency, even though she has a fuller resume than her opponent, the fight continues.
Music uplifts the spirit of girls who are down.
It encourages them to do their best, to never give up. In the song “Little Me” in 2013, the women of Little Mix sing to the little girl version of themselves, and thus girls in general, encouraging them to speak out. Britt Nicole sings to the girl ostracized by her classmates to flush out the negativity by plugging in her headphones with her lovely “Headphones” song from 2009. I.O.I performed in an adorable video for “Dream Girls” in 2016 that motivates girls pursuing any kind of endeavour.
Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.
– Maya Angelou
Positivity is something everyone needs in general, but never has there been a refuge as lovely and intimate as music. This is the charm of bubble gum pop and their Nightcore versions.
It’s a kind, adorable voice reaching you through your headphones, a voice only you can hear. A singer’s positive lyrics doesn’t even bias race or background. It avoids socio-political topics entirely. Anything bad is likely to be the listener’s own construct. Such music has but one goal – to make you feel better.
Like hot chocolate in cold, rainy nights ☕
Backlash is swift with every bad music.
Music glorifying rape culture incurs the wrath of feminists. Music is an art form that evokes emotions, and anger is most certainly one of them. The core of the feminist ideal is to remove toxic masculinity that only wants to justify reducing women to the whims of men’s pleasures.
Rick Ross’s verse in U.O.E.N.O. (2013)
I put molly [ecstasy] all in her Champagne, she ain’t even know it
I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.
A classic case of lyrical verse glorifying date rape. The public backlash got him dropped from Reebok and then he made a public apology about it.
Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines (2013)
I know you want it
A #1 hit on the charts, this infamous video got banned on YouTube. He confessed to GQ that it was derogatory to women on purpose. Well, you can read the interview and judge for yourself, but this is not something that sits well with rape victims.
Tyler The Creator – Blow (2009)
You call this shit kids, well I call these kids cum
And you call this shit rape but I think that rape’s fun
Well, this guy is a dick to everyone in general, even Jesus. But the lyrics in this song will bear the brunt of scrutiny and disgust from pretty much anyone who takes rape seriously. In fact, women have written in protest to him having a platform.
Jamie Foxx – Blame It (2008)
Blame it on the booze
Got you feeling loose
With lyrics this blatant I can almost hear people shouting that this is rape, not consent. This is what spawns research to confirm the notion that rapists rely on alcohol to pluck potential victims.
Frank Loesser – Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1944)
Say, what’s in this drink?
This song is a duet from long ago, but it has modern renditions by Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé in 2014 and remains a favourite Christmas couple song. It’s also famous for blurring the lines between cute and rapey in its lyrics. Well, read Vox’s interpretation and be the judge.
The thing here that makes music complex is romanticism. The artist is dancing in a minefield when he joyfully sings about his unwanted advances on a woman as something that’s simply innocent foreplay and seduction. Music is in the realm of pleasure, followed closely by sexual fantasy and lyrical foreplay, and the singer is drunk on that. But like any form of art that touches a sensitive issue, it will be criticized in the socio-political sphere, and hounded by the media.
Because taken in another context it will look like sexual violence or non-consent, a cruel reality faced by lots of young women, is being passed off as casual entertainment. This is dangerous for anyone advocating for feminism, because it’s more likely that they won’t be taken seriously. Pop music has a certain way of making its listeners become blasé.
Music reminds feminists exactly what they’re fighting against.
This is how music becomes the catalyst for public outcry, that will inspire columns of responses and shed light on the catcalling hiding in the shadow. But they must come swiftly, come with overwhelming support and be, preferably, backed by big companies managing or having these artists as ambassadors.
Only then will there be an impact.
But men also believe in some ideals of feminism. Even if it’s not a direct confession, in their hearts they would love to see toxic masculinity loosening its grip on their worlds. It may seem strange that the same genres that have been accused of glorifying misogyny also lament about violence, but this is music in general.
The late rapper Tupac got jailed from a false rape accusation. It seems that men blessed with fame and success are cursed to carry with them a sexual abuse accusation of some kind, true or not. Hence, this reminds feminists to also discourage girls from playing the victim to create a false accusation out of any reason.
HELLYEAH – Hush (2014)
The strangle holds, the insulting names…
Thrown down onto the floor, so battered, bruised and sore
A man’s cry to raise the voices of those affected by domestic abuse as a child.
Yo Gotti, J Cole – Cold Blood (2013)
In God we trust, but it’s bucks that we worship now
Boy, that root of evil gon’ forever rule the people
A culture of violence affects all, not just women, but young men too. In this case, poverty is the trigger.
2 Chainz – 100 Joints (2016)
Ain’t judge a book by its cover turn the page
The video for this track attempts to discourage the prejudice against Muslims in an America influenced by Trump.
The Offspring – Self Esteem (1994)
When she’s saying, oh, that she wants only me
Then I wonder why she sleeps with my friends
To discourage girls from abusing guys who are genuinely nice but have low self-esteem.
To conclude. If you’re looking to push the feminist ideal into people’s hearts and suppress toxic masculinity, know that the seeds have long been sown in art, especially music. Note that I said suppress, not eliminate, because only God has that kind of power and art is notorious for betraying agendas. For every “Silenced” (by Mersi Stone) there will be a “U.N.E.N.O” (by Rick Ross) kind of song. The battle is far from over, but everyday can be a little better.
Humans might be at the top but we’re still part of the animal kingdom, so pleasures like music is still something we’re drawn to. Carly Rae Jepsen could even choose a career path outside of music and the world will still not forget “Call Me Maybe”. Let’s hope that it doesn’t follow the bad songs as well.
Here are some gems for women based on this post:
1. Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music by Anna Bee
2. Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein
3. Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
5. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
6. Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T. Parker
Here is a music playlist for you, that type opens with Demi Lovato’s “Confident” but also has a number of good TED talks 💋