Gender Inequality in Pop Culture

By Alex G.

The other night as I turned on my television, I came across a music video playing on MTV. Utterly shocked at the presentation of actual music on MTV, I watched the screen and listened. “The usual…” I thought, “money, naked girls, and cars”. These main aspects surrounded the hip-hop artist and flooded the screen. As the music raged on, a different state of shock fell upon me while studying what occurred on my TV. The constant display of inequality and hegemonic power made me uncomfortable and disrespected, yet this particular musical artist’s song sits at the top of the charts in the music industry.

From a Feminist Anthropologist’s perspective, the actions presented in this specific video I watched, along with many others, shows a complete imbalance between male and female gender roles. However, this behavior portrayed does not go unnoticed. In a song performed by the pop artist, P!nk, titled “Stupid Girls”, she states, “What happened to the dream of a girl president, She’s dancing in the video next to 50 Cent”.  [1] This quote is particularly important because P!nk is inferring that women will aspire to be less because of the way other women are presented in the media they are exposed to. I feel the demeaning nature of the treatment of women by hip-hop artists is a problem and is a focal point of concern for many Feminist Anthropologists today.

According to Carole McGranahan, a post-structuralist anthropologist, post-structuralism focuses greatly on the existence of power within hegemonic relationships and existing hierarchical systems.[2] Throughout hip-hop music videos today, there is an immensely noticeable display of this power and dominance of the hip-hop artists, usually males, and the women presented in their videos. The women are most commonly displayed in a disrespectful manner, whether this is the minimal amount of clothing they are wearing or the actions they are performing. This is a form of power and hegemony, because these women are agreeing to their role in the videos while also being degraded or exploited for their bodies and sexuality. Post-structuralism and feminist anthropology are both interested in understanding the amount of honor or prestige achieved by the artists in the video for being surrounded by the women they are exploiting. The artist is considered authoritative and controlling over the females, and this often places the females on the same level of ownership as cars or money in the eyes of the artist and the viewers.

Through the constant exposure of inequality and power/control seen in popular hip-hop music videos in today’s culture, women are increasingly degraded and disrespected. This is a major topic of discussion for feminist anthropologists because of the imbalance of male and female gender roles, while also a main focus for post-structuralists because of the hegemonic nature of hip-hop artists and their treatment of women.

[1] “Stupid Girls.” Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 29 Oct. 2009. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

[2] McGranahan, Carole. “Post-Structuralism.” University of Colorado at Boulder. Boulder, CO. 29 Oct 2014. Lecture.

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28 Responses to Gender Inequality in Pop Culture

  1. Anna Wood says:

    I think it’s really interesting how you tied the post-structuralist concept of honor and prestige to the feminist concept of gender roles in our culture. You are definitely more focused on women in this post, but for the comment about honor and prestige really struck me. Along these lines, we can look at how the gender role of men is influenced by these types of pop culture environments. While the portrayal of women in the video tells us a lot about what is valued in women, but I think it tells us even more about masculinity. I talked about this in my response to the post on “Gender disparities” in October. I think the affects that pop culture has on our ideas on masculinity are largely overlooked, and it is interesting to look at the flip side of this apparent female degradation and how it also affects ideas about manliness.

  2. Juliana says:

    I completely agree with the feminist perspective of the portrayal of women in the media. Music is used to channel misogynistic ideals that further socialize us to believe that men are superior to women. We are taught to be submissive and obedient in passive ways displayed in music videos and pop songs. Unfortunately, most women do not even recognize how heavily socialized we are and that we are capable of being more than a dancing lady in a bikini, humping 50 cent.

  3. Dec says:

    The feminist perspective is a great lens to look at this problem because women have been misogynistically idolized in music especially in the hip-hop genre. Though we must see that this idolization of women is a measure of success in this specific genre. Though i think that it is up to us to realize that the media and music respond directly to the consumer and like the shock and aww of scantily clothed women and wealth. Which many people think once we have the money we get the women and this sentiment is echoed through our society on many different levels not just music Music is just another outlet for a bigger the hegemony that is America.

  4. Chelsea McGuire says:

    I agree with your analysis within feminist and post-structuralist frameworks. It is also interesting to me that those three things you first mentioned (cars, money, and women) are all portrayed as possessions if you analyzed them with a Marxist view. Just like cars and money, there are different types of women who mark different types of status, these videos suggest that attractive, submissive, and trainable women are what are all the rage for the highest status men.

    • MelissaDanielle Lauro says:

      I would be very interested to see an Economic Anthropologist’s view on this. Many artists brag about the quantity of women they have ‘acquired’ in their lyrics and their music videos. This interestingly falls into both the prestige and kinship and marriage spheres of the economic systems.

  5. Stephanie Grossart says:

    I do have friends with what people call “video girls” and they would disagree with a feminist anthropologist. They make great money and yes they agree the way women are portrayed may not be the best but they’re making a living. If I didn’t know some of these girls I would probably agree with a feminist anthropologist but thats why anthropologists need to use more than one theory. Just like the women in Vieled Sentiments and how they don’t believe they are being oppressed. My friends feel sexy and empowered not degraded.

    • Julia Marino says:

      With the topic of hip hop videos being controversial in regards to how they portray women, I think Stephanie raises a really good point with girls that do actively partake in being a part of these videos. If I were to think about how the girls in these videos are directed to dress and act in these videos through the a feminist anthropologist approach would allow for the explanation that gender roles are not equally balanced in the music video making industry. Although when you bring in Stephanie’s original point you are able to grasp that these women are partaking in this activity for financial reasons despite what could be even their own personal view of the behavior as not reputable. I think it would be interesting if you were to look into if there are any videos out there that do the opposite and do not promote males as superior.

  6. Alexis says:

    Unfortunately Hip-Hop music videos have always had this problem, whether they’re throwing good lines or just speaking trash. However, at least in the 90s, women rappers came right back at them and matched guy rappers, even being better at times. Like the commenter said above, every person’s perspective on the topic is different. Personally I can listen to these kind of songs and know what they’re spitting is pure bull and happily know that they’re are many women rappers that could easily out-do them. Also on the flip of Hip-Hop theres R&B and Soul and those are the guys that are worshipping and appreciating/pleasing women in their songs and music videos.

    • Kaleigh C says:

      I completely agree with this. In the 90’s there was a greater presence of ACTUALLY talented female rappers who could go out with the best of them. There were even reversed roles of women ragging on men such as TLC’s “No Scrubs” or Lil Kim in general. However even then, Lil Kim has said that when she first rapped for BIG he told her to sex up the rap, to appeal more to the audience. I think of female rappers today, like Nicki Minaj and “Anaconda” and its basically just sexualized words put into a rhythm. Hip Hop and Rap will I think always have semi misogynistic undertones (obviously there are some exceptions but overall) but I do not think this is the only music genre that has a problem respecting women.

  7. Kirsten Jaqua says:

    Agreed! You tied the two theories together really well for this topic. I like your point that the women aren’t merely objectified as sexual /objects/ that the male artist owns like his cars and other props but also marginalized as background for his talent–representing & strengthening hegemonic roles. If expanded, this could make a really interesting research paper! Anna also brings up a good point; you could, given more time, dig into how this representation of gender roles affects men as well.

  8. Alex S. says:

    This does raise questions as to where the line is drawn with women either empowering themselves by making a living or worsening the female image in contemporary United States. A Feminist Anthropologists could very well tie in other theories to analyze this concept of “Video Girls,” but in the end it seems that while in reality women may be working hard to provide for themselves, women are still negatively portrayed and will continue to be as long as we continue to support 50 cent or other artists that use media which incorporates a power dynamic between males and females.

  9. The gender inequality, especially in hip hop, is something that is very obvious and with the presence of music videos becomes even more visible. This representation of masculinity only works to harm gender relations and promotes a twisted logic that places women as objects to be used and disposed of when the man is through with them. It is important to critically look at how these sources are influencing young people in our society, and your analysis of it was spot on. Although, it is also important to look to other forms of hip hop and pop culture that are working for the empowerment of women, whether that is from a male perspective or through women claiming their own agency. On a side note, I wish you would have included which video of inequality and hegemony you watched that shocked you so much!

  10. Cody Patten says:

    I agree with both of your views on this topic especially the feminist view. It is crazy how people can put women in the same genre as cars and money. The majority of people believe this to be normal because of the media. I think that this has gone on for a long time, and I think until there is a change with media that it will keep becoming more provocative.

  11. Michaela Cavanagh says:

    I agree with everything both of your approaches. Especially your feminist theory because many women when they do see these videos turn a blind eye and just pretend that these videos do not exist or even worse other try to be like these women who are half naked staining in front of a car looking at 50 cent as if he is some kind of God. I think the hip-hop industry needs to focus in on how they plan to make their music videos in a way that is less degrading.

  12. Maddie Ohaus says:

    I agree with everything said in this essay, especially the feminist portrayal and perception of girls in the hip hop industry. It is almost impossible for women to be respected with in the industry and once they gain respect it can be lost so easily just due to expressing their thoughts and ideas. Seeing women role models in this position really has an effect on younger girls, telling them not only that the best thing they can aspire to be is a back up dancer for a male rapper but that they will only get there if they are stick thin and look a certain way.

  13. Ian McClain says:

    I thought you provided a good use of Poststructualist anthropology in your essay. Watching MTV and many other channels on TV, it is interesting to see the biases the the producers/people making the show portray and who they are giving power to. It does seem like most of the time it is the men how has an unequal proportion of power (like you pointed out with the hip hop videos). I related this essay also to news channels and the power bias they are trying to portray. It is really difficult to watch one new channel without feeling like they have an underlying political motive and thus are trying to create an idealized picture of what is actually going on. I am also curious if you analyzed this topic from a political economy/Marxist perspective, what is the point of giving men the power in these videos on MTV and other channels?

  14. Camille says:

    I thought this article was very insightful, firstly because it is very true that,sadly, women are still portrayed in the media as a subordinated gender. Secondly, feminist anthropologists can really agree with the fact that (especially in the music scene) women in music videos are exposed in a negative way and even lyrics are STILL devaluing women. It is so frustrating to see the same topics brought out in the media about women: even discussing our progress as women in a hegemonic society, affects the way we see ourselves in society.

  15. Mackenzie Carson says:

    I completely agree with you on this one. It’s always disappointing to me to see the majority of popular artists today still being extremely sexist in their music videos and song lyrics. I also liked how you included a post structuralist view instead of just the obvious feminist problems.

  16. Taylor Thostenson says:

    This article is something I feel every woman should agree/relate with. In your take on feminist anthropology I completely agree with your perspective on the fact that women do aspire to be less because of the way they are presented in society. This is something not only seen in the hip-hop music industry but seen in everyday society. In almost every music video or song lyric women are being explicitly sung about their body parts and overall image. Although woman enjoy feeling wanted, they are going about it in the wrong way by placing themselves as objects and causing every woman in society to inevitably be treated this way, even if not intended.

  17. James Cumming says:

    Feminist anthropology is one of the key perspectives to take when critiquing media and music videos within the modern age. I agree with your argument and would further the thought by asking, how can we begin to change this in a massive way? I feel as though the bombardment of media, especially with the instant data we receive through our phones and computers, overruns the human mind turning it into an input for information, rather than a duality of input/output. Women within our society struggle immensely with this inequality without even realizing it because of this reason. From a feminist perspective one must highlight the one of most important factors to this problem; distraction. The medias ability to distract and redirect human thought, and subsequently emotion, conquers our subconscious responses, inevitably manipulating our ability to think critically and outside the patriarchal box. Each individual must fight against this in their own way so we can all move forward with equality within our culture.

  18. Sydney Britsch says:

    I agree that especially the rap and hip-hop genres in the music industry revolve around degrading women. I think this also pertains more broadly to the entertainment industry as a whole. Sometimes I wonder when someone is repeating certain lyrics if they realize what they are really saying. I think that some people just don’t take the lyrics seriously, but others I think may be so accustomed to hearing these demeaning things about women that they are honestly not aware of how offensive it actually is. I hope if we bring this issue to light by analyzing it through an anthropological lens that we can prevent this from continuing to be a norm in our society.

  19. Taylor Hill says:

    I completely agree with what you had to say. I wrote my paper on a similar topic. The Pink song really brought my attention to the fact that not all artists sing about the same things, that her music has a message. It seems like our generation has subjected ourselves to this music and by continuing to listen to it, they keep making more. I like that you brought up the point that people don’t always take the lyrics seriously and they don’t think about what the artists are singing about.

  20. I liked the point you brought up here about gender in music. Many people don’t think of this sort of thing when listening to the music, but almost every decision these artists make revolves around money. The part where I might disagree with you is the fact that in my opinion it’s not at all the fault of artists. Instead I think it is because of us, the consumer that this gender inequality exists in music. For whatever reason, that is what sells. I don’t think the artists would talk the way they do about women if the consumers didn’t buy it. Ultimately our culture is dominated by money and there is nothing the Artists can do about it except try to make money.

  21. I totally agree with you about Pink being able to pick up on the underlying influences of the objectification in mainstream music. I am also thinking about what kind of bodies are being objectified in the media, and how that is then in internalized in self-body images. The bodies of the females and the color of their skin are also working together to create destructive images of female “value”. This then causes a vicious cycle of women themselves trying to fit within these narrow and photo edited picture frames of being totally female and worthy. While I don’t see me articulating self-hate and outrageous effort into my look, I still do try to fit in amongst my peers, and that is best done by molding myself to valorized womanly appearance.

  22. Stephanie Scattergood says:

    I completely follow and agree with the analysis you did from a feminist anthropological perspective, particularly with the line from P!nk. Your line about honor and prestige as well was great, but I would like to play the devils advocate here and urge you to consider the honor and fame that comes to these women for being featured in the videos. Being featured in famous artists videos has a sort of honor all its own, and this is often the stepping stone for women making it big in the industry.

  23. AYURU KONDO says:

    I some part agree this idea. I know some music video, it mention that women dominance by men. In the article said as like “stupid girls”. I agree this idea, this phenomenon is same as other country too.However some time, in especially American HIP HOP music video, I also see women wear like bondage, high heel, and dominant to man. I think this is also American culture. I little bit wonder is this a okay to female anthropologist? I think these music video image is hard to mention about these gender anthropology. It is kind of art, that’s why hard to discuss.

  24. Syrah Burke says:

    Unfortunately Hip-Hop music videos have a history of objectifying women. However, since the 90s there have been many equally successful woman rappers. Something to think about in the modern rap & hip hop scene are the woman rappers of today aiding the misogyny by objectifying themselves. An example of popular female rapper now is Nicki Minaj, who has a popular single called “Anaconda” in which the cover photo shows Nicki with minimal clothing, squatting in front of the camera to show off her bare butt in a hot pink thong. Does being popular within the industry automatically imply that you must sexualizing the female body?

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