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I was just watching the elimination process of American Idol’s 2010 show and was immediately struck by the entertainment they featured that year: Jason DeRulo, David Archuleta, and Rihanna. And because of the feminist lens through which I view events in this world and in my life, I suppose I see things a bit differently than others. The juxtaposition of the artists and the ways with which they presented their talents reinforced what I think about when I listen to music: female artists, no matter how talented, become sexual sirens and objectify themselves on stage, while male artists do not.

Let’s look at the evidence:

Jason DeRulo entertained his audience with his new song and some very cool dance moves, had both male and female dancers in the background, and ended the show with fire and smoke coming from the stage. There was nothing sexual about the energy that exuded from his performance; he didn’t slither his body across the platform from which he sang; he didn’t rub himself all over the female dancers that pranced alongside him. His performance was all about his new album, his showmanship, and professionalism as an entertainer.

There was David Archuleta who sat on a piano stool and sang “Imagine” while his fingers danced along the keys of his instrument. The emphasis of his performance was on the melody of this famous song, and how a young man like David has the skill and voice with which to make it sound current and beautiful. David relied on his talent as a piano player and singer, crooning to the likes of Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra (I may be stretching this one a bit). The emphasis lies on the purity of his angelic face and even more angelic and heart-wrenching voice.

And then of course, we come to our leading lady, Rihanna, who struts her stuff on the stage with “I’m a Rock Star.” From the painted on skin-tight leather cat suit and platform shoes, there is so much sexual bravado in this one performance that it makes me cringe with discomfort for her. I was more distraught at having to watch her throw herself on the floor of the stage and bend her body back, stretching her limbs in languid seduction and forced sexiness that I couldn’t even pay attention to her voice or the lyrics of her song.  The truth is that Rihanna has more talent as a singer than Jason DeRulo and David Archuleta put together, but because she is a woman, Rihanna has to present herself as a sexual object for the edification of her audience and album profits.

A few days ago, when I started thinking about this blatant theme in music and women, I was listening to the lyrics of “Rude Boy,” and I was disgusted with the overt sexual tones of the song with its references to sex and penis size, and so on. Why does she, who is in possession of such a siren’s voice, such sweet, pure and raw talent, have to objectify herself, lie prostrate before male members of her audience and sing about sex in such trashy and slutty fashion to sell her music?

Men don’t have to, so why do the women? Why do women have to degrade themselves, show skin, and dance like prostitutes in order to perform for their fans?

And it’s not just Rihanna…I see it among a great number of female singers. Avril was one of my favorites. I liked her because she was a rock chic, a skater singing girl. She was sexy without being overt about it. She wore pants and t-shirts, and there was nothing slinky or distasteful about her lanky body or the lyrics of her songs. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, after her marriage and after her great and sudden fame, she shows up in a video for her “Alice in Wonderland” song and has traded in her auburn hair for blond strands, her dark brown lipstick for bright bloody red, and her loose skater pants for a white, billowy dress. She is no longer a rock star, an alternative cool chic, but a sultry star making love to the cameras with her droopy eyes and pouty lips.

Gwen Stefani, whom I love, was also a cool rocker chic, at least when she was with her band. She wrote the lyrics to her own songs, which were based on all her personal experiences with love and heartbreak. She was beautiful and bounced around the stage, rocking in an alternative fashion to the music of her songs, stomping her feet and bending her body forward at the waist, bopping her head and limbs to the cool cadence of rock music. But as soon as she left her boy band, she ends up singing sultry and slutty background songs for rap artists. She has abandoned her demure and innocent look for a more money-selling and sexy starlet appearance.

There are more, but I would be here for ever, and I’m sure you’re tired of reading my feminist tirades…but do you understand where I’m coming from? All these girls are dripping with talent – raw, unfettered, and massive. They don’t have to dress like whores or make love to the camera like low budget porn stars. It is degrading, de-talenting, which is not a word, but should be because that is what is going on here. These girls are being reduced to the basic function of their sex, when they should be regarded as talented members of the music industry. Women are not eye candy. Especially these women, because they have more to offer the world than their sex appeal, their breasts, or their pouty mouths.

I know what you’re saying: Marina, this is how it is; how it has always been. You can’t change things like this overnight.

I know this; I agree with you, but doesn’t it sadden you in the least that women are still being reduced to their sexuality, their sex appeal? It bothers me; it vexes and saddens me, and perhaps it’s because I now have a little girl and I want more for her. I brought her into this world, and this world should be better; it should treat half of its population better. It should not be dominated by money-making industries that demand women to hypersexualize themselves for stardom and success. It should be dominated instead by industries that demand its women to strive and succeed under the same rules as men: on the merit of their talent.

I want this world to be better for women and to offer them opportunities without degrading them, without stripping them of their talent and intelligence and defining their worth based on their breast size, their slim figures, their sultry and desirous looks. And it’s not just our world; it’s these girls, too. They feel they have to sexualize themselves to make money, to be stars. The industry says so, and they believe it.

But the industry’s rules are not the same for men. David Archuleta does not have to strip down to his underwear while singing “Imagine” to have a large fan base of young dreamy girls to buy his albums. Jason DeRulo does not have to make out with his microphone and lick his lips to sell his albums. Our world expects its men to have skills, ambition, and talent to succeed. But girls need talent, ambition, AND sex appeal to make it big. How is this fair?

If my daughter is going to have any chance to prove herself worthy of equality in this world, then these young starlets are going to have to stand up and say, irrefutably, NO! They have to refuse to subscribe to the values of a society that demands they turn themselves into sex-craved sex dolls whose only function is to satisfy the sexual yearnings and fantasies of their fans.

Until they do this, they are diminishing their own worth by playing according to the sexist rules that are prescribed by our society. Until they do this, my daughter, and your daughters, will have to fight very hard to be seen as more than just eye candy, and they will live in a society that values only their potential as sexual objects.

Copyright© 2016 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.


Feminist Gaze: Sex, Women, and Music

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