Female empowerment songs23/08/2011 # 07:30 # In Press - research # 4 Comments
Pathetic attempts to draw attention to issues such as discrimination, ostracism and harassment faced by females in society? Third year Media Studies student Thato S N Legodi offers some answers.
“If you look back in history/It’s a common double standard of society/The guy gets all the glory, the more he can score/While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore!”
Can’t Hold Us Down is Christina Aguilera’s ‘girl-power’ song (questioning the double standards of society between men and women), taken from her 2002 Stripped album. In this song, Christina questions society’s acceptance of males to have more than one female sexual partner (they are applauded for that) while it is perceived off beam for a female to have multiple male sexual partners (they often experience harassment if they do so). What the song is attempting to achieve is a level of impartiality whereby an unfair application of dissimilar sets of values for states of affairs that are alike would be non-existent. Why is it that females cannot have more than one sexual partner without being labelled? If it is decadent for a woman to have several sexual partners, then it should also be morally wrong for males to have multiple sexual partners.
Yes, indeed, there are double standards in society but this does not necessarily imply that it is only females who experience the negative side of this ‘double standard’. According to Shepard (2005), men cannot show signs of vulnerability. They are taught to disavow and despise human qualities such as susceptibility and tenderness. If a man expresses his emotions through crying for instance, he would inescapably be perceived as weak (Shepard, 2005). Despite the media’s attempts to alter these sorts of expectations from men, by showing males crying in soapies for example, men are still to a large extent expected to be brave, and not show any signs of being weak.
Independent Women (2000) and Independent Women Part II (2001) are Destiny’s Child songs on their third studio album Survivor. Both these songs are about female empowerment but I will focus more on Independent Women Part II although the lyrics are more or less alike. With lyrics like “I’m my number one priority/No falling in love, no commitment from me/Try to control me, boy you get dismissed/If you’re independent, I congratulate you/If you ain’t in love, I congratulate you”, these lyrics literally persuade females to deviate from the norm and not be emotionally attached to their male partners (as society expects). The song encourages females to put themselves and their needs first. Accordingly, males have to be victims of their unattached, apathetic, callous and unloving female partners.
Nevertheless, there is something peculiar about Destiny’s Child. After both songs were received well by the general public, they released a disparate song with a totally divergent meaning outwardly going against what they stood for in Independent Women. In 2004, they released their fourth studio album which featured a song called Cater to You. With lyrics such as “My life would be purposeless without you/Do anything for my man/I’m here to serve you/Fulfil your every desire/Your wish is my command, this song is a blatant contrast to Independent Women Part I & II. Why did they do this after such victorious and influential female empowerment songs? Is it because they realised that what they were saying in Independent Women was in actual fact illusory? Cater to You is about a woman who is head over heels in love, committed, caring and affectionate. Consequently, women are still not empowered in a sense that even though they feel the need to be self-governing, they also feel the need to be subservient to their male partners as Cater to You signifies. Not surprisingly, Cater to You was also received well by the general public. What does this say about ’girl-power’ songs and their necessity and effectiveness? Now do we still need to ask if Girls Run the World, if their sole purpose in life is to please their male partners as Cater to You suggests? If female artists contradict themselves in this manner, what messages are the general public supposed to get?
Female empowerment songs such as Ciara’s Like a Boy (2006), Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy (2008) and Jessie J’s Do it Like a Dude (2010) make one wonder if the only way for females to be empowered is if they act like men and do things typically associated with men. Furthermore, these females are actually saying that had they been given a chance to be males, they would do precisely the same thing that males are doing to them. How is that constructive? To add more salt to the wound, if one takes a look at the songwriters behind the ‘girl-power’ songs, the majority of them are males. Perhaps female artists now need to write songs for themselves so that society can hear and witness their struggles through the ‘female’ perspective.
Oh! Didn’t I look at the positive side of Independent Women where they encourage women to depend on no one but themselves? To pay their own bills, buy their own houses, cars, clothes, shoes, diamond rings and the like? Well, how can I when an all-female group called TLC released a song named Scrub encouraging women not to date a man who still stays at home with his mom and doesn’t have a car or money? And, guess what? The song was released just a year before Independent Women. Is that an obsolete case in point? How about you take a listen to Ciara’s Yeah I Know taken from Basic Instinct album of 2010? It has precisely the same meaning!!!
These ‘girl-power’ songs with conflicting messages in fact blur issues faced by women in society (discrimination, harassment, and marginalisation amongst others)!!!