Sexist and racist music videos: it's time we listened to young women
Last week saw three women's groups come together to launch the Rewind&Reframe campaign, which aims to provide a platform for young women to speak out against racism and sexism in music videos. Here Holly Dustin of EVAW and Lia Latchford of Imkaan explain why the campaign is so vital.
Read the blog, and tell us what you think. Are you concerned about sexualised images in music videos? Do you agree that they should be age-rated?
Posted on: Mon 25-Nov-13 13:40:11
(16 comments )
Speaking recently about his controversial hit Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke helpfully commented, “What a pleasure it is to degrade women. I've never gotten to do that before."
Thanks Robin: we'd never have guessed.
Whilst politicians and columnists regularly voice their concern about music videos like Blurred Lines and Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, it’s still rare to hear young people’s voices in the ongoing debates about sexualisation and the media. Rewind&reframe is a new campaign to tackle sexism and racism in music videos, which was launched earlier this month by three leading women's groups as a platform for young women to speak out.
They tell us that they're angry about the objectification of women, and how this has become the norm. They say that Blurred Lines and others like Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball are only the tip of the iceberg, just the latest in a long line of popular music videos which sexualise and degrade women - and very often depict racial stereotypes too.
Take the video for Calvin Harris' Drinking From The Bottle, in which black women are reduced to not much more than a sea of grinding rumps. Lily Allen's current single, Hard Out Here, mocks sexism in the music industry – but is nevertheless happy to replicate the exploitation of Black women's bodies that is so routine. Allen has said that the video has "nothing to do with race, at all" – an age-old explanation which so often turns out to mean "it has everything to do with race."
We want to see music videos age-rated, in the same way as films and video games are. There is no sense in saying, as society currently does, that an eight year-old can view explicit images in a music video – even though the same images would attract an 18 certificate if they appeared in a film.
This is why a platform to speak out about sexism and racism is so important. The Rewind&Reframe blog carries great posts by young women who see the images in music videos as a reflection of the racism and sexism that exist in society, and feel that music videos can and do influence behaviour and attitudes towards women and girls.
Dr Maddy Coy writes about the evidence to show how music videos and other media images that sexualise women provide a 'conducive context' in which violence against women and girls flourishes. People who view them are more likely to believe in a whole range of myths, including ideas that blame women for being raped, that women are sex objects, and the age-old double standard that real men are sexually voracious and experienced, but sexually active women are ‘less desirable’ partners.
So what is Rewind&Reframe calling for? First and foremost, young women are saying that they love music but hate the kinds of images they are bombarded with in videos - so we are asking the music industry to please stop creating them. Frustratingly, the BPI was unwilling to come and debate the issues the launch of the campaign in parliament last week – but we’ve written to their Chief Executive asking for a meeting with young women from the project.
Secondly, we want to see music videos age-rated, in the same way as films and video games are. There is no sense in saying, as society currently does, that an eight year-old can view explicit images in a music video – even though the same images would attract an 18 certificate if they appeared in a film. Over 14,000 people who signed our change.org petition agree with our call for music videos to be age-rated, whether sold in shops or viewed online.
Thirdly, we want the music video-sharing sites such as Vevo and YouTube to toughen up their rules on explicit or harmful content. The explicit version of Blurred Lines was removed from YouTube - but is still freely accessible in a couple of clicks on Vevo. Justin timberlake's Tunnel Vision is hosted on YouTube, although it is no less explicit than Blurred Lines.
Finally, young women have told us that they have not been taught to decipher and analyse harmful messages in the media, and this means they don’t always feel confident about challenging the messages they are bombarded with. We think that schools have a critical role to play in countering sexist and often racist images, by teaching young people about consensual and respectful relationships and media literacy.
Sexism and racism in pop music is nothing new - but we’ve sleep-walked into a situation where one-upmanship in the music industry means that women, especially black and minority ethnic women, are now routinely degraded. Videos are shared in an instant via social media, meaning the impact is greater and much more widespread. Young women today are saying they are sick of it and just want to be able to enjoy the music they love. We think they deserve better - and Janelle Monáe's new single Q.U.E.E.N. is currently showing how it’s done.
By Lia Latchford and Holly Dustin
Sounds like a great campaign. I'll be back later once I've gone through all the links but I'm completely behind this. I have an 8 yr old DD so am all for challenging the sexism and racism in the music business and the media at large.
I agree with all aims of the campaign.
I think the message is louder from young women. If I complain it might sound like I'm being an old fashioned, out of date prude. (I will still talk about it and complain as it affects my children and the way they see women and men in the media.)
But to have young women say 'this is not good, this is not who we are' is better.
Agree, Janelle is fantastic as is her video. There are many more who do it well. I'll have a look later when I'm home.
Fantastic to hear about this campaign, and agree with Wowooo that the message is more powerful from young women, although hopefully young men will add their voices to it also.
I'm not sure that Miley's 'Wrecking Ball' should be lumped together with the dreadful rapists anthem by slimy lecherous Robin Thicke though. She may be swinging around naked, but it's more about her exposing herself emotionally IMO rather than degrading others.
Interesting too about the racism aspect. I have been watching music channels for at least 20 years, and the first genres to exhibit the sexism that is now so prevalent - the scantily clad female dancers, the gyrating, the gusset shots, against the fully clothed male singer - were rap, r&b, 'gangsta' type music, which I suppose are all traditionally of 'black' origin.
I think pushing to make video age-rating could make a huge difference. Artists and record companies are more likely to make a pg version as they are not going to want their video to only be played after the watershed.
I really hope we start to see huge change soon they are not images I want my dd or nieces to view.
It would be so refreshing if we could get back to the inventive music videos of the 80's and move away from this endless stream of grinding girls, bouncing chests and smug men.
It can't just be me who thinks it's utterly unfair to just assert that Lily Allen's video is "racist" as though it's absolutely uncontroversial, when it seems highly uncertain. The point that the women dancing provocatively in the video (for a song about women's exploitation) to highlight women's exploitation, should be obvious. Lily has also provided a much more detailed defence of her video publicly; it seems, frankly, disingenous to call to her claim that the video has "nothing to do with race", "an age-old explanation which so often turns out to mean "it has everything to do with race."
As to the project itself though- it seems like a worthy one, so 2 cheers there. Thereagain, you say "it’s still rare to hear young people’s voices in the ongoing debates about sexualisation and the media", but it seems to me that every second post on Tumblr is already some a women denouncing sexism/racism/cultural appropriation/lack of intersectionality in highly sophisticated terms. So if one more blog being thrown into and mix and this time getting some attention for Mumsnet means that these conversations get a mention in the mainstream media, then I'm all for it, but it's not as though these conversations weren't occurring in the first place.
While the reasons for campaigning are obvious (more obvious to me than Lily Allen's "racism"), it seems to be based on the misconception that "the music industry" creates videos and that the BPI could do something about what's made. It's not the "music industry" that makes videos, its the artists and you're effectively asking a record company to censor its artists. This isn't illegal imagery, however unpleasant it might be, and censorship is something that the world has long fought against and it shouldn't be the immediate response to difficult / unpleasant / challenging material.
I'm also interested to know why none of the campaign points you've listed above relate to parental guidance and controlled access to the internet / images. Age rating without that is surely likely to encourage younger children to access 18 / R rated material?
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I would worry that by encouraging a rating system you will end up with 2 versions of the video and the 18 version is going to be a lot more full on. Robin Thicke, 50 Cent and Snoop have all done second versions of the videos with topless women. If you are going to encourage an age restriction then you will get more videos with the 18 version and a lot of boys accessing them on the web. And people suggesting that the filters will stop the kids are particularly naive as filters can be bypassed and we will end up having no idea what our kids are watching and just assuming that they are "safe".
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I don't feel informed enough to understand what is and is not racist in a music video or performance. I understand why Miley Cyrus' performance was racist, but I don't understand the Gwen Stefani one. I'm glad they're doing the campaign but it might be easier to understand if the site gave some examples of white women's music videos that weren't considered racist as a comparison point - a best practice sort of thing.
When I first watched the LA video, I didn't even notice that all the scantily clad gyrating dancers were black. Not until I read some WoC blogs linked on here did I appreciate why the authors were pissed off.
Why didn't I notice? Because I have the privilege of being white, and therefore never discriminated against because of my race. So I think that if black women say they regard it as racist, I for one will accept their word on that. How could I not, when I seem to spend many frustrating hours on here arguing with men who don't "see" sexism?
I haven't seen the LA one, but from the descriptions it sounds racist.
As a woman, I don't want men to just accept my word that something is sexist. I want them to also understand why something is sexist so that they do things that promote gender equality rather than doing more sexist things.
I would assume, although I don't know, that the same is true of racism. There needs to be am understanding of why something is racist, so that people realise and stop supporting it without having to be told every time.
I don't think it's possible to understand the music video issue without the racism element because so much of it is about the portrayal of black women.
Oh, I agree. I do understand why it's racist now. It only took a moment or two of reading the blog and saying yep, I totally get that.
In discussing sexism with men however, the first reaction is very rarely "I've never experienced that, but as you have I am going to accept that your experiences are true as my starting point" rather it's "I've never experienced that and neither has my wife, so you must be wrong. Or bitter. Or <hushed voice> one of those man hating feminists"
I wasn't disgareeing with you Buffy, just exploring the point. Apparently the Lily Allen one is meant to be ironic (although that doesn't make it okay), but I don't think everyone will see that because she has a different audience to the videos she is imitating. I've not seen images like that before so they just seemed really racist to me, and she has a lot of young fans too.
It's an agreement fest . I suppose my main point was that I don't think I get to define what's racist. All I can do is accept what people who aren't white tell me about their experiences, and try and learn from it. And also accept that I will continue to fail to see things until they're pointed out. I don't know if that makes sense at all?
I'm not abdicating responsibility for recognising racism or demanding to be educated, just saying that it would be arrogant to assume that I will always be able to spot it. Because I don't think I will.
I think one of the most important messages in this blog is the potential role that schools could play. Currently, pupils are taught to analyse media images in GCSE English although, in my expereince, the images they are taught to analyse are hardly ever of a controversial, biased or manipulative nature. Also, I think Freya is right that there needs to be understanding of why something is sexist and racist and many young people are not taught this on a more nuanced level - I wonder
if some teachers/headteachers don't feel comfortable with this issue themselves and are afraid of geting into 'controversial' areas? It would be great if an initiative like this was used in schools as a basis for assemblies/PHSE/English lessons etc. As well as educating young people (and teachers) on these issues, it could provide young glrs with the confidence to express themselves abut this rather than being seen as 'boring/humourless/nerdy etc etc' for speaking out.
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