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Claim back the music!

What is the soundtrack to your life? What music surrounded you in your most formative teen years? What song was playing when you first kissed, when you danced at your school formal, or when you broke loose and did a hairbrush solo in your bedroom?

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As a child of the eighties Madonna rocked my world and shocked my parents by revealing she felt like a virgin being touched for the very first time. Chrissy Amphlett sung of desperation and lust. These were wild women who fully embraced their sexuality, but they were nobodies “bitch” or “‘ho.” Madonna may have been a “material girl” but she didn’t need a pimp. These girls all ran their own show. The men around them looked on with respect or desire – perhaps even with fear, but rarely with contempt.

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed societies boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now- thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centers, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

A 2008 report entitled “Ambivalent Sexism and Misogynistic Rap Music: Does Exposure to Eminem Increase Sexism?”, published recently in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concluded that it is unlikely that hearing lyrics in a song creates sexist attitudes that do not previously exist. Based on their findings, the head researcher Assistant Professor Cobb went on to state,” There is not much evidence in our study to support an argument in favour of censorship.” But haven’t these researchers missed the point? Sexist attitudes may not have increased amongst their male and female subjects, but how did the female subjects feel about themselves and their bodies after being exposed to one of the songs they actually used in the study, Eminem’s song “Kill You”. The lyrics include:

“(AH!) Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore
’til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!
(AH!) These mother #!!! are thinking I’m playing
Thinking I’m saying the shit cause I’m thinking it just to be saying it
(AH!) Put your hands down bitch, I ain’t gonna shoot you
I’m gonna pull YOU to this bullet, and put it through you
(AH!) Shut up slut, you’re causing too much chaos
Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK Ma?”

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A British study found that watching video clips featuring skinny, semi naked gyrating women ( in other words, watching 99% of all music clips) for just 10 minutes was enough to reduce teenage girls body satisfaction with their body shape by 10 per cent. Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship.

Even the strongest of us admit to feeling less than they were after a dose of the Pussycat Dolls and Eminem – there is undeniably a nasty after taste. Yet look around, these sounds and their associated film clips are the very fodder we now give our children as the soundtrack to their youth. The Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha?” includes the lyrics “I know you want it…I know you should be on with me…don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me, don’t cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?”. This anthem to the sisterhood featured on Hits for kids Volume 3 this Christmas, alongside songs by Hi 5 and Guy Sebastian. Alvin the Chipmunk sings “Don’t cha” in his made for the pre-school set holiday film release. Markets are filled with junior Eminem tracksuits and gangster accessories for the budding pimp. Am I the only one who cringes when I see small girls shaking it to “My Humps”?

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Rhinna is currently at number 1 on our music charts with her song “Don’t Stop The Music” – I agree. I love music. I’m not after censorship, just commonsense. And awareness. Would it be asking too much if there could be a day set aside to celebrate positive portrayal of women on music and film clips? A day where we didn’t have to keep our hand on the radio dial as we drive the kids to school for fear that they were going to have to listen to lyrics about yet another “Nasty Gal”?

Five years ago if you had suggested we needed Earth Hour, an hour where we all turned off the lights to remind ourselves to be mindful of power consumption and our impact on the planet, you would have been thought a radical environmental extremist. Yet as things literally heated up, the lights all went out. How much hotter do things need to get on our airwaves and on our TV sets? I suspect society will also agree we have now indeed reached tipping point and will embrace a day that seeks to claim back the music.

Smart radio stations will jump on board. Overseas, special days devoted to the positive portrayal of women in music have pushed radio stations ratings through the roof. In Boston “Radio Log”, a station set up to promote positive portrayals of black women and inspire open phone conversations around relationships, has received nothing but good press. Radio stations should show leadership and live up to their responsibilities of meeting societies ethical and moral standards.

And as companies madly chase the female dollar, surely keeping women happy and showing them, and their daughters, respect can only be a smart and strategic marketing move?

Money doesn’t just talk – it sings too.

P.S I have asked my colleagues at Women’s Forum Australia and Kids Free 2B Kids to join me in calling for a national day that reclaims the music for women. I am hoping we might hear from a few more like minded people who want to celebrate women through song, not denegrate them – would also love the media to get behind us. Any takers?

P.S.S How infuriating is this song from the “Bom Chicka Wah Wah’s”?  Unilever promote HIGHLY degrading portrayals of women with their brand Lynx (a brand that targets teen boys) whilst attempting to take their other key brand Dove in to our schools to sponsor self esteem programs for teenagers! “Body Think” may be a fabulous program and serves a real need – bravo the Butterfly Foundation for managing this – BUT when Unilver ( Dove and Lynx) also pushes these “girls gone wild” destructive messages at our young people I say NOT GOOD ENOUGH!  Until Unilver cleans up its act and starts to show it genuinely cares about young women – and does not just choose to act responsibly when it suits them for the sake of promoting a particular brand – I’m boycotting all their products.   

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And if that wasn’t bad enough – how about the lack of respect shown towards female teachers in this ad? Her student’s scent reduces her to singing porn music. 

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Want to get really angry? Check out the “web site they tried to ban” – The Lynx Effect. Compare it to the web site promoting Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty – SAME PARENT COMPANY. Grrrrrr…. 

LOVE this Youtube clip by Rye Clifton that exposes the inherent contradiction in Unilver’s marketing onslaught (in the USA Lynx is called Axe):

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LOVE that it caused a stir too…we need to be critical of all the dangerous and mixed messages that our young people are being exposed to.

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The comments here are MUST READS…

Published inBody ImageFeminismPower of WordsSexualisation of children

18 Comments

  1. Jane Higgins

    I’m with you Danni! I am sick to death of having to explain why I have turned off a song on the radio, change stations, stopped access to the itune store etc. I have 2 boys that I want to grow up to be 2 beautiful, sensitive and caring men who respect women and themselves.
    Gyrating hips,
    pouty lips,
    grabbing for ice –
    its just not nice!!
    Lets surround our children with empowering, fun, strong music that has healthy messages.
    xx

  2. Claire Clements

    I very much agree, Danni. I shudder when my 5 year old niece sings along to Fergie or the Pussycat Dolls. I must say though, I am a huge Tori Amos fan and I’ve been rather drowning myself in her music lately. Recently, she did an impromptu song that was directed at the likes of Britney, Lindsay and Paris, I think it’s on YouTube somewhere. She is a woman that is very in touch with the feminine and a lot of what she does revolves around some kind of female deity. If you haven’t read ‘Piece by Piece’ I highly recommend it, even if your not a fan of Tori herself, the book has alot of interesting reading in it in relation to female influences and empowerment.
    Having said that, I also know Tori can be rather outspoken but she certainly is someone who’s taken a male dominated industry and done things her way. And I believe she did it with her clothes on.
    Another young artist who is taking America by storm is Taylor Swift, only recently turned 18 and wrote or co wrote all the songs on her album. She wears the most amazing dresses to award nights and in her videos and goes for classy and beautiful over the more raunchy alternative.
    Anyway, that’s my long spill, great post 🙂 I’m going to check out my local radio stations.

  3. Jane Higgins

    I have just finished reading Danni’s P.S. on this week’s blog. I was completely stunned by the chika boom boom (or what ever they call themselves) girls. How on earth can they ever justify gyrating like this and looking as though they are about to have sex with anything or anyone available. I am sooooo disgusted!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Then taking this song and using it to market products to girls…. well I just think that is revolting!
    Unilever is completely hypocritical. Thanks for exposing this to the Aussie public. How can the Government fund them coming into our schools and talking to our girls about being a girl of real beauty when they depict girls so appallingly??!!

    I loved the comment on the last You Tube video – “Talk to your girls before Unilever does.”

    Well I for one will not allow them in to my child’s school. Will you?

  4. No way Jane.

    I also want to take this opportunity to be very clear here – Enlighten also runs personal development programs for teen girls in schools. Some may say, therefore, that we have a vested interest in criticising Unilver. However, the programs we run are quite different to their “Body Think” program in many ways eg: although we also look at body image and provide strategies for deconstructing the media, we also cover issues relating to friendship, personal safety, stress management, financial literacy – a wide range of topics we believe need to be explored in a highly engaging, non-commercial environment.
    Enlighten has always been supportive of a wide range of interest groups, resources and programs that support teen girls. We will get behind The Butterfly Foundation 100% as I believe it does great work. It is only Unilver’s hypocritical involvement in programs aimed at addressing self esteem, and the introduction of the Dove brand (which, let’s face it, has as its core business the sale of wrinkle creams) into our schools that I object to.
    The reason why Enlighten has chosen to remain “commercial free” and not accept corporate sponsorship, nor go down the non-profit line, is to ensure our company can always “feed itself.” We have not had to rely on hand outs or compromise our values.
    The more credible, authentic providers who want to work with teen girls the better I say! More are needed. BUT let’s demand better than this…

  5. Julie Gale, founder and Director of Kids Free 2B Kids, shares my concern and outrage and has asked me to share her latest email exchange with Sarah Clarry, Corporate Social Responsibility & Communications Manager for Unilever Australasia, with my blog readers.

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for your email in Dec.

    I appreciate your honesty in acknowledging that Unilever’s Dove/Axe/Lynx marketing is an issue some have struggled with in the organization.

    I would like to make further comment about the Unilever Global statement (extracts from this statement are in bold below).

    What unites all the products in the Unilever portfolio is our Vitality mission, which seeks to promote products that help our consumers look good, feel good and get more out of life. Dove and Axe are both great examples of that mission. The campaigns for both brands resist telling people how they should look and both aim to build people’s confidence and self-esteem.

    The messages from the Dove and Axe/Lynx campaigns are clear.

    Dove encourages women to feel good about themselves, in all their different shapes and sizes.

    Axe sends the message to men/boys, that women are sexual predators if they smell the Axe/Lynx product, and encourages men/boys to objectify women.

    The chosen vehicle for Axe/Lynx is a series of light-hearted and tongue-in-check adverts.

    The Sexual objectification of women should never be light hearted or tongue in cheek.

    They are all designed to be tongue-in-cheek propositions and are not meant to be taken seriously.

    This sort of advertising may not be taken seriously by (many) men, but women, who the world over, are subject to sexual violence, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and many other forms of sexual harassment, objectification and subjugation most definitely take this sort of advertising seriously.

    Every new campaign is tested, not just with the target market of 18-24 year-old males, but also with their female counterparts and their mothers. If they don’t understand it as humorous, the adverts don’t get used.

    This statement is most curious – what messages are Unilever actually trying to convey to the young men in our society, and is their any consideration for the impact on the females who are the ‘subject’ of the Axe marketing?

    How many female counterparts and their mothers were consulted? I can’t imagine too many Australian female counterparts or their mothers finding the Axe/Lynx marketing humorous.

    In fact at every presentation I give, audience members are horrified/shocked/angry when shown the Axe marketing images…..and the impact is even greater when the audience discovers that Unilever also own Dove.

    So, where are these females who are laughing??

    Consider that the female counterparts of men, who find this advertising acceptable, may not be fully aware of the implications for themselves.

    Research shows that many young girls and women have begun sexualising themselves as a result of being exposed to, and bombarded with sexualized imagery.

    (American Psychological Association -Task force on the sexualisation of girls)

    Each of our brands talks to its target consumers in a way that is relevant and that communicates its own unique proposition.
    A unique proposition that women are sexual predators.

    A unique proposition that women want sex all the time, and are available all the time.

    A unique proposition that women want any man, any time, who is wearing Axe/Lynx.


    Across the world, different people want different things.

    I would assert that all human beings want dignity and respect.

    We have teams whose job is to find out exactly what people want

    Where did they look, and who did they ask?

    and to come up with innovative marketing campaigns to reach out to them in a way that speaks to them. Sometimes that’s serious and informative; other-times it’s light-hearted and amusing.
    As I’ve already stated – sexual objectification is never light hearted or amusing.

    The point of “Onslaught” is to show the cumulative impact of all the beauty messaging that young girls encounter every day, highlighting the reality of these everyday messages. By demonstrating this, we believe we’ve about the potential impact on self esteem and helped guide parents and mentors to tools and resources that will help build self esteem and make every girl feel their own sense of beauty.

    I am very cynical about this statement. I do not believe that Unilever have started an important discussion.

    This important discussion has long begun, by individuals and organisations who are truly committed to young women and men, growing and developing into human beings who have the capacity to relate to one another with dignity and respect.

    What Dove has achieved with their self esteem programs for young girls, is product placement at very young ages.

    If Unilever was truly committed to the welfare of young girls, women and young men – it’s hypocritical and damaging advertising campaigns would not exist.

    See below for the Playboy / Axe/Lynx advertising campaigns.

    Playboy is a major brand of the pornography industry and in recent years has been insidiously creeping into mainstream.

    If Unilever was truly committed to the welfare of young girls, women and young boys then Unilever would NOT be co- advertising with the pornography industry.

    There are many examples; I have included links to just a few:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhSihZzvFKw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QICqJ7X3es

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6J0U97S29M

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjtPdpyuH4o

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d968BCCOPoo

    I have discussed the impacts of the early sexualisation of our youth in past emails.

    Whilst the target market for the Axe/Lynx marketing may be 18 – 24 year old males – it is clear that younger boys and girls are also exposed.

    Inappropriate action by industry and the corporate world contributes to these issues and helps to maintain the status quo.

    I would appreciate your feedback

    Regards,

    Julie Gale

    julie@kf2bk.com

    http://www.kf2bk.com

    In Alliance with

    Young Media Australia

  6. Hi Danni – Love your blog!
    So great to see someone else exposing the hypocrisy behind Unilever’s marketing.
    Try this link and see how committed Unilever is to the well being of ‘Real Women”
    http://www.theaxeeffect.com/axevixens.html
    I am waiting on a response to my latest letter.
    We are NOT finished yet!!
    Cheers
    Julie Gale
    Director
    Kids Free 2B Kids

  7. Claire Clements

    Oh dear, I actually sent a letter to Dove praising them for using curvy women in their ads and promting a healthy body image. I feel rather sheepish now. I was completely unaware of the links between the two. I shall certainly be more careful in future. :S

  8. Don’t feel shepish Claire – how would you have know? The campaigns are so very contradictory that you could never have expected them to be run by the same company. Just horrible though isn’t it?

  9. Jane Higgins

    I cannot believe the comments from Unilever! What planet do they live on?? I am appalled, disgusted, and furious that they would think women are not absolutely dishonored and disrespected by their advertising campaigns. I checked out one of the links that Julie highlighted on Unilever’s Axe advertising campaign. It is pornography!! Playboys girls using their products. I am no prude but really!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How can this company then say it is girls friends??

    I am the Program Manager in South Australia for Enlighten Education and one of the reasons I am so thrilled to work with them is because they are not commercially affiliated and I know that everything we do, say and work towards if with the highest integrity, honesty and love for the empowerment of girls. That makes me so proud!! Now thats the kind of company I want to work with.

  10. Ella James

    What I am seeing more and more that shocks me, is an underlying chauvinism that women are expected to laugh off. The media treatment of Britney for example, and Heather Mills, despite what one might think of them, the media
    is really gunning for them, and I can’t think of a man in the last 5 years who has been vilified to this extent. A man can drink and behave badly and lie and he’s a lad, but a woman, well….. I’m not saying the media should ignore their behaviour but does it seem to you a little unbalanced? I just
    think all this manipulation about how we are supposed to feel about women in society is terrible.

    Young women I speak to, don’t like to see themselves as feminists, because they think it will make them unpopular with young men, and their peers…as if standing up for your rights, and standing up for equality is boring, out of date, and unnecessary..

    I agree with you Danni, some of the music is so overtly sexual and pornographic…at my gym, Fitness First, I am sick to death of seeing the remake of Chrissy Amphlett’s I TOUCH MYSELF, which is lip synced by young women and is just OFF!

  11. Sonia Lyne

    Oh it is great to be back and reading your articles. Moving house over Easter and my computer out of action (now fixed) has meant I haven’t been able to read your latest post.

    Danni I completely agree that a lot of musical lyrics are inappropriate and sexual. I am a fan of folk girl guitar music and many of the stories that are told through the music revolve around love, relationships, hurt and joy. These being the basic principles of life that many of us can relate to at any age.

    Now sex and sexual references are something, when I last blinked, that toddlers and tweens cannot relate to. It is a cheap shot from music and marketing companies who employ people to write lyrics for artists with little if any talent, fluff them up in little clothing and then get them to apparently sing, songs about lust and sex. Oh it annoys me to the nth degree. Let us continue educating our girls and boys that there is a lot more to life than is being portrayed through pop music and advertising campaigns.

    P.S. I see you have added another page; Articles of Interest. This is a fantastic resource for all. Super!!!

  12. Donelle

    Hi Danni,

    As a teenager I used to love watching Video Hits on a Saturday morning. I’d sing and dance like crazy. Now days I can’t bear to turn it on. There’s only so many times you can hear the word ‘ho’, and watch an ever increasing amount of gyrating, and all before breakfast!

    As an alternative, India Arie is a great musician with very uplifting messages in her music. Her ‘Acoustic Soul’ album is still one of my favourites. You’ve mentioned her song ‘Video’ on your blog before, and with good reason. Other songs such as ‘Promises’ and ‘Strength, Courage and Wisdom’ also have positive messages and catchy tunes. I don’t think brave lyrics have to mean boring songs, and India proves this time and time again.

    I was truly horrified to read the Eminem lyrics on your blog. No matter what the Journal of Applied Social Psychology report said, if people are exposed to the same message over and over again, surely it begins to normalise what is being said, in some way desensitising the listener, and thus potentially effecting their behaviour.

    As an example, I was out dancing with a girlfriend a few months ago. An activity that we rarely have the chance to partake in, but one that we both enjoy as it’s such great exercise, and a good stress reliever. However, on this night, within five minutes of stepping onto the dancefloor, a young guy drunkardly staggered towards my friend and said “Do you want a f**k?” What….???????????

    Obviously I have no idea if this ‘charming young gentleman’ was an Eminem fan, but it does beg the question: When did it become OK for guys to approach young women, who were dancing happily by themselves, and use this as their opening line?

    I really hope that a day for reclaiming the music for women becomes a reality.

    Please: Reclaim the music, and reclaim the dancefloor!

  13. Claire Clements

    On last week’s episode of ‘At the Movies’, David Stratton introduced Dr Seuss’ ‘Horton Hears A Who’ saying that he wished the songs played in the cinema before the film began had not ruined it for him by playing an R rated song strewn with profanities before a G rated film in a cinema full of kids!!

    Nice to know the cinemas are providing good family music to listen to. :S

  14. Melinda Liszewski

    I was always skeptical about the dove ads. They blew their own horn about using curvy women, freckled women…pfft! big deal. They’ve still got them in their knickers, in sultry poses. It’s like they’re saying “look, larger/freckled women are shaggable too.” Great! I feel so much better now that we have found a way to objectify all of us. *sarcasm*

    further to this, I’m so sick of the line “this is toungue in cheek” to defend their advertising. We who are upset get accused of having no sense of humour. If you hear the same joke over and over, is it still funny? If you are the object of that joke and you hear it over and over, wouldn’t you start to feel insecure, threatened, humiliated? As a woman, I am sick of being the butt of a joke that has lasted for decades. Can we please get a different joke…please!? So that I can feel safe again?

  15. Excellent point Melinda! Isn’t it interesting that if a man told a sexist joke in the workplace, he would be in all sorts out of strife – yet these Lynx advertisments can come into our homes at any hour and “joke” away implying that all HOT women have inner strippers just waiting to be unleashed…and we are powerless to complain?

  16. Melinda Liszewski

    Hi Danni, love the blog!

    yes it is really disturbing that our next generation of boys is growing up with this idea that we are all complete nymphos with no standards for us, or them.

    I just watched the bow chika wah wahs……Danni, who do I see about getting that 2 minutes of my life back? I’m gobsmacked! So Pathetic! I don’t even know where to begin with commenting on that video!

  17. Quite often I find myself not knowing “where to begin!”. I usually have a coffee, a chocolate and just START! There is magic in beginning.

    When this post was shared on popular web site “On Line Opinion”, I was dismissed as ( and I am paraphrasing here) “out of touch with modern music and humour” and I was reduced to a “feminist cry baby.” LOVED these comment there too – “she must have really low self esteem to let this worry her…” “Just turn off the radio.”

    Ahhhh….thank goodness for the breathtaking Richard Ecksley’s book “Well and Good”. I have just discovered this; in it he makes many of the same points about the dangers inherent in some song lyrics and demonstrates connections between these misogynist tirades and the increase in teenage gang rapes amongst other disturbing signs of a society that is not well, nor good for all women at all times. He says that despite the criticisms that may be thrown at those that choose to speak up, when you fight – you ultimately win!

    WE all need to speak up and call the inappropriate when we see it or hear it. As a society, we must set boundaries.

    This is not Ok, and it is not funny.

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