Popping The Question: Is Music Too Patriarchal?

It’s certainly not unique to the music business that the most important and influential jobs are held by men, in fact it’s probably better than most industries, but that doesn’t change the fact that almost every aspect of music has a male bias. However, that doesn’t mean we girls should be moaning – after all, we are allowed (in fact it is expected of us) to like pop music, while boys are expected to like totally boring genres like rap and rock, and only the least exciting dance music. Hello, I think we win! Imagine having to pretend to only be watching Girls Aloud videos cos they’re good looking, how awful.

However, as much as it is expected for girls to like pop, there is still pressure (and it seems to be increasing) from the males who make out that the music they have associated themselves with is superior, and girls are made to feel inferior for liking the music which the men themselves have assigned to us, in an accidental moment of great selflessness. There are branches of pop music which are definitely more aimed at men than women, but they are in the minority and usually suggest a rather insulting attitude of “we’re so cool that we can even make pop good” (a bit like heterosexual boys wearing pink), when in fact their music, although better than the average “man music” (a silly name, hence my using it!) is still nothing on ‘proper pop’ – surely a term Britney has more right to than Muse?

Of course, gay men, who stereotypically love pop music more than most teenage girls, don’t fit this argument at all, but it’s the same for most sociological arguments of patriarchy. Gay men, according to a sociologist called Messerschmidt, are like men of ethnic minorities in that they have to find an alternative way of asserting their masculinity, and with music it seems to be through rejecting the music of heterosexual men. However, I have always considered the gay male appreciation of pop music to be more linked to a) their lack of typically masculine attributes meaning they identify more with women and b) anyone who is openly gay (to himself as much as to others) has reached a level of self-realisation where they can be true to themself and are past the need to hide what they like, even if it’s seen as uncool.

The attitude to music of young girls and boys seems to be very different as well, with boys being encouraged to like “authentic” rock/indie etc. music while girls, at least when I was growing up, were presented with highly commercialised (suggesting a belief that girls will fall for every marketing trick in the book), safe (we must protect our innocent daughters from the evils of swearing and sex, but it’s fine for the boys?) pop acts. Again, the patriarchy gave us an accidental gift! But increasingly girls are being recruited to the dark side of serious musicianship, with bands like Busted promoting authenticity to a young age group.

Busted themselves were fine – they were fun and great for kids, but they promoted that attitude and instead of their fans moving onto other fun pop acts after Busted split up, they moved onto what they had been brainwashed to believe was ‘proper’ music, leading to the travesty that is the UK’s teenage population listening to Green Day, and now Fall Out Boy and their deafness-inducing ilk. However, girls in their later teens may be as much in love with these bands as their younger sisters, but mention the Spice Girls and they’ll all be singing Wannabe with a nostalgic smile – you can move on to ‘better’ things but an obsession with a particular pop band will never completely leave you.

Because of the way music was marketed to girls growing up in the 80s and 90s (and maybe earlier – my knowledge is limited), there definitely seems to be a lack of girls who are really involved in music, and this is quite evident on the Internet. Visit a fan forum for a particular male artist and you’ll be met with hoardes of women obsessing over the man’s every action, yet take a browse through a few of the most popular music blogs and you’ll find a plethora of men of around the same age as those women dissecting every note of their favourite band’s latest song, and you’ll be lucky if you even get a picture of the artist. While girls were brought up with Smash Hits-style fawning over every little detail of pop stars’ lives (and this is great fun – I’d never knock it), with the music coming second, the music-focussed media aimed at boys was exactly that – about the music, and everything else about the acts was ignored (although this is hardly surprising when there is so little else to remark about these guitar-obsessed losers anyway).

There are pros and cons to both attitudes, and personally I like to approach music with a mix of the two. While I love to read about the often hilarious things my favourite artists get up to and it can very much add to my appreciation of the acts, I can’t bring myself to like a band if the music isn’t very good, and I do my very best to listen to new songs without prejudice and if I enjoy them I will recognise that. I also recognise that I have been conditioned to see things from a pop perspective, and perhaps the fact that I have stuck with it makes me more brainwashed than anyone else, but I just couldn’t imagine myself not loving pop music and since it brings me so much joy I don’t want to be unbrainwashed any time soon.

I also think that the way female artists have often been discredited or marginalised has led to them making the most brilliant music of all, because the women who fight their way through the brainwashed bores are truly passionate about their music and are certainly not the easily-controllable wimps that the men at the top of the musical chain of being seem to believe. If Chris Martin and Cheryl Tweedy got into a fight, I know whose side I’d be on!

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