sexist music is sexist

Where I take songs/bands/music I know and possibly even love, and tear them apart with feminism. What can I say? I'm a masochist.

The Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know?

Ok, so this is the music video that inspired me to start this blog:

So I started this video thinking ‘Ok, so that’s cool. But it’s getting a little boring and repetitive. Is something else going to happen?’

Then I got to 1:34.

In which I started thinking ‘Oh no, that’s not where they’re going to go, is it?’

It was.

So you might be wondering what exactly I think is so bad about this video. I mean, it’s got plenty of likes on YouTube, it’s cool, it’s sexy, it’s even sort of witty. Well all of those I agree with. What I want to know is this; what was it about this song that required a video involving illustrations of sexualised, identikit women dancing all over the place?

For those who don’t know much about gender theory, this video is a textbook example of something called the male gaze. The male gaze is where we see something filmed (or in this case, illustrated) through the perspective of what the media think men want to see. This below is a fantastic explanation of the male gaze and its problems, in which the creator explains it all a lot better than I’d be able to:

Thank you, rantasmo!

So that video mentioned a technique known as fragmentation. This, as explained, is where we see lots of fragmented shots of body parts, usually of women. This tends to force the viewer to see women not for their intelligence or their personality, but for their body and whether that body is appealing or not.

The problem with this video is that that fragmentation is used in abundance. It’s a pretty common thing in music videos, as we’ll see as I work my way through other singers and bands. Here are some examples of the use of fragmentation in the video:

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So this is the first cartoon women to appear, and doesn’t she look happy to be there, all smiling and- oh wait, no. Of course, you can’t see her face, only her legs, which are astride this rolling tyre. So ten points for who can decode this enigma of an innuendo. Phallic imagery is common in visual media, with objects such as trains, buildings, cigarettes and in this case a tyre being used to symbolise the male genitalia. What this tells us in this instance is that we apparently have to judge whether music is good enough to buy based on how sexually proficient the musician is. This is mostly a technique used in music made by men, but it can also crop up in music made by women too, which I’m sure we’ll cover at some point.

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Here we have lots of girls rolling tyres (this video also has a bit of a car theme going on) and they all look exactly the same. I don’t know if the artist just couldn’t be bothered with variety, but to me this just says the band (and in turn, the viewer) are only attracted to one type of woman, and this is what she looks like. How very limiting.

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I feel like this image sort of speaks for itself here. One thing I would like to add, though, is that this shot goes at the same time as these lyrics:

“Been wondering if you’re heart’s still open
And if so I wanna know what time it shuts”

I’m guessing that’s supposed to be somehow witty, but all it ends up doing (for me at least) is making me imagine this woman’s legs as some kind of unglamorous newsagent’s that closes at five. I don’t think that’s quite the image they wanted there. As well as that, the relation between sex and work this comparison connotes also makes me think of prostitution. Now, I’m no expert on the rockstar lifestyle, but surely the whole message you’d want to convey is that women are throwing themselves at you? You don’t really want to make it sound like you have to pay them.

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More fragmentation here, both of course completely unnecessary.

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The Arctic Monkeys clearly loved this image, because it’s the album cover of this single. A naked, illustrated woman in a compromising position. How refreshing.

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More phallic imagery, again showing the band’s sexual prowess and luck with the ladies. The cigarette is the textbook example of phallic imagery, used in films, television, advertising and, of course, music videos. In many instances, at least, it is used to connote sexual availability. There aren’t many older women on television that we see smoke, as they are considered by the media to be sexually unavailable. Anyway, back to the image; the lady depicted in the image at least seems to look a bit more specific than the army of clones we saw earlier, despite being fragmented and sexualised by that cigarette (can you tell I’m a non-smoker?)

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And this, again, is a textbook example of fragmentation. This particular position also make us only really relate these women to sex, which is incredibly limiting. However, as mentioned by rantasmo in the video earlier, it does put us in the viewpoint of  the band, which does help to sell the song, although in a rather crude, predictable way.

The video concludes itself in some kind of bizarre, drug fueled haze, which shows plenty of images of women and cars. This is a demonstration of the sort of James Bond-like lifestyle to which apparently all men should aspire. In fact, the whole video seems like some kind of weird straight white teenage boy fantasy, which I’m sure sells well to those who fit that description.

But why is all that necessary to sell their music? What does glamourising that sort of fantasy lifestyle do to people? And what about the rest of us, who aren’t attracted to women and/or identify as female? Is that what we are supposed to look like? Or what we are supposed to do?

To any that, after all that, still want to say things like ‘it’s empowering!’ and ‘why does this matter?’, think of how differently we’d take this video if a man was being sexualised in the same way. It would seem ridiculous, wouldn’t it? That’s because we don’t see it very often, and when we do it is certainly not in that way. I can’t call to mind any piece of media that visually fragments the body of a man in the same way. And that, my friends, is why we need feminism.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Onwards and upwards!

Hello and Welcome!

So something occurred to me very late last night, as I was trying to get to sleep (isn’t that always the way?)

I was watching the music video to my favourite band’s new song, and let me tell you there was a lot of material there that got my brain whirring. Recently I’ve been very interested in feminism and feminist theory, and this video set off sexist alarm bells in my head in a way that would never have happened before I started thinking about feminism.

Then, before I knew it, I was constructing an entire essay in my head about the band’s entire discography and sexism, and I felt that it needed to be written. Somewhere. And, you guessed it, that somewhere is here.

So before we get started, I’d like to add a few disclaimers:

  • I won’t love every singer or band that I look at, and I’ll make it very apparent which ones I love and which ones I don’t. But just because I like a band or singer doesn’t mean they are not sexist, and I’m fully aware of that.
  • Just because a band or singer is problematic does not mean they aren’t good. Many things in the media contain sexism, whether noticeable or subtle, but if we all stopped watching/listening/reading anything that might be sexist, we’d be very bored people.
  • I like discussion. Please feel free to tell me if you disagree with me, I love seeing other people’s points of view. However, I don’t have time for trolls, spam or people who want an argument rather than a discussion/debate. There is a difference.
  • I’m open to suggestions. If you see a music video or hear a song that you find problematic, please let me know and I’ll try and add it to my very long list 🙂

Music is such a huge part of our daily lives, from listening to it by choice, or by accident. It’s played in homes, in cars, in shops, in restaurants, at parties, in clubs. What kind of subliminal messages do your favourite songs send you?

Now that all of that’s cleared up, shall we begin?