Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Sexualization of Women in Music Videos

"Sex Sells"

The sexualization of women in the media has become an intricate part of our society--whether it is in advertisements, magazines, commercials... or even music videos. After making their debut on MTV in the early 1980s, the popularity of music videos has dramatically increased. As this new medium became a more integral part of the music industry, the roles that women played have changed over time. Whether they are the lead singers or back-up dancers, women are sexualized now more than ever. While sex appeal was once considered a bonus for a woman, it is now practically a requirement.

There has been much speculation and examination of the way women are portrayed in rap and hip hop videos, particularly following rapper Nelly's Tip Drill music video that showed naked women dancing and humping throughout various scenes. In Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex, & Power in Music Videos, Sut Jhally, a Professor of Communications at the University of Massachusetts analyzes the representation and portrayal of women in music videos. He points out that women are usually "barely dressed" or wearing "low-cut and skimpy tops, stockings, lingerie, and bikinis" when they are dressed. In addition to this, women often outnumber men while performing provocatively for the cameras by touching themselves, the male artists, or other women. Jhally suggests that this highly sexualized fantasy world has set the standard for women on the music scene, forcing women to promote their bodies and looks in order to become successful.

I found it interesting that in this video, as well as other sources that analyze the negative portrayal of women in music videos, most of the blame is placed on male musicians who benefit from the degradation of women in their videos. Most, if not all focused on how women are shown as objects, as parts, and as accessories, as well as how poorly the men treat them. However, I realized that the blame was only one-sided. Now, it can be argued that women musicians seem to be just as caught up in this obsession of sex. Once, women rap pioneers of the 70s and 80s had a tomboy image or showcased their femininity in a non-sexy way. For example, It was never about their physical appearance, rather about their music. However, today, women musicians sexualize and exploit themselves, as seen in Beyonce's Video Phone music video and Keri Hilson's The Way You Love Me video.

- 1980s -

- 1990s -

- 2000s -

- 2010s -

All of this has led women to become desensitized to the fact that this sexualization is degrading instead of empowering. A study by the San Francisco-based Women's Foundation of California found that teens believe that"highly sexualized images are 'no big deal,' a part of their daily life, what they expect to see on television and in magazines."