Pop Music and Gender Roles

Lately, I’ve noticed an alarming amount of pop songs (usually R & B or rap ) about the idea of (temporarily) switching gender roles. At first, I get REALLY excited, until I listen to the whole song and decide that it is superficial at best, and at worst it reinforces these stereotypes more than it honestly questions them. I know that pop music isn’t expected to change the way our society thinks about gender and that I probably have my hopes up because I listen to so many less known artsits that seem to put more thought into their lyrics, but I feel that a huge opprotunity is being missed with these attempts.

Two new songs that fit this current trend, as I see it are "If I Were a Boy" by Beyoncé and "Trading Places" by Usher. In the first, Beyoncé lays out what her life would look like if she were a boy (man?):

"If I were a boy, even just for a day

I’d roll out of bed in the morning and throw on what I wanted and go

Drink beer with the guys, and chase after girls

I’d kick it with who I wanted, and I’d never be confronted for it

Cause they stick up for me"

My intial response after hearing this on the radio for the first time was: But Beyoncé, I’m not a boy and I typically throw on jeans and a t-shirt everyday. And I drink beer. The rest of the song is bascially about how girls love so pure and true and all a guy does in a relationship is cheat and lie and go clubbing. Not only is it offensive to women who don’t sit around calling their boyfriends all the time in heels and fits of paranoia, it accuses all men (or boys) of fitting into this insensitive jerk prototype.

In the next song, Usher talks about wanting one night where his sexual partner and he can trade places. Awesome, I thought, Usher’s totally about to break through the idea that women are submissive in bed! Lo and behold, this song was more disturbing to me than the first one:

"Gon pay for dinner take me to see a movie

And whisper in my ear I bet you really wanna do me

Girl now take me home and get me up in Benz

Pour me a shot and force me to the bed


I’m always on top, tonite I’m on the bottom

Coz we trading places

When I can’t take no more, tell me you ain’t stopping

Coz we trading places

Now put it on me till I say OOO Weee

And tell me to shut up before the neighbors hear me

This is how it feels when you do it like me

We trading places."

Ok, breathe. I’m sure he isn’t REALLY asking his date to get him drunk and force him into bed like he would normally do at this point in the night…wait he is. Also, he wants her to continue having sex with him after he has told her to stop. And he wants to be told to shut up, as he would say to any woman who’s not holding back her vocal manifestations of pleasure. This would be appropriate only if the song was about S & M, where two people consent to rough or "rude" bed play. In the morning, Usher makes her breakfast, makes her bed, but then (confusingly) still takes her shopping. I thought she was being "The Man"? This song is wrong from the very beginning, when it is assumed that the only reason a woman would "get on top" is if she were acting like a man, because Usher told her to.

I’d like to see if any of you have noticed this trend, have thoughts about these two songs or any others that I might have missed. Makes me want to write rap song called "Being my Own Girl":

I don’t shave my legs, and still rockin’ skirts

Drinkin’ strait whiskey till my liver hurts

Just because I have short hair, don’t call me a dyke

And don’t honk or whistle at me when I’m riding my bike

If you can’t spell "Feminism", get away from me

Cause I don’t date men who are down with misogyny


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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