While you have probably seen this subject plastered all over news sites for the past few days, it is no doubt that this year’s Grammy Awards has provided a moment during the announcement of winners that can be turned into an incisive commentary on our society and the ever-present need for women to be able to revel in recognition of their success.
Billie Eillish broke records this year by winning six Grammy awards: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Solo Performance — all at the age of 18.
However, the only thing that was perhaps more intriguing than watching a teenager be recognised with these awards in such a dramatic way, was her reaction to winning Song of the Year, as she was filmed crossing her fingers and whispering to herself, “please don’t be me.” Shen then went on to honour Ariana Grande in her speech, mentioning that Thank You, Next should have won the award. If this wasn’t enough, Billie Eilish went on to say “I’m not going to waste your time.”
This is a pretty interesting phenomenon for many reasons. Some may argue that it wasn’t really that deep, that Billie Eillish simply meant to honour someone she looked up to and genuinely wanted to express admiration, and that she had six speeches to give (so perhaps she did a good thing in keeping her speeches short and sweet). Of course, we can never know her true intentions or guess what she was feeling at the time, but I would argue that we can use this event to perhaps comment on a larger social issue: the issue of women being more reticent to celebrate their own achievements than men.
Many have pointed out that Billie Eillish may have been scared of her own success for fear of being attacked in the press, thus wishing to not give them the opportunity to attack her in any way. Yet, we do not see men being afraid of the same thing. It may honestly be that men are so often celebrated, particularly within this field, that it is deemed the norm for men — especially white men — to be recognised in excess by their peers. Whereas, it may be considered unusual for women to celebrate success on this level, so the press may be more engaged in hurtful debate surrounding the recipient of this success.
This greatly speaks to the fact that women often feel they do not deserve to be recognized, mainly because for a long time, we have not seen women be recognized in the same way that men have been. Even in the every day job market, if men aren’t qualified for a position they will still apply, whereas 70% of women will not. There is an expectation for men to succeed — even when frankly, they may be devoid of skill or talent. Yet, a woman who is clearly talented has trouble revelling in the success of her work.
Particularly when she is doing all of this under the ever-watchful male gaze.
Billie Eilish herself is an interesting figure who constantly plays on the male gaze and demonstrates its harmful perspective towards the perception of women in the media.
Famously, the artist wears baggy clothes in order to avoid being sexualized. Thus, we could argue she is constantly aware of how she is able to be undermined by the men around her who have the power to construct and mould her image, turning her into an object rather than a working artist. This can clearly be seen by the horrifying reactions to the singer posting photos of her on holiday, which spurred a wave of ‘news’ stories claiming she ‘stripped down’—instantly turning her into a sexual object.
In brief, she has to work harder to maintain her own image and to control her own journey. She feels that she has to dress a certain way and win a certain amount of awards, simply to placate the men around her so that they are decent towards her with their gaze, which never seems to fade away.
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