As our generation has moved towards being even more progressive, we have seen a change in the tone of lyrics in some of our favorite genres of music. In the past, from pop music to rap, there has often been an undertone of misogyny and degradation, so this new empowering style has been welcomed with open arms. However, sometimes these attempts at feminist or empowering songs have, for lack of better phrasing, missed their mark. So what are the arguments for and against the underlying feminist messages in the songs that are commonly labeled feminist or antifeminist?
1.Before He Cheats – Carrie Underwood
A common theme in this song is the idea of not letting men walk all over you, which is honestly fantastic. It is a good message to send to young girls that you must stand up for yourself and that you deserve to be treated well (ie. not cheated on); however, this song does have some misgivings. In the music video, as well as within the lyrics, this gorgeous country pop star is portrayed as a crazed and scorned woman. While it is okay to be both, it gives women somewhat of a negative image. It basically promotes that if you are mistreated by a man, you have to key his car, further amplifying negative stereotypes of women. It also promotes the idea that we live for men, which is simply not true. Lastly, this song displays Underwood calling her ex-boyfriend’s new interest a tramp and cheap, which promotes competition between women. This perspective is incredibly unhealthy to place in the minds of young girls and is part of the main issue of bullying among middle school and high school girls…they have to get these messages from somewhere.
2. Dear Future Husband – Meghan Trainor
The positive behind this song, again, is that Meghan Trainer is standing up for herself. She knows what she wants and is going for it – I mean who am I to say that the 50’s stereotype of women is something that no woman should want? However, she does say that she is always right and leaves no room for what her partner might want. Those are signs of an unhealthy relationship and send a dangerous message her listeners. She is also very demanding and is presenting a poor image of what marriage might be, joking about exchanging sexual favors for compliments. Honestly, I hope this song is a satire, but given many of Trainor’s other songs, I’m not so sure.
3. Can’t Hold us Down – Christina Aguilera
This song is one that I think gets overlooked on a regular basis. Released in 2002, this song was ahead of its time and promoted many positive aspects of feminism. Aguilera shoots down the ideas that she shouldn’t speak her mind simply just because she’s a woman. Throughout the song, the lyrics combat the patriarchy. She even says, “This is for my girls all around the world.” Honestly, the only thing missing from this song for me is intersectionality, but hey we can’t win them all. This song is one you can blast in your car on a sunny day after someone just completely disregarded you because you’re a woman, and you’ll feel completely empowered.
4. The Fear – Lilly Allen
This song starts out on an off-note: Allen says she wants to be rich and she doesn’t care about the guy’s personality traits. However, diving deeper into the meaning of the song, we see that this song is a complete satire and a commentary on our current societal climate and how fixated on material things we have become. If you were to simply listen to the lyrics and not really look past the surface level, it would be easy to hear this song as anti-feminist and demeaning, but looking beyond you see that it can actually be pretty empowering and shows an interesting message.
Whether or not songs are feminist or anti-feminist, music and pop culture have become important and powerful tools in reflecting the values of society. Rock on, collegiettes!