What’s wrong with being confident? You’re gonna hear me roar. I dream it, I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it.
Rallying cries of the modern American woman? No, just recent lyrics by some of the world’s hottest pop stars. Demi Lovato’s done being cool for the summer and Katy Perry is so over kissing a girl. And Beyoncé already told us that girls run the world. So are we just living in a time when female artists are becoming socially aware or are we just becoming more sensitive to it?
According to Dustin Kidd, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies of the Sociology Department at Temple University, there’s really nothing new about women singing songs with empowering lyrics. He lists Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” in 1966 as a prime example. Of course, Madonna has been pushing the envelope with her lyrics for decades. And we can’t forget the Lilith Fair concert tour that started in 1997, named after the mythical first wife of Adam who refused to be obedient or inferior to him.
Kidd states that society is in part to blame. “The question is really why have we been so slow to listen to their music and let them challenge our social hierarchies, including the patriarchy,” he tells SWAAY. “The reason first is that men have a lot to lose and therefore work hard to ridicule and undermine messages that empower women.”
He adds that sexism often goes hand-in-hand with racism, class inequality, and other systems of oppression so many “privileged” women may be worried about when it comes to dismantling the current status quo. “Tremendous cultural and economic forces are working against these messages of empowerment,” Kidd says.
The difference now is the visibility of our current pop sensations.
But that doesn’t mean that these inspiring lyrics can’t or won’t have a real impact on today’s women. Especially in the wake of the recent election where America had its first female presidential candidate to be nominated by a major U.S. political party, many women and men are having their preconceived notions of the status quo challenged.
Kidd believes that messages in pop culture become resources to help us frame our behavior and how we confront certain situations.
“If all the messages you hear frame a woman's purpose and identity in terms of a romantic relationship, then a break-up is likely to be devastating,” says Kidd. “But if some of those songs also tell her that she is strong and that relationships do not make or break her, then she has access to an alternative message that may help her confront a difficult situation.”
And a major difference between now and when Nancy Sinatra, a young Madonna, or even Ani Di Franco were shouting their messages from the roof, or MTV, is social media. Thanks to the advent and extreme growth of social media (in various forms and aimed at multiple generations), music is like an octopus with tentacles into everyone, everywhere, and at all times.
So maybe recent events have us opening up our ears a little more to what our favorite singers are proclaiming, but Kidd says that while the topic of empowering lyrics is very important, it’s really nothing new. Now it’s just up to us to figure out what to do with them.
Here at SWAAY we believe anything that raises conversation or pushes the needle, even slightly, is part of the solution towards gender equality. We hope women entertainers continue riding the empowerment wave, and release music and music videos that raise us up, one song at a time.
WRITTEN BYFelissa Allard