The Case of a “Material Girl”: to What Extent May the Role of Women in Popular Music Be Considered as Stereotypical?

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The case of a “material girl”: to what extent may the role of women in popular music be considered as stereotypical? The “Material Girl” is a stereotype which originated with the likes of Marilyn Monroe in the 50’s and 60’s of the “...conniving blond bombshell..” (Walters; 1995; p45). The idea that women are sexual objects, worshipped and enjoyed for their image and sexuality, and are only in the public eye to entertain men, has almost always been at the forefront of the image portrayed by women in popular music. This runs along with the often-held opinion that if you are an attractive female musician, you are unintelligent: discussing Shakira, Jones (2012) states that “If you are blonde, pretty and a pop star, especially if you are a pop star who also knows how to belly dance, the chances are you’re stupid.” Women have historically been viewed as the inferior sex and many female artists and songwriters are not doing a great deal to help counter this opinion. One example of this is Taylor Swift, one of the most successful young country singers. Her self penned songs are “...known to reflect her thoughts and feelings at a point in time. Yet, the underlying message (from the gender studies perspectives) in her songs (and music videos) generally point men superior to women; women as the inferior gender.” (Myidisorgange; 2011) Even in classical music, this inferior stereotype is present. In her book Feminine Endings, McClary outlines the Masculine and Feminine Cadence: “A cadence or ending is called “masculine” if the final chord of a phrase or section occurs on a strong beat and “feminine” is it is postponed to fall on a weak beat.” (McClary; 1991; p9) If women are writing song lyrics which support the inferior stereotype, and classical music definitions are also supporting the inferior stereotype, there is perhaps little hope for change. This essay will discuss to what extent women in popular music have conformed to the stereotypes outlined above. It will consider : why female musicians are under represented; what women have done to promote their place in music; and what women are doing to conform to the stereotype. It will feature example of female musicians and performers who both conform and do not conform to the stereotypes, and will discuss whether, if we look past the external image, these performers are actually stereotypical “material girls”. Throughout music history, women have been notoriously under represented in the music world, particularly in the field of popular music. The first section of this essay will discuss: whether the music industry presents equal opportunities for both genders; the way in which each gender is perceived through media and press coverage; why the majority of notable women in the music business are of a young age; and obstacles faced by women in bands. Music education is taught in schools from the early years, and both genders are presented with equal opportunities to develop musical ability and talent. This equality is continued through secondary school and in most cases onto further education. Drawing from my own

experiences: my high school jazz band had an almost equal ratio of male to female musicians, the same applied to my Popular Music HNC (10 males and 8 females). If we consider the fact that there appears to be equal opportunities for men and women to study, train and develop as performers at school and university then why is it an industry which is predominantly male driven? Bjorck (2011; p8) gives her views on this: “...the conclusion must be that men’s outnumbering women in such practices reflects either greater interest or greater capabilities among men compared to women.” Women are most specifically under represented when it comes to playing instruments in bands. “...women are in a definite minority in all positions, except for that of a vocalist.” (Bjorck; 2011; p10) To add to this point, there are many who believe that the presence of a female musician, particularly in a rock...
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