By Maggie Juliano
Charlotte Church has something to tell you about the music industry. And honestly, it’s about way more than the music industry. Church recently stirred headlines with a lecture at BBC 6 Music’s annual John Peel Lecture, named after a groundbreaking English DJ and inaugurated by Pete Townsend. Taking a long distance view of the lecture series, it’s been about older white guys talking about the state of the music industry (will radio survive the internet?). Enter Church, whose speech is available both on the BBC site as well as here, who let loose on women in the music industry.
Church’s discussion was as nuanced as it was confrontative. Where others may say, “the music industry objectifies women” Church goes beyond that. Her take home points are that “[the music industry] is a male-dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.” She went on to say that women in music are limited to three roles, one of the girls girls, where women interact only with other women, as a way to get away from the evils of men; the Victim/Torch Singer, where women bemoan the hurt and pain caused to them by men; or the Unattainable Sexbot. Church takes on the idea that those in the industry claim this is empowering to women, by showing their sexualized bodies (think Miley Cyrus) as a way to show that they have arrived or are adults. Church herself is confrontative and at last count had issued at least three apologies for insulting the pope, the queen of England and Americans after the September 11th attacks.
What’s particularly disturbing about Church’s discussion is how she was pressured into the role of hyper sexualized unattainable woman. Let’s pause for a moment: Charlotte Church was the adorbs little girl who sang classical music like an angel. She got her start at age 11. Some of us only know her as that cute little kid with the great voice, though she left classical for pop music in 2005 at the age of 19. So, similar to the Disney Kids – Miley, Christina Aguilera, Britney – at some point she had to erase the cute little kid singing in church image from our heads and replace it with something else. And Church sets forth that she was pressured into showing more and more of her body. But she argues that what started as showing an artist as in control of her sexuality has now “had its corners rounded off over the years, and has become, ‘take your clothes off, show you’re an adult.’”
Unlike the criticism aimed at Miley Cyrus’s attempt to take this to its zenith by being as naked as possible on an awards show, Church’s point is that all of this skin showing and banal sexuality makes men loads of money. “It is a multi-billion dollar business that relies upon short-burst messaging to sell product. And there’s no easier way to sell something than to get some chick to get her tits out, right?… the end point is women being coerced into sexually demonstrative behavior in order to hold onto their careers.”
And it’s not just about how women appear in music videos for male groups. Female artists were even more likely to objectify themselves than male artists were to objectify female characters in their music.
Church points to the sad fact that women don’t hold positions of power in the industry, reciting the following statistics: “As a society, we have a lack of comfort in seeing women in these ultimate, authority roles. Out of 295 acts and artists in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, 259 are entirely male, meaning that Tina Weymouth’s part in Talking Heads makes them one of the 36 female acts. The Association of Independent Music’s 2012 membership survey revealed that only 15 percent of label members are majority-owned by women. PRS claims that only 13 percent of writers registered are female.”
She goes on to address the Cyrus/O’Connor dispute, comments by Nikki Minaj about the double standard set for women (“when I’m assertive, I’m a bitch, when a man is assertive, he’s a boss”), and Annie Lennox’s call for a ratings system in videos to screen out those that are darkly pornographic. It’s no coincidence that videos liken to porn, as porn directors often cross over into music videos. She notes, however, that the recent director of the most egregious videos demeaning women (think “Blurred Lines”) is a woman.
Church ends her speech by calling for a support of Lennox’s idea on a ratings system, stating “[i]f the power was taken away from sex in pop by making it harder for younger viewers to access it, then maybe the focus would shift to making works of artistic beauty and conscience.”
Church’s points are vital, and in more than just the music industry. Viewing these videos affects how we view and treat women. In a 2011 study, researchers found that “that participants who viewed music videos of highly objectified female artists reported more adversarial sexual beliefs, more acceptance of interpersonal violence, and, at a level of marginal significance, more negative attitudes about sexual harassment than participants assigned to low-sexual objectifying music videos by the same female artist.”
By day, Maggie is a mild-mannered attorney who used to be the Director of Sprout Yoga, a nonprofit dedicated to Yoga for Eating Disorders. By night, Maggie works on many projects to empower women globally and right here in the USA, including Someday Sophie. She is the author of the blog www.ayearwithnogoals.