Gender and sexuality in popular music

Topics: Gender, Heavy metal music, Masculinity Pages: 5 (1487 words) Published: September 29, 2013
Without a doubt, popular music is a primary, if not the primary, leisure resource in late modern society.
- Andy Bennett

As Bennett (2001) implies, and as supported by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s study “Generation m2”, teenagers spend on average 2.20 hours listening to music. Its importance lies not only in providing for a mass market but also its ability to reflect and express popular culture. The perpetuation of popular music to be able to serve as a timeline; the protest songs of the 1960’s, the rock hits of the 1970’s, the power ballads of the 1980’s, k-pop today, not only acknowledges the issues of then, but also addresses, even if indirectly, the issues of today’s society. This essay will attempt to explore the capital issue of gender and sexuality which encompass the notion of normality (what is assumed to be right and/or wrong) within popular music. This will be uncovered through gendered identities that will explain masculinity and femininity as enactments of transgression and identity and furthermore, the dominant ideology of gender roles in romance which, using examples from modern day popular music, conveys the man as a pursuer of sex and woman as the pursued but more interested in love and romance. These factors are dependent upon genre and will therefore also be discussed. The purpose of genre, according to Walser, is to organise the reproduction of a particular ideology. Gender, as defined by Christenson and Peterson, is central to the ways in which popular music is used and tastes are organised. The irony suggested here reinforces that the same way we assume a system or structure that organises genres into coherent music groups, so can popular music be an instrument of organising individuals and groups as part of a larger but prejudiced society. Herein, looking at the writings of Walser (1993), Christenson & Peterson (1988), and Maus (2012), I will show how popular music can be transgressive not only through the gender dynamics found specifically within the heavy metal and hip-hop genres but also how these influences come to shape perceptions for the perpetuation of gender and sexuality in society. To examine the ways in which popular music is used as a way of addressing these issues, the concepts of gender and sexuality must first be distinctly defined. According to Zemke (2013) sexuality is ‘what you biologically are; male or female according to what your genitalia looks like’. Gender, on the other side is ‘nothing to do with male or female counterparts but the way you are taught to act’. Understanding this, I will be addressing gender in the form of gender identities and sexuality through what society assumes and sometimes accuses, of both male and female sexes in popular music. Walser’s (1993) approach to popular music in ‘Forging Masculinity’ focuses on heavy metal as a discourse shaped by patriarchy. The TV show ‘The A-Team’ is presented as an example of the ideal world without women, which allows for an interpersonal dependency among the members of a ‘hero team’ that serves as a masculine performance. Heavy metal promoted traditional notions of male power and the subordination of women and homosexuals. This can be supported by Harrison’s statement on patriarchal power within popular music which refers to the fact that men have ‘historically and traditionally dominated culture and have been privileged by it’ (2008). However, it must be noted that heavy metal has also had a significant effect on gay communities (Gay Metal Society) women and primarily androgynous individuals which illustrates that not only has popular music, via metal, become a site for the perpetuation of what was assumed to be morally right but has also created these gendered identities by which they have come to be known by. Walser explains that masculinity, like popular music, has the inability to be stable, consistent or ‘natural’ which ‘produces the need for its constant reachievement’. The development of heavy metal is,...

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Barbara Bradby
Wells, A. (1990). Popular Music: Emotional Use and Management. The Journal of Popular Culture, 24: 105–117. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-3840.1990.00105.x
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Schmutz, V., & Faupel, A. (2010). Gender and Cultural Consecration in Popular Music. Social Forces 89(2): 685-707. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from Project MUSE database.
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