With the ever-changing climate of the United States comes a constant need to revisit and update existing information. Examples can be seen with technology, disease control and prevention, and environmental awareness. Though progress has been made in various areas, there still remains work to be done. As an example, certain problematic issues, despite worldly advancements, have maintained an unresolved status. Obviously, some issues are exceptionally difficult, making their solutions nearly impossible. Therefore, it comes as a surprise that proper female representation in music videos remains a topic of concern. From Nelly’s “Tip Drill” to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, there has yet to be a change in how females are primarily portrayed in this art-form. Is this matter so difficult that finding a resolution has joined the ranks of problems such as HIV/AIDS and inner-city homelessness?
One may initially think that proper female representation in music videos is not a big deal. However, studies have shown that negative stereotypes exhibited in this art-form may contribute to how society views females, both in terms of looks and behaviors. Ward, Hansbrough, and Walker (2005) state that for women in music videos, “analyses indicate that their treatment is predominately condescending and sexist, with a focus almost exclusively on their physical appearance and sexual appeal” (Ward, Hansbrough, & Walker, 2005, p. 145). A musical genre known for regularly displaying women is such fashion is hip-hop. Oftentimes, hip-hop music videos portray females, black females in particular, as decorative items designed to please and entice men. This, in turn, has led some viewers to think of women as “endlessly sexually available” objects. Balaji (2010) states “physicality is emphasized in the Western construction of the Black woman, which negates any emotional or intellectual worth” (Balaji, 2010, p. 6).
Music videos are an extremely important area of focus since they are popular with younger viewers. Themes and portrayals may play a key role in their development since “conceptions about gender role norms are acquired early and expeditiously” (Ward et al., 2005, p. 143). Black children and teens have been known to consume more media than any other ethnic group, even after controlling for socioeconomic status. Images of black male-female relations in hip-hop music videos often depict “heterosexual relationships as adversarial, equating sex with power and status, and characterizing sex as a sporting event” (Ward et al., 2005, p. 147). This could lead to potentially dangerous life situations, seeing that black youth, specifically males, may not receive proper education regarding sexual relationships. These young black boys will most likely grow into “miseducated” adults who partake in harmful sexual behaviors. A report published by the CDC shows that about 21.2 percent of non-Hispanic black women are raped each year, while another 38.2 percent indicate having experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes. While factors other than music videos contribute to crime such as those aforementioned, mass media and television are likely to play a significant role.
Balaji (2010) furthermore asserts that the images of black women in music videos, represented as the property of male rappers, prevail upon the mainstream certain ideals about blackness and being feminine. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health once found that black girls who view more rap videos have a higher chance of getting into trouble with the law, taking drugs, and becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, a study conducted by Ward et al. (2005) found that music video exposure may potentially contribute to the shaping of young viewers’ beliefs regarding how women should look, act and behave. Adams-Bass, Bentley-Edwards, and Stevenson (2014) assert there is some indication that black girls do not consider their families as a primary source of support when confronted with stressful life events during adolescence. Therefore, young black girls may be more likely to view music videos as an informative source.
The wrongful representation of black females in hip hop music videos, in addition to misinforming the black community, seems to have influenced the way other music videos showcasing different genres of music view black females as well. As an example, Miley Cyrus’s video for her single “We Can’t Stop” (a pop song) showcases black females twerking, a sexually suggestive dance, in scenes that are separate from the rest of the video’s story. Interestingly enough, in these scenes Miley herself is seen twerking as well. While the unnamed black female dancers are most likely viewed as props in the background, Miley herself is often praised for her attempts at imitating this type of dance (which began in the black community). Another example that has raised controversy regarding the negative portrayal of black female dancers comes from a 2014 pop music video by Taylor Swift, called “Shake It Off”. The list goes on and on…
All in all, this post is not stating that every music video showcasing scantily clad or sexual females should be banned or changed. Instead, the music video industry, artists, and video directors must work to change how females, especially black females, are largely represented. More videos should depict females as human beings rather than wordless sexual objects. For females as a whole, this would hopefully lead to an appreciation beyond their physique. With regards to black females, better representation in music videos could help thwart a history of racial oppression.
**Let us know what you think! Do you agree with what we discussed? What solutions do you think might work to help the music video industry better represent females?
Adams-Bass, V., Bentley-Edwards, K., & Stevenson, H. (2014). That’s not me i see on tv…: African American youth interpret media images of black females. Women, Genger, and Familes of Color, 2(1), 79-100. doi: 10.1353/wgf.2014.0000.
Adams-Bass, V., Stevenson, H., & Kotzin, D. (2014). Measuring the meaning of black media stereotypes and their relationship to the racial identity, black history knowledge, and racial socialization of african american youth, Journal of Black Studies, 45(5), 367-395.
Balaji, M. (2010). Vixen resistin’. Journal of Black Studies, 41(1), 5-20. doi: 10.1177/0021934708325377.
Ward, L., Hansbrough, E., Walker, E. (2005). Contributions of music video exposure to black adolescents’ gender and sexual schemas. Journal of Adolescent Research, 20(2), 143-166. doi: 10.1177/0743558404271135.