So I watched the VMAs last night, and I’m still pissed at Kanye West.1 I’ve been thinking about why I’m so upset all day, because until last night, I could not have named one Taylor Swift song. She’s been remarkably off my radar, considering I contribute to a blog about tween- and teen stars; I knew her name, knew what she looked like, but her music had made zero impression on me at all. So it isn’t even like I’m offended because I love her or her music particularly; I’m basically entirely indifferent to her. And obviously it was a totally dick move, wrong just because it was wrong, and it would have been wrong regardless of who he interrupted.
But it really, really bothered me. I think I finally got a bead on why: because female performers — especially young, female, pop performers — really don’t get much respect.
I think part of that is the genre generally. Pop music tends to be dismissed out of hand by many, many people, as “just” pop. Growing up loving boybands and Britney Spears, I’ve heard time and time again that pop stars just don’t have musical credibility, because they often don’t write the songs they perform. That has always struck me as utter bullshit because here’s the thing: writing music and singing are different skillsets. They are related, in that they both have to do with music, and one is often found in tandem with the other, but they don’t have to be. Honestly, when I’m listening to music, I rarely care who wrote it. I’m listening for performance; when I’m at a concert, I’m there to be entertained. I respect the people who do the writing and the producing, but they aren’t the ones who make the musical experience for me. Basically, what I want from a singer is that she be a good singer.2
And even were that not true, I think it’s important to remember that female entertainers are least likely to be given the creative freedom to do what they want. Another reason it’s easy to dismiss pop (and especially women in pop) is because it’s all about crafted image (though… what isn’t?). But, as Kelly Clarkson called out, the industry is a boy’s club, and people didn’t want to listen to her because she was young and female. If these young, female stars lack credibility because their images are so carefully crafted… Well, who is doing the crafting? And would these young women be given a chance to put themselves out there and make music at all if they didn’t submit to that image crafting?3
And of course, there’s the fact that pop music is fun. It’s not generally designed to be moving, or deep, or even Great Art. Pop is meant to be…popular. It is entertainment that does not strive to be anything but entertainment. And fun is often seen as frivolous.
So thought number one: pop musicians, especially young, female ones, don’t get much respect because they — and their genre — are seen as lacking credibility, even though that that’s an unfair statement.
But to go further with that, you know why else pop music is dismissed so easily? How about this one: because girls like it.
Seriously. This is not a terribly original thought, but it’s always run true to me. Speaking in broad cultural terms, things that guys value are considered normal; things that women value are seen as frivolous. To talk in clichés: sports vs. shopping. It’s not that every single person is accepting of guys who just want to watch the game (or get more fanatic about it); it’s that culturally, that’s considered normal. On the other hand, women shopping is a punchline, seen as silly. LOL ladies spending money on things like clothing and — hee hee hee — shoes! The attitude is derisive. Projects that are by women, for women, are written off as chick flicks (and chick lit). Women enjoying things by and for themselves is not particularly welcomed.4 Things by and for women are not particularly valued.
So you’ve got young female artists in a genre that isn’t considered credible, who are primarily popular with other young, female people and thus their art (even if it is not High Art) is easily dismissed. That upsets me. And even though I have just about no opinion on Taylor Swift, that moment at the VMAs pretty much encapsulated that mindset: young women and the things they value aren’t important, so an adult man felt it was entirely okay to interrupt a young woman who was receiving recognition for being good at what she does.
Obviously, there is a lot more to talk about than that, like how it also stole Beyonce’s moment and put her into the position of having to clean up someone else’s mess; whether or not people would be this outraged if a white man had done what Kanye did, or if it had been done to a black woman instead; and why MTV has an awards show to recognize outstanding music videos when it does not, in fact, play music videos.5 But that’s why the incident got to me, in particular. I love pop, and I love teen stars, and I absolutely hate how culturally disrespected they are.
One final note: I’ve had a couple of discussions today about how this is all actually good for Swift, because this has gotten her major exposure and made her a national figure of sympathy. I do get that, but I also think it’s important not lose track of the fact that Swift was getting national exposure and recognition for being good at her job, and that was ruined for her. I have no idea whether she’d trade in that moment of joy and respect for a larger moment of controversy and exposure — but I know I’d rather see a young woman get the respect she has earned than see her get humiliated. And I hope that she would feel the same.
- The short version, for those who don’t follow such things: Taylor Swift, a 19-year-old country (/pop crossover) singer-songwriter won the award for Best Female Video — her first VMA, a pretty big deal — Kanye West came up on stage, univited, took the mic out of her hand, and told the world that he thought Beyonce’s Single Ladies video was one of the “best videos of all time.” She was visibly crushed (reportedly cried backstage afterwards). Beyonce herself looked utterly horrified, and when she went up to accept her award for Best Video, she had Taylor come out and give her speech again. ↩
- Or at the very least, an entertaining one. ↩
- Obviously some don’t, and some escape it; but it isn’t a coincidence that when Britney was at her biggest, most other young, female singers went blond and bare-midriffed. ↩
- Example from the nerd culture with which I am most familiar: witness the ZOMG Twilight fans at Comic Con! A space basically carved out for people to be extremely enthusiastic about the thing they love is being invaded by… Girls who are excited and enthusiastic about a thing they love! RUN FOR THE HILLS! ↩
- Zing! ↩
I keep trying to write an entry here about writing, but then getting too self-conscious about it. Maybe someday. In the mean time, when not able to come up with interesting content of my own, why not link to some other people’s content instead?
When I go through my Google Reader these days, I tend to go through interesting links using Read It Later, a FF add-on that I love. But unfortunately, this means I don’t have a way to tag posts with where they were linked from anymore, and so I don’t have credits for these. Suffice to say, they were all linked by awesome people.
Vague theme: feminism! Mostly but not entirely in sf/f!
So I opened up the email, and sure enough, it started off with a compliment about the usefulness of a particular article that I’d written. Great. Warm fuzzies abound. Unfortunately, the warm fuzzies vacated the premises in the next paragraph, in which the (male) writer concluded with the sentiment that it was nice to read such good articles written by “a cutie”.
I think I may have said something very rude at that point. It certainly left me feeling uncomfortable and a little creeped-out.
The problem I have with this isn’t just in the assumption that it’s OK for a total stranger (who I’ve never even seen in person) to comment on my appearance. It’s in the implication that the technical merit of my writing isn’t the important part here — that what’s important is how physically attractive I am. (And in particular with the form of words used, not just “cute”, but “a cutie”, which is a very neat way to suggest that everything important about a person can be encapsulated in their appearance.)
Yeah. It’s happened to me, too, and I don’t know what to say. Generally, women are socialized to want to be cute, to be recognized for that; but it’s so, so, so frustrating when that’s absolutely not what you want.
A few weeks ago we had a ball discussing the Top Ten Evil Queens of fantasy. But something occurred to me as I was doing my research: While I had no trouble finding evil queens, the only ones I could find that were depicted as being “good” were physically compromised in some way. (And I’m not talking about princesses here — I mean women in real seats of power.) The question this raises for me is, does power corrupt or are powerful women seen as dangerous in fantasy? Let’s take a look at the way good queens are hobbled to find out.
This makes me want to write a fantasy novel about a kick-ass queen immediately.
We need to teach them to take an interest in all sorts of stories, not just the ones that feature kids like them. This means exposing them to a lot of different stuff. We should, of course, encourage kids to find themselves in books. That’s a wonderful and powerful thing. But we should help them find people who are different, too, so they learn to value other ways of being in the world. If we don’t support books, movies, TV programs and music that show these other ways of being, then we are contributing to the problem.
This is a debate I keep running in to: Will boys only read books about boys? I love this article for doing a take-down of why that’s an attitude that has got to go. Of course everyone wants kids generally to read more, and it seems like boys read less than girls; but focusing books more on boys and what’s culturally considered boy-themed stories is really not the answer.
Speaking of boys, girls, and characters…
I certainly have seen girl characters who were too perfect: who were beloved by all, beautiful (though they always thought their mouth was too wide or possibly their bosom too generous), and eventually elected queen of the universe. (Sometimes literally.)
Let us think of the Question of Harry Potter. I do not mean to bag on the character of Harry Potter: I am very fond of him.
But I think people would be less fond of him if he was Harriet Potter. If he was a girl, and she’d had a sad childhood but risen above it, and she’d found fast friends, and been naturally talented at her school’s only important sport, and saved the day at least seven times. If she’d had most of the boys in the series fancy her, and mention made of boys following her around admiring her. If the only talent she didn’t have was dismissed by her guy friend who did have it. If she was often told by people of her numerous awesome qualities, and was in fact Chosen by Fate to be awesome.
Well, then she’d be just like Harry Potter, but a girl. But I don’t think people would like her as much.
One of the first things I ever did in the course of this dialogue was to reject the knee-jerk judgment of the Spock/Uhura relationship as a sexist reduction of Uhura to The Girlfriend role, some sort of sad step backwards from her empowered position in TOS as a professional woman with no need for a romance. …
However, the Just A Girlfriend nugget and the assertion that she is made less by her romantic involvement with Spock continues unabated, so I figured I’d give full voice to what I hadn’t before.
Simply put: Nyota Uhura is not a white girl.
(Via the previous article)
I really appreciated this. I grew up on TOS, and definitely super enjoyed (but didn’t 100% love) the reboot movie. 1 But I definitely grew up on the narrative about Uhura as a career woman, and how that was totally progressive and awesome, and it never occurred to me to look at why she was depicted that way (let alone to question its awesomeness).
My eyes: opened. Always a good things.
- Thought-based dissatisfactions were about women. Fangirl based dissatisfaction? ZOMG NOT ENOUGH MCCOY. ↩
In an attempt to be productive, I actually wrote a book review! Check it out over at AV: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.
That’s done. Next: laundry, shower, maybe cook dinner at some point…? Happy Labor Day, y’all.
I keep meaning to write actual entries here, but then can’t be bothered until they are no longer relevant. So instead, have a list of random bits and pieces that have been on my mind of late.
Random thing #1: I got antsy about this blog, which meant it was time to change the theme. The last one was whimsical but way too narrow, and also, I wanted something bright and cheerful. So: pink! Hooray! I also upgraded to the newest version of WordPress. (Man, the more I use WP, the more I love it. Like, in a grade school, if-you-love-it-so-much-why-don’t-you-marry-it? kind of way.)
Random thing #2: I dropped the “Nerd at Peace” tagline because I never liked it anyway. *shrug*
Random thing #3: Following up on my last post, way after it’s still a thing being discussed, Justine Larbalestier’s Liar did indeed get a new cover, this time with a person of color on it. It still doesn’t match the description in the book, but is a step. A small step, though. Avalon’s Willow explained the remaining issues very well.
Random thing #4: Once upon a time, when I was seven years old, apparently I was featured in a “word on the street” type thing in my hometown’s itty bitty newspaper. I don’t know which was better, my answer or my mom’s rockin’ sunglasses:
Random thing #5: It is a good season to be a Yankees fan. That’s all I’m sayin’ about that.
Random thing #6: I may change the format around here a bit, and link to stuff I’ve written on various other blogs and elsewhere. Mostly because I would then actually have things to post, as this is my least-frequently-updated blog. (Possibly, I have too many blogs…) Over at Tweenage, I have recently written about The Wizards of Waverly Place movie and joined Jess to review Bandslam and Aliens in the Attic, and if you’re bored and like pop music, might I recommend our Official Tweenage Wasteland Official Boy Band Watch? And at Active Voice, I significantly less recently reviewed Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix.
Random thing #6.5: Speaking of things I’ve written, some small pieces at work: Innovative Video Game Helps Teach HIV-Positive Teens About Safer Sex and Annie Lennox: Singing Out Against HIV, so there are those.
Random thing #7: If I do not feed my cat soon, she will likely claw my eyes out. So this is the end of the list.