Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Feminism in the Gaga Generation?

My girlfriend Maxee and her little girl, marching for the ERA in the 70s
Words have power. I believe this wholeheartedly, and that’s why I am disappointed in myself today.

This weekend I had to prep for a big gig in Beverly Hills. The client requested all the current dance tunes: Lady Gaga, Kesha, Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas…some which I knew but some that I had to learn. So I’m studying the lyrics, trying to commit them to memory, and I just get this sick feeling in my stomach as I realize that every one of these songs is women telling other young girls to go out and get wasted and have random sex.

There has been a lot of outrage over the T-shirts J.C. Penney was selling with slogans like “I’m too pretty to do homework” but where is the outrage over what little kids are singing along to on the radio?

Let me illustrate:
Lady Gaga “Just Dance”
Where are my keys? I lost my phone.
What’s going on on the (dance) floor
I love this record but I can’t see straight anymore
We’re all getting hosed tonight.
Keep it cool. What’s the name of this club? I can’t remember but it’s alright.
(and this woman is richer than Oprah, by the way…)

Kesha "Tik Tok":
Brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack cause when I leave for the night I ain’t comin back
Everybody gonna get crunk (wasted) Boys tryin to touch my junk
ain’t got a care in the world but got plenty of beer
aint got no money in my pocket but I’m already here.

Katy Perry "California Girls":
Sippin gin and juice…lying underneath the palm trees undone.
Sex on the beach
We don’t mind sand in our stilettos
We freak (have sex) in my jeep
All that ass hangin’ out

And the video for the Black-Eyed peas song  “I Got a Feeling” ( that tonights gonna be a good night) made me cringe. It’s such a happy anthem, I usually love hearing that song. But in the video, what a “good night” consists of is girls dressing like strippers, drinking themselves to a point that they are literally falling-down drunk. The very last shot of the video is a girl in a mini dress passed out cold, lying alone, sprawled out on a New York street. That is someone’s definition of a good night? Am I the only person who is outraged about this? This is how girls get raped, or end up on missing posters. NOT COOL, people.

On Saturday I went to a carnival, where I watched a singing group made up of teenaged sisters, the youngest was eleven. There they were singing the Katy Perry and Kesha songs. Adorable girls, great harmonies, but…an eleven-year old singing about getting wasted and having sex? All of this “fun music” that kids are singing along to is being embedded in their subconscious minds. Words have power.

Great songwriters have the power to change the world. Dylan, Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne...where are those voices today? The times...they are a changin', alright.

Sunday night I had to sing these songs, and with every lyric I felt like I was betraying myself and young women everywhere. I am very careful about the words that I use in my life. But I was being paid, so I had to promote a message I didn’t believe in. When I was singing the Katy Perry song, a little girl about ten years old jumped up on the dance floor. Here I was glittering in sequins, under a spotlight, and she’s looking up at me with her big round eyes, mouthing the words about having sex on the beach wearing stilettos. I felt like a total sellout, ashamed of myself for sending this message to a child.

When I later complained to my daughter Cristen that these songs are taking feminism back to the dark ages, it prompted an immediate eye-rolling from her. “I love those songs,” she said.  She ribs me for being too serious. "It's just a fun song, Mom. Don't make it into such a big deal." I get what she's saying. I listened to radical music growing up. We had Alice Cooper and KISS and Joan Jett. But you know, “Schools out for Summer” or "I love Rock N Roll" doesn’t quite compare to women singing about loving “rough sex” (both Rhianna and Lady Gaga) and getting wasted out of their minds. Is this the kind of freedom we fought for, ladies? Is this where equal rights has brought us? I’ve encouraged my daughter to watch “Iron Jawed angels” about the suffragettes fight for the vote. Not interested. And you know, it made me realize, when you haven’t had to fight for something yourself, it just doesn’t mean much. How many of our young girls know anything about the ERA, and yet they are in the know with Gaga lyrics, Jersey Shore and the Kardashians, because this is what they are spoon fed by the media. Where is the voice of today's generation? And what is the message?

I’m sure some will say I’m the next Tipper Gore, but I’m not talking about censorship. People should have the freedom to listen to what they want. I’m just concerned about the words we use. The words that become engrained in our subconscious minds. The words that shape our children’s perspectives.

So where does this leave me? I’ve been hard hit by this recession and I need to work. Can I continue to work in this industry, singing these songs, and still call myself a feminist? As a young girl I played guitar and sang the battle cries of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, and now? 

Is feminism dying in the Gaga generation?


  1. I am the mother of daughters...a clan, a tribe, a community, an epic tale. Raising them has been the greatest gift imaginable, and the hardest thing I have ever done. Their innocence was a battle field. We moved to the country, we listened to music with them, watched popular videos, all the while talking about the esteem and value of each human being, but in this culture of sex selling everything...especially the value of women and girls. I fought daily, daily to allow them the space to hold on to themselves. I have to say we have been overcome in some arenas. We lost a couple skirmishes, but I REFUSE TO LOSE THE BATTLE> I now have a month old grand daughter. As I hold her and all of her innocence up against my shoulder I can only imagine the battles to come. MARK MY WORDS...I will fight. Innocence is not a commodity that should be for sale...and yet it clearly is! Thank you beloved Hollye for your TRUTH and continual courage.

  2. I have been feeling like Tipper Gore lately too -- how can I want to censor lyrics? -- but these messages are so dangerous. Who is today's Joni Mitchell? We need someone to sing about being "a woman of heart and mind." While my son and daughter were both home from college for a few weeks this summer, we listened to their radio stations in the car and had endless discussions about music and lyrics. Thanks for a great piece and for reassuring I'm not the only one feeling disconnected.

  3. Hollye, I might be out there myself but I was never a music lover except for the back in the 60's. Then too songs were about love and loss of love and finding love but it was not raw. It seemed heartfelt. Now, even though I have truly never watched a music video I think as every generation before us parents were worried about the music that their kids listened to. I, of course, didn't listen to my kids music as I think they were like me and didn't have a sound they liked to hear. But, today exposure and sex are what excites and sells. Even things like Slut walks etc make me angry. I did fight for the Era and I did burn my bra (euphemistically. I fought for all the women today and girls who think their rights are automatic. I am afraid if the political atmosphere changes all of us women will be driven back to abortions in back alleys and rights will disappear. I will fight to my death to give women more rights than even now. I am sorry that the youngins don't see what their music is promoting. Lady Gaga can stand up for everyone being who they are one minutes and accepting differences and then she is talking about doing drugs and getting drunk. Not for me or for women anywhere. Great writing today.

  4. Whew, I feel so relieved hearing from both of you Kristine and Lois. Good to know I'm not alone in my opinion. I told this to a girlfriend of mine the other day and she thought I was nuts- she said "I like those songs!"

    But what are those songs saying about women today? Seems like the songs women sang in the 70s and 80s were a lot more about SHE power ( "I Will Survive", "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") Sad to see the direction of pop music right now.

  5. Thanks Madge. Yeah, I'm conflicted about Lady Gaga's message. One minute she's standing up for women ( and all people) , the next minute degrading them.
    Music feels cheap today. It used to be about love and politics and changing the world, now it's all about ego and money.

  6. Being a parent of a 15 year old boy, it is a concern on this side as well. Although I have taught my son to respect girls / women, it sometimes isn't easy as that when little girls are of the mind set you speak of. Fortunately, my move from Southern Cal to the Seattle area has proved beneficial, as the boys/girls are a little less (a little..) affected by pop icons up here - meaning the innocence is more intact. I also introduce my son to very positive musicians, not necessarily super popular, but the message these artists send out is wonderful (www.saritah.com as an example). So exposure to more artists with a great message also puts some good in young minds

  7. Excellent point Jim. Thanks you for sharing the male side of the perspective. And thank you for sharing a positive artist with us. I also love India Arie. She is all about the positive.
    There are some good ones out there, but the media isn't promoting them, so you have to look really hard on your own.
    Glad to hear from such a thoughtful, responsible dad!

  8. Ok….I have to agree wholeheartedly!!!! I have been struggling with my granddaughter for the past few years. There is also another type of so called music that she listens to…..I call it screaming. It is nothing but guys screaming obscenities and sexual crap!!! I hate it, but I keep feeling that I must not interfere in her choice to express herself musically….especially with so many other battles we're facing right now. It is such a difficult place to be in….deciding which issues to take a stand with and which ones…..although we are disgusted with them…to let be, and hope she is smart enough to live her life knowing right from wrong!!! Frustrating to say the least. I long for the old days…..geez, never thought I'd crave those days again!!!

  9. Hollye--I wish that there was a way that I could express to you my utter admiration and support for your position. there is no more important job than raising our children--both girls and boys (and I have both). When we don't raise objections to the message that the mainstream media sends to our kids, what ends up happening is that the voice of popular culture speaks louder than our own. we cannot let that happen. the price of not speaking up is a degraded ability to make healthy judgements and develop moral character. I am about as far from the "moral majority" as one can get, yet I think that we need to be very clear that our kids are watching everything we do and listening to everything we say. by closing our eyes to harmful speech (and song) we send a message too: that what's being portrayed is acceptable. I have found that the two best ways to combat this is to 1) use the songs that are "popular" as a springboard to family values conversations. you can't control what everyone else does, and you cannot even prevent your kids from being exposed to music outside of your home, but you can raise objections to and conversations about important things like alcohol abuse, objectification of women, date rape, self-esteem and many other current sociological issues, and educate your kids about why they happen, how to avoid them, and ways to cultivate self-respect. I also find that by exposing your kids to "real" art, classical music, jazz, folk history etc. and showing a real value for other significant cultural events like theater and museums, kids develop an artistic sensibility that allows them to put the Lady Gaga's into perspective. Thank you for being a mom that is willing to stand up for what you believe in and speak out against it. (and by they way, your experience would make interesting/enlightening dinner conversation for your family and other families as well, so people can learn from your regrets and conflicts).

  10. Georgie- My son Taylor used to be in one of those "screaming" metal bands, and I went to all his shows. I remember being at those shows in Hollywood when I was pregnant with Evan- talk about AWKWARD. but happily, their lyrics were not abusive, and LORi- we exposed our kids to all sorts of progressive music, folk music, jazz... You can not believe what great taste they both have in music now. (aside from cristen liking those "fun" songs). Taylor is a huge jazz afficionado who will wait hours in line to go see some old timer jazz great ( I was so relieved when the "scream-o phase was over) and Cristen now works for Live Nation - right now she is booking Sting's concerts. So there is HOPE!

  11. Just curious if you have this info ... how many of those songs/lyrics were written by men vs women or produced by men for the women who sang them? I think a lot of young 20-something girls who have potential fame in their grasp are much more willing to do whatever it takes to get noticed and don't fully understand the gravity of the words.

  12. Hollye…..can I send my granddaughter to live with you for a while!!! She seems to be more influenced by others as opposed to "us"…..lol. I hope her "scream" phase is over soon too!!! We also expose her to all the same types of music as you do….but right now, only a small portion is sticking…like Journey!!!! Baby steps I guess!!

  13. So true Dolores. I know Lady Gaga writes her own songs ( worst lyrics! so dumb!) but I'm not sure about the others. And yes, fame and money seems to be all that counts in pop music.

    Georgie- Hey if you've got her into Journey that's great! "Don't Stop Believin'" baby!

  14. I've been calling myself Tipper for a couple of years now! If you'd told me this is what it would come to, I never would have believed it. I mean, didn't we all think it was ludicrous when they changed the Stones' lyrics to "let's spend some time together"? And didn't squeaky clean John Denver sing about passing the pipe around while getting "Rocky Mountain High?" And you know the Beatles were on some good stuff a lot of the time and yet now it all seems so innocent.

    When my son, now 8, started trading in Laurie Berkner and Dan Zanes for rap and Gaga (don't ask how it started, but it did), I became aware what I was up against. He's pitched fits when I change the radio station--I can't believe what's out there. He has a long bus ride to school so we've given him an iPod but I have to carefully monitor what I download. At first, the DH thought I was nuts...at least until school called complaining about some of the things the boy was copying.

    Why does every current artist think they have to get in at least one four-letter word? (Come on, Pink, you could have done one version of "Perfect" without the eff-bomb and it would have been, well, a perfect message for young girls.) He'll even look at iTunes and say, "But it doesn't say 'explicit.'" Sorry, doesn't matter when Rhianna's singing about S&M or how she likes the way it hurts or wants some guy to "go downtown."


  15. As I was reading this, I was totally and utterly agreeing with everything you said. I mean, it's clear, isn't if? And I don't buy the whole empowerment of women through sex argument because no one respects sex-for-sale and there's no power without respect. BUT then I started to wonder WHY this is happening. I mean every generation fights their own fight whether the other generations want them to or not. And they do it in their own way. I don't really follow Lady Gaga but she strikes me as a cerebral thought-provoking woman. Why would she not fight the good fight??? I'm not answering the questions you pose -- in fact I do think the "answer" is discussion and introspection -- but I can't help feeling that maybe this new generation is exploring. Exploring sexual freedom, freedom in all its forms, and sometimes it means stupid choices (drunkenness) and sometimes it means pleasure and sometimes it means living without constraint (having "fun"). Maybe they're on a journey we don't fully understand yet. Whatever -- I don't think we can stop it. And I don't think they mean to make the world a worse place...Maybe everyone has to make their own mistakes and their own discoveries.

  16. The sad thing is that college culture perpetuates these values. A recent article on Princeton reported that when an eating club invited young women to a party it specified that they should dress like sluts. Some women protested but most who went dressed like sluts as instructed. The same kind of thing happened at Davis where I taught. Most young women in my classes (feminist classes!) didn't like it but they felt that young men set the social rules and that if they wanted to be social they had to conform.

  17. Seems to me that our culture remains in denial about human sexuality, in general, and about teenage sexuality, in particular. Not that there aren’t some pockets of semi-enlightened parents around the issue, but it remains “an issue,” and a huge blind spot in our society, because most of the institutions that young people have to appease—educational, medical, religious, the family, and the ever-present “peer” underground—leave young people to solve the problem on their own, floundering around in confusion, as if none of these urges have ever presented themselves before in the history of human evolution or the past 10,000 years of civilization. The “you can talk to me about anything” statement is just that, a statement, sort of a plausible deniability clause in the parent-child relationship. Kids learn the real lessons of life from what they observe, not from high-minded proclamations. And what kids observe is that most adults are not very together about their sexuality, embarrassed by it, and terrible hypocrites to boot. There is no “sex education.” Diagrams of biological functions and cerebral voyages into hypothetical emotional territory do not rise to the occasion of what young people have to figure out in personal isolation. So long as our culture remains so completely awkward about sexuality, there’s going to be a dissident resistance, as full of irritating gesture as our own bell bottoms and peace symbols were, and that will necessarily get exploited by pop culture, because that’s one of the few places where the old rules don’t apply, and the message to our generation is: “you old farts never figured this stuff out, and don’t even pretend you did, because we know better.” Whether or not they do “know better,” or even know what they’re doing, are entirely different questions; but not facing up to the fact that previous generations have failed to give them any wisdom at all about sexuality, while making them learn all kinds of things at school that have no everyday life value but will help them “achieve,” well, it’s inevitable that they’re going to be receptive to taking their cues from somewhere else. Those cues might not be enlightened, but there is something more seemingly honest about them than the BS the kids have had to endure from a society that has obviously failed to figure any of this out. imho

  18. I think every generation shocks the one before it. In the '80s, it was Madonna. I think she started the slutty singer trend... the Mother of it all. But, she twisted that into something she controlled and used to make money. In the end, she was HUGELY successful on a business level. Was the end worth the means? She would probably say "yes."

    These new ones.... I think the problem is they don't have the vision and dead-aim and creativity Madonna had. They're imitating her, but not forging their own identities, beyond drunk sluts.

    Lady Gaga, of course, is the exception. She's picking up where Madonna left off and carrying the torch forward. I think the message is... "I can be a slutty or drunk as I want... it's my choice and I'm in control, and screw anyone who disapproves." I think that's the subtle difference... mindset. Madonna and Gaga have a mindset. The others are just mindless.

  19. Allow me to add a different point of view. I don't think this is new. Off the top of my head I'm thinking back to the late 70's and early 80's and coming up with songs like Blondie's Call Me ("Call me call me any anytime,Call me for a ride"), Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls" ("Come spend the night inside my sugar walls"), Samantha Fox's "Touch Me(I want your body)" and Naughty Girls Need Love Too, Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl" (That's right, I can't control it
    I need 7 inches or more, Tonight I can no longer hold it Get it up, get it up, I can't wait anymore), Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop", Salt n Pepa's "Push It", the Mary jane Girl's "All Night long"............... I understand that today's songs are more graphic but sex has been the topic in popular music for years. Clever songwriters in eras past knew how to infer and imply. Lazy songwriters of today spell it out.

    The bottom line is I'm with you. This is something that parents have to be involved in. Too many parents simply don't care what their children listen to OR they let their kids listen to the same music they do. A few years ago, my 10 year old granddaughter was singing a Janet Jackson song, "All For You." The lyrics go "All my girls at the party
    Look at that body
    Shakin' that thing
    Like I never did see
    Got a nice package alright
    Guess I'm gonna have to ride it tonight."

    I about fell out of my chair. But her mother lets her listen to things that I think are wholly inappropriate. There's a lot of great music out there. I think too many parents are afraid to set limits. What I've done is simple: You're not listening to that stuff over here. You're not watching R rated movies here. And I explain why. And maybe my now teenaged granddaughter thinks I'm overreacting but there will come a time in the future that she'll feel the same way. We talk about the right and wrong messages and what I expect of her. I can't control her outside of my house, obviously. All I can do is influence her when she's here. Sorry for rambling on.

  20. I love that we are all having this conversation.
    I agree with you Kelvin, we, as the elders, need to be aware of the words that are nestling into our young children's minds, and take steps to control that.
    Let me just be more clear though. I am not against songs being about sex, what I am outraged over is that these songs are promoting getting WASTED and out of control then having sex with any random guy. It is promoting IRRESPONSIBILITY combined with sex, which leads to STDs, HIV, unwanted pregnancy and sometimes rape.
    When I saw the end of that Black Eyed Peas video with the girl passed out drunk on the street, I flashed on that poor Natalee Holloway. When girls get out of control drunk, they are NOT SAFE.
    That's my pet peeve with these songs.

  21. At the risk of belaboring my point, I 100% agree that young people are offered horrible, and horribly polarized, role models, not only from MTV but from almost every commercial and institutional venue. Sensuality gets depicted nowhere, because where it's not getting exploited, it's a big adult secret. So the choice for young people seems to be between awkward and embarrassed denial of sexuality altogether, and the "lets get f*cked up and lose control and see what happens" variety that emanates from "underground" and is only exploitable because so many kids live in despair of ever finding a through-line for themselves in our cultural (moral, ethical, political) wasteland. Sorry if that sounds like hyperbole, but I'm pretty sure that's what it feels like to most of them.

  22. I'm just saying have you ever hear Joan Jett I love rock n roll says soon I'll take u home were we can be alone and her songs like do you wanna touch me, torture, fetish, star fucker her songs are all about sex and being a punk pretty much

  23. I think today's music is actuly much mote tame then bands like Joan Jett KISS and aerosmith and other bands like that. While lady gaga and them do say things about sex and getting drunk the music seems more about the beat and a good danceable song while rock bands Even bands like Jefferson airplane and bob Dylan lyrics are more important and Kids would be more Likely to have sex do drugs and drink it they listen to rock n roll

  24. It's time to call a stop to this insipid pyschic pollution of our young. It is all being done to condition minds to be unreflective and to act always from animal instincts. This suppresses higher faculties of understanding, where love can be shared without fear or attachment. it is mass cultural cooersion into a certain way of thinking that limits our understanding of our own individual freedom and our natural relation to each other and the earth.

    All these ideals are contrived to keep people in a false sense of 'everything is ok', what recent american culture is build upon. But we know EVERYTHING IS NOT OK. The realisation of these falses ideals and conventions is going to be a painful transition for everyone. But It is also a chance to be reborn, to reimagine what it is to be a responible empowered human being living in the world, instead of relying on assumed preexisting laws that have nothing to do with how we really live today, and have already been so deeply corrupted. It's time to TAKE RESPONSIBILY FOR HOW WE LIVE.

    Ideas and points of view like these need to be disseminated more and more, but most importantly be BROUGHT INTO THE MAINSTREAM CONVERSTAION, think about it - discussions like these aren't had on Tv.. There is a reason for that.

    We are waking up, but slowly. Keep the fate in your fellow man, no matter who they are. Know that He/She is going through similar challenges, See our comminality, but even Do not demonize an apparent enemy, Learn that our humanity trancends all 'good/bad','us/them'. We are on the way to finding this place. God bless.


I love hearing your point of view- thank you for taking the time to comment and be part of the conversation!