Feminism in Mainstream Music: The Present

The 1990’s saw the popularization of feminism within music, such as the notion of “girl power”; in the present-day, similar ideas  about feminism are spread throughout mainstream music by women pop stars, including Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.

For instance, female pop star Miley Cyrus displays similar ideas about feminism within her music, live performances, and interviews; in a 2013 interview, shown above, Cyrus proclaimed that, “’I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women not to be scared of anything…girls are beautiful. Guys get to show their titties on the beach, why can’t we?’”. This quote reveals Cyrus’s version of feminism– one that focuses on fearlessness, individual freedom, and sexuality. Alexandra Apolloni defines this version of feminism as “Miley feminism”, which is, “…about appropriating a masculine-coded kind of individual freedom: the freedom to not care, to show your titties on the beach, to party without consequences…”. Miley feminism rejects the rules of notions of girlhood that tell women they need to be modest, quiet, and passive; however, Miley feminism is about individual freedom. Miley feminism does not attempt to recognize the intersections of people’s identities, and does not attempt to combat the oppressive power structures that place values on certain intersections (such as the value placed on whiteness), while devaluing others. In this way, Miley feminism mirrors The Spice Girls’ version of feminism, “girl power”, in that both versions of feminism are focused on individual freedom, independence, and sexuality, while ignoring the intersections of oppression that different women experience, i.e., how gender intersects with other social categories such as race, class, and ability.

In addition to Miley Cyrus’s version of feminism, which focuses on individual freedom and independence, pop star Taylor Swift’s version of feminism also focuses solely on Taylor Swift’s experience as a woman– which is the experience of a white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, thin, and upper-class woman. Through a critical analysis of five of Swift’s music videos, Melissa A. Fabello demonstrates the ways in which Swift’s version of feminism is not intersectional or inclusive; rather, Fabello argues, Swift’s version of feminism could be called “white feminism”. White feminism does not describe all feminists who are white; instead, white feminism ignores a critical analysis of power hierarchies, related to race, class, ability, nationality, etc., and instead focuses solely on gender, thereby making white women the “default” of feminism. In Fabello’s analysis, she discusses Swift’s music videos and their relation to white feminism, i.e., Swift’s idea of girl power as surrounding yourself with other white, thin, wealthy women in the “Bad Blood” music video, shown below.

Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus are similar in their approaches to feminism in that they both view feminism solely as their own experiences as white women, thus silencing the experiences of women who are marginalized due to oppressive power structures. Swift and Cyrus’s versions of feminism are also an extension of 1990’s “girl power” feminism as demonstrated by The Spice Girls; in the current mainstream music industry, feminism is still utilized as a strategy of commerce for white women, which in turn sustains the white, patriarchal corporate music industry.

Sources:

  • Apolloni, Alexandra. “The Biggest Feminist In The World”: On Miley Cyrus, Feminism, And Intersectionality.” American Music Review 43.2 (2014): 1-5. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 May 2016.
  • Fabello, Melissa A. “5 Ways Taylor Swift Exemplifies White Feminism – And Why That’s a Problem.” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 08 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 May 2016.
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