I have an observation to make, but before I go on, there are just a few things that I want to make very clear. First off, this is all based on my own experience, and should not be taken as fact. Secondly, on a similar note, because this is based on my own experience and I am an avid country and top-40 radio listener, my observations can only be applied to those genres of music. However, I would venture to say that this is a general phenomenon, rather than one limited to just one or two genres.
So this is what I’ve observed over the past few weeks: for whatever reason, there is a woefully inadequate amount of love songs featuring female singers. How did I discover this? Well, don’t mock me for being cliche, old-school, or overly sentimental (all of which might very well be true of me), but I learned this as a result of my efforts to compile a mixed CD for my boyfriend. It was our six month anniversary recently, and what says “I love you” like all of your favorite artists singing about how in love they are with someone else? At first, I figured this would be an easy task- I mean, I’m a girl who likes sappy romance and happily ever afters; my iTunes library must be oozing with love songs. I couldn’t be more wrong. The first thing I realized was that a lot of the songs that I generally think of as nice-sounding potential love songs were actually mourning ex-lovers who had lost their love in one way or another. They were sad; they made me want to cry. That wasn’t exactly the message that I wanted to send the love of my life, so I kept hunting. I would not lose hope so easily.
As I came across some pretty decent love songs, I began to realize something else problematic: nearly every love song that I found was written by a man about his girlfriend or wife. Almost every one of my favorite love songs was a lover’s ballad to his beloved. And so, for the first time I began to wonder: where are all the women?
My proposed answers to that question are varied, and some of them are more practical than others. My first thought was that maybe my own music appreciation was weak, and I just wasn’t aware of all of the songs out there that women were singing to their boyfriends and husbands. Maybe I wasn’t listening to the right type of music. Maybe I was just not as much of a music lover as I had always thought I was. That explanation is quite possible, but unlikely. Considering the vast amount of music I have on my iTunes account, and my rather eclectic taste in music, it’s doubtful that there’s this whole genre of music that has somehow evaded me. With that explanation scrapped, I moved on to the next one.
I briefly considered the possibility that there are simply more male artists than female. This very well might be true, but I couldn’t find anything that proves this hypothesis. I also considered the possibility that female artists could be focusing on other themes in their music, or at least that producers and managers are favoring other songs for singles. With that thought in mind, I began to pay more attention to what was playing on the radio. And that was when I had my epiphany.
It happened in the car on my way home from work. I was listening to the country station, like I usually do, and singing along as often as I could. And that was when I began to notice what I was singing…
“Go and fix your make-up girl; it’s just a break-up. Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady…”
In the course of one half-hour trip home, only two female artists were featured (out of five, so not enough of a minority to provide proof that there really are less female artists in the industry), and both songs were about break-ups. And not pretty ones either. There was talk of public destruction of property, as well as getting so angry that the neighbors had to call the cops. We’re looking a little crazy ladies…
But I decided to do a bit more research, though a theory was beginning to form in my head. After I got home, I began to scroll through the songs in my iTunes library. I had already taken notice of how few love songs there were by women, but I had not noticed what women were spending their time singing about. There were plenty of uplifting songs, but if they included mention of a man, it was often negative. There were lots of songs about being single, about being strong in the face of a break-up, and about loving yourself even when the man in your life never tells you that you’re beautiful. There were songs about men breaking heart after heart, and being punished for the fact that they didn’t respect the women in their life. None of these songs were bad in and of themselves (okay, some of them were a little questionable- I don’t condone keying someone’s car or burning someone’s property in a pathetic attempt at revenge)- I had purchased each and every one of them at some point in the past after all- but when considered together, they painted a rather dismal picture of the relationship between men and women. There was plenty of love, but most of the songs spoke of loving yourself rather than another. There was also plenty of hate, and a lot of brokenness and pain. Yes, many singers had probably been hurt by their significant other and then were inspired to write a song about it, but what about all of the good relationships? What about the beauty of sacrifice and love?
Why should men get to sing about love and being strong and making incredible sacrifices for their girlfriends and wives, while women are stuck singing about heartbreak and being alone? Why should men be singing about loving another, while women can only sing about loving themselves? And if women really are singing about how much they love their boyfriends and husbands, why do we so rarely hear about it?
Here’s what I think is happening. Modern society has an agenda, and that agenda is reflected in every facet of our culture: education, government, even music. The music industry, like the government and the media, has an agenda that determines what sells and what doesn’t, what is allowed and what isn’t. It has no problem featuring men singing about the great sacrifices that they make for their wives, or about the lengths to which they will go to make their girlfriends happy. Ironically, it also doesn’t have a problem featuring men who objectify women and treat them like dirt, but that’s just the illogical nature of modern society. Our culture occasionally celebrates men acting like men, but more often than not, it’s celebrating men acting like animals. From what I’ve gathered from my research, men pretty much have free license to sing about whatever their hearts desire. They can sing about love. They can sing about lust. They can even sing about how they will degrade and demean women, treating them like trash that can be used and then disposed of. Lovely, right?
But women are different. While women are also relatively free to write what they want, it seems that in most cases only a certain type of song is going to make it to the top 40. Even if they want to sing a love song, it’s rare that it’ll be released as a single. Diehard fans will know the love songs, but most listeners will only know about the heartbreak and the struggles of being alone and trying to stay strong. There is little room for love, for making sacrifices, for allowing yourself to be held in moments of weakness. The music industry has no problem with men being men and men being animals, but it generally has no room for women to be women. Or rather, it allows women to be women, but only one sort of woman.
Women are allowed to sing about being strong and independent; they’re allowed to sing about the fact that they don’t need a man in their lives. They can sing about how awful men can be, and they can sing about how they’ve taken charge of their lives and their relationships by objectifying themselves rather than being objectified, by breaking men before men can break them. In our tremendous efforts to protect women from misogynists, we have allowed ourselves to be turned into objects, or into vindictive, broken creatures incapable of love. Rather than supporting songs that encourage men to be real men, giving them the ability to protect us from danger and to help us to be strong in moments of weakness, we have opted instead for songs that encourage men to be animals, or else seem to be suggest that women don’t need love. They need power, independence, and control to thrive. Modern society has taken traits that should be good, but have twisted them beyond recognition. Today’s songs are not just telling girls that they don’t need a man to be complete, but that they are better off without one. They’re telling us that independence can only be had by asserting that we are better off being alone. They’re telling us that it’s okay to be treated like objects, as long as we’re the ones allowing ourselves to be objectified. Unfortunately, it seems that for every man that knows what it means to be a man, there is at least one man acting like an animal and one woman teaching a very false notion of what it means to be a woman through her songs.
Women are told that they can’t be weak; they have to be independent and in control. Love is something that can be manipulated to help women regain power, but that is ultimately unnecessary for happiness. And thus we are left in a state of limbo. Men are singing about their desire to protect their wives and to support their girlfriends, but women are arguing that we don’t need to be protected or supported. We are okay on our own. Men are singing about making sacrifices, but women are arguing that if we have to make any sort of sacrifice for love or family, we are betraying ourselves. We are betraying our gender. We are betraying every feminist who ever fought for equal rights. But in our efforts to be proper feminists, we have lost what it means to be women. We have lost the beauty of being held in protective arms. We have lost the gentleness that has come to be regarded as a weakness in our efforts to be strong. We have lost our love songs in favor of songs that have no love in them, that emphasize power and independence over sacrifice and relationships (or anything that suggests that we need anyone). Our love songs are sad reflections of what they could be, or else they are mockeries of the very thing that we all need. We need love, but we’ve forgotten what it means to love and be loved. We’ve forgotten this central component of being human, and the music industry, and the media in general, has not helped us to remember. If anything, it is just teaching us how to be better animals.
We need more love songs. We need more men to be men, and more women to be women. We need musicians and producers to encourage music that helps us to become more human, and not less so. We have men who know how to sing about love, but we need more women who know how to be loved. And I’m not talking about loving ourselves. I’m talking about letting other people love us, about not running away from our weaknesses or pretending that we don’t need anyone. Let’s just face the truth. We are weak. We need each other to survive. We cannot walk this road alone. Sacrifice, not selfishness, leads to happiness. We are all called to love and be loved. And this is all okay. We don’t need to be strong all the time. We won’t always be in control. We don’t need to do everything on our own. We can accept help and support. We shouldn’t shy away from sacrifices, but embrace them. We need to let ourselves be loved just as often as we love. We need to spend a lot more time writing about loving others and maybe a little less time about loving ourselves. We need to spend more time writing love songs. We become what we listen to. When we sing about being animals, we become animals. When we sing about being alone, we become isolated from others. And when we sing about love, we become lovers. And this world definitely needs more lovers.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!