Should The Music Industry Adopt the Bechdel Test?

iggy-azalea

At the time of writing this, GTHQ has been around for almost 2 years, and I am about to turn 31. Reflecting on these major milestones in my life whilst driving south on the busy 405 freeway in Los Angeles, I have to say I am extremely grateful to be a woman living in 2014 because it has never been a more exciting time to be alive.

I feel privileged to be part of a generation that is changing the world, and a gender that is fighting for equal representation in all spheres like never before. During that drive, I turning on the radio (yes I’m old school and still listen to the good ol’ FM stations in my car!) and heard the DJ announce the upcoming song saying “this is rapper Iggy Azalea’s third single currently being played on radio”.

I immediately got excited for two reasons: 1) she’s Australian like me, and 2) she’s a female rapper who has THREE hit singles on commercial radio in the United States, which is a big freakin’ deal! As I listened to the track ‘Black Widow’ featuring British babe Rita Ora, it also struck me how profound it was that women are teaming up with women in the industry and forming a sisterhood which we need to see more of.

I mean c’mon, is anyone else sick of hearing about battles between various female artists? I started to think more deeply about women in rap and hip hop and how it has been a genre where women have really had to fight hard against the stereotypes thanks to many of the male artists and how they portray women in their often sexist lyrics and music videos.

But the more ‘Black Widow’ played I realized Rita and Iggy were singing and rapping about men. It made me think, if there are more and more opportunities for women in the music industry to be at the top of the charts, yet they only sing about men, how is that empowering for women and how are they any different from what the males have been doing for so long?

jennifer-lopez

Iggy and Rita aren’t the only ones. Most of the world’s top selling female artists sing about men and sexuality: Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez etc etc. Sure there are the odd occasions when we hear about strength, beauty and confidence, a la Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’, but let’s be honest, those are still few and far between.

To be truly empowered as a woman and recognize your worth means not having to rely on a man to define that, or only using sexuality. Katy Perry has said in an interview previously that while she plays the “sexy” card, it isn’t the only one she has in her deck, and it should be the same way for other women. I couldn’t agree more!

Embracing your body, sexuality and desires is not wrong, but to narrowly define women in music as only beings who put value on physicality can send a damaging message to the millions of female fans around the world.

My suggestion for a solution? The music industry needs to adopt a Bechdel Test of its own. The test is something that is starting to become a significant (albeit unofficial) standard for the film industry because of what it represents. For a film to pass the Bechdel Test, it must answer only three questions: (1) Does the film have at least 2 female characters in it? (2) Do those female characters talk to each other? (3) Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

It would be so awesome to see official film unions and organizations around the world adopt this as a rule. But what about if the music industry had a similar test where every song claiming to be about female empowerment adhered to the same standards?

rihanna

For example the music version could ask questions such as: Does the song have a central female character? Does the central female character focus on issues relating to women? Does the song address something other than a man? Does the music video accompanying the song feature women in an empowered role, rather than being objectified?

If music and pop culture are the common global tongue of the younger generation, wouldn’t it be awesome to have more female artists stepping up and making a conscious effort to promote the right messages?

Imagine music as an industry where women didn’t have to use sexuality just to sell records! Just think of the endless possibilities for enlightenment amongst young women if female artists weren’t beholden to the standards that men put in place way back in the day when commercial music meant making a lot of money.

Imagine if women started to stand together in solidarity in the industry, instead of perpetuating the same type of drivel that doesn’t allow them to be taken seriously at times?

At the recent BET Awards Nicki Minaj, who won ‘Best Female Hip Hop Artist’ for the fifth time, made a point of saying how she is authentic and writes her own material, which was a subtle jab toward Iggy Azalea who apparently has other people write her lyrics.

Nicki-Minaj

Previously the ‘Pink Friday’ singer has spoken about not wanting to be categorized as a female rapper, but just a great rapper in general regardless of gender, because her career achievements speak for themselves. Yet she continue to perpetuate the immature fights with other female artists, like she is back in a high school playground.

I mean look, men battle each other all the time and always have. But women have an opportunity to truly transcend the immaturity and be the leading gender in music, if only they focused on things other than tearing each other down and winning approval from men.

“It would be awfully second-wave feminist of me to say that Minaj owes it to her female peers, like Iggy, to show solidarity in order to break down barriers together. But to argue that respect from her male peers allows her to abandon self-identifying as a woman in the industry is a slap in the face to women trying to fight rap’s sexism instead of adhering to its arbitrary rules that suggest there can only be one female rap superstar,” writes Flavorwire’s Jilliam Mapes about Nicki Minaj after her BET win. She argues that killing the female catfights in music will be the start to seeing women transcend stereotypes and truly thrive as women in a male-dominated world.

“If Nicki not only realized this expectation but cared about subverting it, she might decide not to shun her gender by playing into a game men created,” she went on to say.

“I thank God that I’ve been placed in a position to do something, and represent women in a culture that is so male-driven.” said Nicki Minaj in her acceptance speech. Yes Nicki, you have been placed in a very exciting and important position, but I urge you to do better. Who cares if other women write in a collaborative manner unlike yours! You’re still winning awards and topping the charts! There’s no need for the public battles. In your “unique position” you should be publicly praising the many women who are coming through the ranks of an industry using their talent, not just their tits.

beyonce

This is why I believe a musical version of the Bechdel Test would make a difference. Perhaps it would take the focus off female artists seeing each other as competition they need to tear down, and instead be thankful for more representation on all fronts. Just like the film industry, the battle for gender equality is only going to be won with solidarity and support.

Think about it this way, have you ever stopped to wonder why song like Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, Beyonce’s ‘Girls (Who Run The World), Christina Aguilera’s ‘Stronger’, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect, and the Eurythmics ‘Sisters Are Doing’ It For Themselves’ are such popular songs which become music icons that transcend generational boundaries? Wouldn’t it be cool if the success of a female artist or song depended upon the value it offered to feminism, empowerment and sisterhood? I sure think it would!

So ladies, whether you are a hip hop artist, a singer, a teacher, a stay-at-home mother, a writer, an engineer or anything in between, remember that your value isn’t defined by men, nor should your confidence and success be borne out of a need to tear your sisters down to reach the top. Because when you get where you want to be, it will sure be a lonely place without the support of other women who have your back.

And to all the artists out there, whether established or aspiring, I urge you to think about adopting this Bechdel Test in your lyrics, even just for an experiment, to see whether it makes a difference or not. We already know how powerful sexuality and beauty can be, so make a point of empowering women with other subject matter, and use those positions of influence well.

 

asha-dahya-july-2014

 

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