Breaking Stereotypes Through Music

Delta Winds cover 2005Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Breaking Stereotypes Through Music

Brian Newlin

Music has the power to unite people, crossing generation gaps, language barriers, and genres to spread an artist's message. In popular culture today, music has become a billion dollar industry, filled with a wide variety of performers all attempting to spread their message to the masses. Many of these songs deal with life's most important issues: love, family, friendship, and death. Ideas of women's rights have also successfully been integrated into the music world. Artists such as India Arie, Gretchen Wilson, Gloria Gaynor and Christina Aguilera have all produced song lyrics that promote the ideas of self-reliance, individuality, and strength, hoping to empower women everywhere.

Many women who consider themselves feminists argue a woman's right to choose. Most recently that has been a rallying point for abortion rights activists, but it also applies to many other aspects of women's rights. In the modern world, a woman is free to make all her own life decisions. She has the option of marriage, childrearing, and career opportunities. In the area of music, the important message of choice has recently been dramatized by India Arie's song "Video." This song opens with an image most women can relate to, creating a sense of familiarity with the listener. "Sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don't/Sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won't/Depend on how the wind blows I might even paint my toes/It really just depends on whatever feels good in my soul." India Arie uses a descriptive example to summarize her feelings about independence. Many women go to extreme lengths to reach the unattainable level of beauty society holds them to. "Video" proposes that a woman needn't shave her legs or comb her hair in order to feel beautiful. Outward appearance should not be the ultimate goal in life.

Another recent artist to support a woman's freedom through song is Gretchen Wilson. Her release "Redneck Woman" argues that women don't need to sacrifice their personal desires simply because society expects them to. She sings, "Well, I aint' never been the Barbie doll type/No, I can't swig that sweet champagne/I'd rather drink beer all night." Her message is clear: there's no reason for any woman to deny herself. Live as you wish, be who you are, regardless of what others may feel. As the song says, "Some people may look down on me, but I don't give a rip." Gretchen Wilson is promoting individuality through her attempt to empower women everywhere.

One of the strongest goals of the feminist movement is to empower women. Many songs speak of surviving hardship through determination and hard work. For example, Gloria Gaynor's hit song "I Will Survive" has become a shining example of overcoming any obstacle. The song states, "I will survive/as long as I know how to love/I know I will stay alive/I've got all my life to live/I've got all my love to give/and I'll survive/I will survive." Although the speaker has suffered loss, her strength and determination pull her through. This song is very empowering and has become very popular within several different communities. Gloria Gaynor's lyrics help remind women that it is possible to survive alone, that tomorrow is always a new day full of new possibilities. She reminds us all that with love, life always continues.

Another song that strengthens women's rights is "Can't Hold Us Down" by Christina Aguilera. She opens her song by challenging current societal expectations, reminding us all that everyone deserves equal respect. "So what am I not supposed to have an opinion/Should I be quiet just because I'm a woman/Call me a bitch because I speak what's on my mind/Guess it's easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled." These lyrics reinforce the idea of equal rights; no one should be silenced. We all have valid opinions to share. Her song speaks out to women, reminding them that they deserve to be treated fairly.

Music is one way for a voice to be heard. One person can send a message to millions of people through this wonderful form of art. The popularity of the industry, especially here in the United States, has created opportunity for underrepresented groups. Women's rights have been hard to come by; even today there is much work to be done. Song lyrics can help reinforce ideas of empowerment and choice to a large audience. Artists such as India Arie, Gretchen Wilson, Gloria Gaynor, and Christina Aguilera have all produced song lyrics that promote the ideas of independence and strength. As more and more artists choose to voice their opinions through music, society will likely come closer to true equality. Every voice deserves to be heard; every opinion is valid. We are all equal and deserve to be treated as such.