Music. We dance to it, we sing along to it, we learn from it. As we have seen time and time again, music is a medium that provides insight to our culture. Good music is relatable, it evokes some sort of emotion, and it engages the listener in its message. Artists can reach huge audiences with their music, placing them in highly influential positions.
While learning about gender roles, sexual subjectivity, and heteronormative culture, I realized that I’ve heard these topics being discussed in popular music but haven’t taken much notice of them before. Two artists in particular have written songs specifically about gender roles and behaviors in relationships, essentially demonstrating how male and female sexuality are characterized in our society. Ciara’s “Like a Boy” and Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” depict stereotypical behaviors of men and women in heterosexual relationships. These women are highlighting the double standards and behaviors that society has constructed to be normative of these relationships. Let’s first take a look at Ciara’s song “Like a Boy”:
Pull up your pants
(Just Like Em’)
Take out the trash
(Just Like Em’)
getting ya cash like em’
Fast like em’
Girl you outta act like ya dig
(What I’m talkin’ bout’)
Security codes on everything
Vibrate so your phone don’t ever ring
And another one he don’t know about
Wish we could switch up the roles
And I could be that…
Tell you I love you
But when you call I never get back
Would you ask them questions like me?…
Like where you be at?
Cause I’m out 4 in the morning
On the corner rolling
Doing my own thing
What if I?…
Had a thing on the side?
Made ya cry?
Would the rules change up?…
Or would they still apply?…
If I played you like a toy?…
Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy
She begins with male behaviors, reinforced by the line “Just like ‘em,” and begins to mention behaviors that men undertake that ultimately display women as being dependent on the male figure. Consequentially, the men hold power over the women because their actions dictate how the woman feels and reacts. It is evident that she is really trying to convey a message about the injustice of gender roles. She isn’t playfully suggesting that males and females should swap places for a while; she is drawing attention to the imbalance of gender roles in relationships. In the hook, Ciara says, “Tell you I love you, but when you call I never get back.” And in the chorus she has a line that says, “Would the rules change up? Or would they still apply? If I played you like a toy? Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy.” Are women simply objects to be used at the disposal of men, like “toys,” to satisfy their sexual desires? This is an idea confronted in Tolman’s article “Adolescent Girl’s Sexuality.” Obviously it is apparent enough so that a huge hip-hop artist such as Ciara dedicated an entire song to it. What would happen if the females were in positions of control, how would men react? Why must men always have the upper hand or treat girls as though they are disposable? These ideas are also found in Beyoncé’s popular anthem “If I were a Boy.” Her song is very similar to Ciara’s in that she calls out male behaviors but further, she demonstrates how dependent women are on the behavior of the man. Here is Queen B’s “If I were a Boy”:
If I were a boy
Even just for a day
I’d roll outta bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted and go
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I’d kick it with who I wanted
And I’d never get confronted for it.
‘Cause they’d stick up for me.
If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man.
I’d listen to her
‘Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
‘Cause he’s taken you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed
If I were a boy
I would turn off my phone
Tell everyone it’s broken
So they’d think that I was sleepin’ alone
I’d put myself first
And make the rules as I go
‘Cause I know that she’d be faithful
Waitin’ for me to come home (to come home)
In their songs, these two artists are speaking out against the stereotypical behavior of men that puts females in positions of lesser power in relationships. The question remains though, why have women been allowing themselves to be the subjects of male sexuality? Society has constructed all of these binaries, has regulated normality and specified gender appropriate behaviors in such ways that have characterized women as being inferior to men. Perhaps by explicitly re-creating some of these behaviors in their songs, Beyoncé and Ciara have been able to point out the ways in which women have ultimately allowed said behavior to continue. As women are becoming more in touch with themselves as sexual beings and advocate for gender equality, will such gender roles in relationships continue as they are?