There are plenty of popular songs being played on the radio nowadays with catchy tunes and toe-tapping beats, but have you ever stopped to listen to the lyrics? To actually listen to the words that are being sung to you, becoming trapped in your mind and locked up in your heart? Take a look at the lyrics to “I Don’t Mind” by Usher: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/usher/idontmind.html. What do you see?
I heard this song for the first time on my way to my roommate’s house to have a weekend at home with her family. She (“Monica”), Ross, and I were all in the car together, chatting and jamming to the radio when this song came on. Within the first round of the chorus (roughly the first thirty seconds of the song), I was absolutely appalled. This song is blatantly sexualizing and objectifying women as if it is okay.
Everything in our culture today from movies to TV to music is telling us that this portrayal of women is okay. That women are meant to be sex toys for the pleasure of men- but only until he wants to settle down with a faithful wife, and then no one wants a hoe, right? We’re meant to give in easily to you whenever you feel so aroused, but not to any other guy that comes around because it only makes you look good if you’re the only one who has had us. With this conception of women, we’re either whores or prudes, and while neither conception lets us “win,” they both are all about sex.
These lyrics try to make it out like stripping and prostitution are okay forms of employment for women, which although possibly aiming to destigmatize women who are strippers and prostitutes, nonetheless still sexualizes and objectifies them: they remain tools for sex.
A few weekends after I’d first heard this song, my two roommates walked to the local ice cream joint which had just re-opened for the summer season. We’d worn dresses that day for the heck of it- it was a gorgeously sunny day, one of the first warm ones in a long time, and they just made us feel good. As we were walking back to campus, a car full of four or five college boys drove passed us and called out to get our attention, waving and such.
You can’t honestly tell me you think they would’ve done that if we had been wearing sweatpants, can you?
The problem we’re facing is that society and culture influence media which influences society and culture. One of my professors made this statement a week or two ago while we were studying the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon. When asked what the film is about, Kurosawa would frequently respond, “A rape,” or “A murder and a rape,” and leave it at that, my professor said. She said that he wanted people to think about it on their own instead of be told what it’s point or message was.
When asked how I liked the film, I was angry. Women were portrayed weakly. The men treated the woman like she wanted the rape or as if it were her fault that it happened. At one point during the film, I cursed, “Damn patriarchy!” But my professor responded saying that she felt it was good that I was so enraged and uncomfortable with the film; if I hadn’t been, well…
The film shows various testimonies of people involved in the rape and murder or of those who witnessed it, each of the versions being different to the point that telling who is telling the truth is impossible. Kurosawa makes some very poignant statements about subjective reality, memory, and truth. But he also uses each of these testimonies to reflect Japanese cultural values at the time, namely that women who were raped were worthless and their lives were over.
Our professor asked us if we felt that he was validating that cultural value or critiquing it, keeping in mind that his work would affect society and culture in either continuing with that belief or starting to do away with it just as the society and culture had influenced him in the making of the movie. Given all of the information presented in the testimonies (the weak portrayal of women, the way the men treated the woman, etc.), my classmates were inclined to say that Kurosawa was validating the way Japan looked on rape.
Now, Kurosawa’s film Rashomon is based on two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, “In A Grove” and “Rashomon” (here is a link to a synopsis of the film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon). The film version adds dialogue between three minor characters, discussing the rape and murder which had involved three main characters (the rapist, the victim, and the victim’s husband). These three minor characters draw parallels with the three major characters, but the parallel is imperfect: there is reconciliation and hope between the minor characters instead of the condemnation and hopelessness between the major characters. And through this parallel, Kurosawa critiques the Japanese view on rape. The film responds to a cultural and societal norm, using media to attempt to change it.
So, I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, is this song validating or critiquing the American cultural value of objectifying and sexualizing of women?
I have already outlined my view that this song validates this American mindset, but it would do everyone well to think on it on his own. What are we saying about our women with songs like this? What do songs like this say about each and every one of us? What do songs like this say about our country, our values, and the people who live here? Is this what we want America to stand for?
Usher, men, women… actually, I do mind.