Auntie SparkNotes: I Can't Dance to Degrading Music
I have a question which might be a bit weird. I'm a 17-year-old girl who hardly ever goes to parties or goes out dancing. Not that I don't like those activities, but I am tired of listening to music that demeans and degrades my gender.
I constantly go to parties and hear songs about how girls are "sexy bitches" or about how guys are going to convince girls to have sex with them. Most of the time I'm with some of my close friends, who like discussing these things with me and make fun of the heteronormativity and sexual objectification in pop music. However, it's kind of annoying to not be able to just let go and dance like everyone else.
I'm not asking for much, I just want songs about consensual sex that is mutually desired, with an equal amount of giving and taking. I want songs about respecting each other's personal freedom in a relationship and I want songs about not having to have a partner's acceptance to feel desired and beautiful.
So these are my questions:
1. How do I go to parties in order to just dance, and let go of this?
2. Can you recommend some good, "feminist-friendly" songs for me?
Before we go any further, Sparkler, I'm just going to go ahead and tell you what I think you already know: you're going to be in for a lifetime of frustration if you can't find a way to enjoy art—from music and movies to paintings and books—that doesn't necessarily mesh with a feminist (or any other) ideology.
Music is a reflection of and a response to the world that we live in, which, as anyone can tell you, is not a sunshine-and-rainbows reality free of heteronormativity and objectification and other less-than-progressive social mores. (And you've gotta realize, too, that even the recognition of other orientations, let alone the concept of heteronormativity as a Thing That Exists, is incredibly recent; it's going to take pop culture a while to catch up. I mean, just for perspective's sake: when I was your age, which was not that long ago, homosexuality was still considered so weird and gross by the general public that networks would threaten to pull TV shows featuring same-sex kissing, and Ellen Degeneres was still pretending to be straight.) Plus, can we just take a moment to acknowledge that it's okay for there to be a disconnect between the kind of sex you want to have, and the kind of sex you want to have on your iPod? What makes for a healthy dynamic in real life and what makes for a fun, escapist listening experience are not necessarily one and the same. It's not that there can't be songs about mutually-desired consensual sex and personal freedom in relationships—in fact, there are many songs about these things out there right now!—but the great thing about music, and about art in general, is that we can enjoy things on our iPods that we can't, or wouldn't want to, in our real lives.
And while sure, you could hide yourself away in an ivory tower and listen to nothing but objectification-free, feminist-friendly playlists for the rest of your life, I cannot urge you enough not to do this—and not just because you're going to get seriously sick of the Indigo Girls after awhile. Walling yourself off from lyrics and themes you object to doesn't stop the music; it does, however, make you less literate, less knowledgeable, less present, and less credible in the ongoing conversation about that music and its place in the cultural landscape.
Which, as you yourself have said, is a conversation you want to take part in and that could really use your voice.
So when it comes to the art you consume—and particularly in situations where someone else is curating the selection (i.e. a party where the playlist is beyond your control)—try dialing your standards down to a more reasonable, less crazy-making place: one in which you recognize that pop music doesn't necessarily reflect your values, but also recognize that it gives you a really great cultural touchpoint for discussing those values, and also recognize that you do not necessarily have to have that discussion right this minute or at all times. Your ideology might require you to examine art through a feminist lens, but your humanity deserves the chance to put the lens away sometimes and enjoy art for its own sake. Dance to the sick beat on Saturday night; discuss the problematic lyrics on Monday morning. And if anyone suggests that this makes you a bad or less committed feminist, tell that person to go suck an egg, because stridency does not equal integrity.
That said, constructing a compulsively danceable feminist playlist is absolutely possible! In fact, it's so possible that I went ahead and made one for you—featuring artists you need not feel guilty about supporting, and lyrics that won't make you cringe (unless you have a problem with explicit language, in which case... well, there's always the Indigo Girls.)
The No-Cognitive-Dissonance Playlist for Progressive Booty-Shakers
"Telephone" by Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce
"Blah Blah Blah" by Ke$ha
"Love of my Life" by Erykah Badu
"Rude Boy" by Rihanna
"Swim Good" by Frank Ocean
"Gucci, Gucci, Gucci" by Kreayshawn
"Over" by Drake
"Womanizer" by Britney Spears
"Peaches and Cream" by 112
"F**k the Pain Away" by Peaches
"Baby Don't Cry" by Tupac
"Moment for Life" by Nicki Minaj feat. Drake
"None of Your Business" by Salt-n-Pepa
"Unity" by Queen Latifah
"Liquorice" by Azealia Banks
"Girls (Who Run the World)" by Beyonce
"Sure Shot" by Beastie Boys
"Ms. Jackson" by Outkast
"You Got Me" by The Roots feat. Erykah Badu and Eve
"Hardcore Girls" by Rye Rye
...Now, let's DANCE.
Got a song to add to our playlist? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.