Teens spend six hours a day in front of an electronic device and over two hours a day listening to music (BBC, NY Times).
That’s the equivalent of an entire workday exposed to the vast array of messages pouring out of music and videos. When was the last time you listened in?
As a sexual assault prevention educator and survivor, I speak to audiences about the ways in which assault affects America’s children. This fall I was invited to speak to college students about the frequent depiction of sexual violence in music and videos. To facilitate this analysis, I was asked to show a few music videos embodying rape culture. One rainy afternoon—thinking I would be at this task all day—I went trawling YouTube to find some examples for the class. After only ten minutes on the job, I was dismayed to realize I was done. There were so many videos flaunting gender stereotypes and rape myths that I could hardly choose from among them.
Most of the Top 40 videos I came across had variations on a disturbing theme: women being objectified, subjected to predatory looks or advances by men, and spoken about in derogatory ways. I settled on Maroon 5’s “Animals” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” because of the extreme rape myths they depicted. These videos had received a combined one billion views. Is it any wonder sexual abuse and assault are so prevalent in our culture? (Check the videos out for yourself.)
What my students learned is that popular American music glamorizes sexual violence, which is damaging to our kids. Rape culture—a series of beliefs and conditions that help perpetuate sexual violence—teaches children from a young age that women are valued by how they look above who they are, and that they are to blame for assaults. Rape myths such as “she said no but really meant yes,” “wearing skimpy clothing is inviting trouble,” and “sexual assault isn’t that big of a deal” are perpetuated so often in the media that they become normalized, particularly in music videos that are hungrily watched by millions of American youths.
Why is this a problem? Research has shown a very clear association between children’s exposure to sexual violence and gender stereotypes in music and their attitudes about sex and gender roles. In studies, males exposed to violent and sexist music and videos report greater acceptance of violence against women. A particularly disturbing study of 7th– and 8th– grade boys found a correlation between video watching and acceptance of date rape.
One of the most challenging aspects of rape culture in music is that it muddies the waters of consent. Songs such as Eminem’s “Stay Wide Awake” insinuate that boys don’t need permission for sex and that girls are responsible for sexual violence. To set the record straight about consent, youth education efforts are underway at colleges around the country and on social media (the very clever Tea Consent is one example). Yet pop music threatens to negate these efforts because its rape culture message reaches children long before consent awareness does.
Our children should enter adulthood with a clear understanding of consent and the boundaries of healthy relationships. If we share this value, it is imperative that we limit exposure to music and videos that glorify sexual violence. At a minimum, we should be talking to our kids and students about the ways in which gender stereotypes and relationship violence hurt both men and women. Watching a few videos with our teens can get this discussion going while also teaching our youth to think critically about rape myths in music.