I happened to go into iTunes to look at the top 100 songs in the U.S. this week. The top 10 are hip hop songs. No surprise there—back in 2017, hip hop/R&B became the most consumed music genre in America. I decided to dig a little bit and checked out the lyrics of each of the top 10 songs. Eight out of the top ten songs have the word b*tch or some version of w*ore in the lyrics. And the other two have express references to violence. Now hear me, folks: I’m not putting hip hop on blast. I pay attention to hip hop lyrics because that’s what young people listen to most. But I can do this same exercise with country, pop, and this week’s most popular movies and shows and find misogyny and objectification of women and girls in all those places.
Music, movies, shows, video games—they have the power to shape culture. They can mainstream good ideas. They can accelerate positive social change. And they can also normalize destructive teachings.
If—based on my very rudimentary research—80% of songs that young boys listen to call women and girls b*tches and w*ores, it’s hard to imagine they won’t repeat that language in their lives. If the artists they look up to see women as a collection of body parts, it’s hard to imagine they won’t see the same.
People much smarter than I have validated these claims. Research shows listening to misogynistic content may attribute to listeners’ “expression of similar attitudes in their own lives, including accepting the objectification of women,” and that when these messages are conveyed to listeners, it may contribute to the “creation of a social climate in which violence (against women) is viewed as acceptable.”
This powerful pop culture content is reinforcing how men and boys are socialized to view women and girls as objects, property, and as having less value than men. And that collective socialization lays the foundation for violence and discrimination against all women and girls to persist.
Here’s the reality—there’s no sheltering young people from music or movies or shows or video games that denigrate and demean women. They are playing in schools, in the car, at the mall, and images that objectify or depict violence against women and girls are in magazines, on billboards — they are everywhere. So it’s our job to teach them to become conscious consumers.
Here’s a few things I do that can help facilitate conversation with young people your life.
- Consume their content with them. When my son was around 12 years old, I would ask him to deejay when we were in the car. To share his favorite songs. I would listen and ask him questions about the lyrics. A lot of times, he didn’t know the meaning of some of the lyrics. He just liked the song. So it opened a door for us to talk about what was really being said.
- Don’t condemn any specific genre. Because of the pervasive nature of pop culture, I have found it more effective not to judge any specific genre of music or movies, but to ask questions and keep an open door for communication.
- Make a point to praise the good. Find examples of healthy manhood and relationships in movies or music and share why they are good.
- Pay attention to your own consumption. I recently was flipping channels and found myself watching an old James Bond film. It was filled with what would now be called out as coercive sexual behavior and sexual assault (it was back then too!). Make a point to name things—past and present—as what they are.
At A Call To Men, we are not advocating for censorship. We want to teach young people to be conscious consumers so they can first, be aware of what they are watching and listening to, and second, make intentional decisions about how that content is affecting their beliefs and actions.
If you’d like to dive deeper on being a conscious consumer of pop culture, be sure to watch our May 2020 community conversation with Matt McGorry, actor, activist, and co-founder and CEO of Inspire Justice.