Did you know that if you think Justin Bieber‘s music sucks, you are implicitly supporting the patriarchy? It’s true!
At least, according to one UNC philosophy professor. At a recent community conference in Charlotte, NC, Dr. Robin James presented a pithy talk on the feminist dynamics of pop music. Specifically, she believes that pop music acts against the patriarchy by allowing men to be “traded” by women. Groups of girls bonding over Justin Bieber’s cuteness or BeyoncĂ©‘s brand of girl power subverts the patriarchal notion that women are supposed to be traded by men, and never the other way around. The men in charge allow it to exist, she argues, because it makes them money, but they must simultaneously perpetuate the idea that teenybopper music is dumb and terrible, so as to avoid letting it get too big for its britches. (I’m not sure how we’re expected to think this literally plays out…are these supposed to be the same people? Because I’m pretty sure most record executives do not want people to think the music they put out is dumb and terrible. But I guess she’s speaking more abstractly than that.)
Is there any truth to this at all? A bit! Sexism, racism, and homophobia can certainly play a role in attitudes like “rockism” (the idea that music made by probably white, probably male, people with guitars is inherently better than other types of music), but I don’t think that’s the whole story. Dr. James seems to be focusing on one tiny aspect of teen pop while ignoring all the problematic ways it reinforces traditional gender roles. Not to mention, I think most feminists would agree that the endgame of feminism is not to have women trade and objectify men, but to have everyone treat each other as equals. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting idea to consider. Maybe the next time my politically progressive boyfriend makes fun of me for liking that Carly Rae Jepsen song, I’ll tell him to stop being such a male chauvanist.