Whose Agency Is It, Anyway?

Reflecting on our recent blog posts about female sexualization in the music industry and questions of agency (specifically, here, here, and here) I was reminded of Grimes’s statement on how she doesn’t want “to compromise [her] morals in order to make a living” (I’ve linked to her statement, and I would highly recommend reading it, given that it touches on so many of the ideas that we’ve been discussing here and in class). For those unfamiliar, Grimes is the stage name of Claire Boucher,  a Canadian electronic music singer-songwriter.

Even Grimes, an artist not operating in the mainstreams of culture, faces pressures to conform to a certain status quo, from sexual harassment at shows to being treated as if she is hopeless with technology by virtue of being female. Yet in decrying this sort of treatment in a public forum, I’m encouraged to think that there is some kind of sea change happening in popular culture. Looking beyond Sinead O’Connor and Miley Cyrus, there have been several examples in the media of women artists speaking out against sexism and misogyny from a range of musical genres: from Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry who wrote in The Guardian about her experiences with male fans who, when angered about Mayberry’s unhappiness about the constant supply of comments about her appearance, started to make rape threats toward her, to Charlotte Church’s recent John Peel speech about sexualization in music videos, to Nicki Minaj speaking truth to power in pointing out the double standard that makes women bitches and men bosses.

Although all of these critiques aren’t exactly the same, all together they make a powerful and compelling case that all isn’t right in the world of music for women, that women are still restricted by a narrow delineation of gender that seeks to classify them, pressure them into doing things they do not truly want to do, sexualize them, question their independence, and ultimately make them into something that they are not. They demonstrate that Sut Jhally’s definition of the Dreamworlds still resonates deeply.

 These critiques of the music industry are worth bearing in mind when we think about females within the music industry and their agency to make their own choices about how they are depicted, represented and thought of by the public at large. At the very least, they demonstrate that that questions of agency are never simple when considering the role of women within the music industry.

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2 thoughts on “Whose Agency Is It, Anyway?

  1. I think you bring up a very important conflict. Before you mentioned “Dreamworld’s 3”, that is exactly what came to mind as I was reading your post. I do think there has been a lot of change in terms of the agency and respect women have in popular culture but I still think there is a long way to go. I think a big issue in women gaining agency is that they are still viewed in relation to men. The only reason women are women is because they are not men and that leaves virtually no room for women to obtain their own agency. By this definition of women, women are viewed as opposites of men. Since men are viewed as powerful and intelligent, women then become viewed as irrational and weak. Unfortunately, because women are viewed as inferior versions of men, men feel as though they have the right to control women and I think this is where your question becomes extremely important, “Whose agency is it anyway?” If you ask any women then there is no hesitation, the agency is hers but if you ask society the answer is not so clear.

  2. Pingback: My Problem with Rashida’s Tweet: #stopactinglikewhores | Girlpower

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