By Jeanette Bonifaz
Music is an integral part of Latin culture and a clear agent of socialization. In many ways, it defines us. Unfortunately, some of the most popular Latin musicians and Latin songs today are blasting degrading comments about women and perpetuating a patriarchal and violent society. A case in point is Reggaetón, a genre that is permeated with violent and degrading language against women (of course there are always exceptions). There are many fronts in which the world needs to fight sexism, gender inequality, violence against women, and male chauvinism. But calling out musicians that use music to degrade women and reinforce the patriarchal and heteronormative society in which we live is imperative. Campaigns against misogynistic language in music have emerged throughout Latin America, but more unified and regional campaigns and national/regional initiatives need to be designed and implemented.
Violence against women, gender inequality, and discrimination are all still very prevalent issues in Latin America—but also around the world, as exemplified by the recent social media explosion of the #MeToo movement. In fact, Latin American women face one of the highest rates of sexual assault. The statistics show that “every other woman who walks by on the streets of cities like São Paulo, Lima and Bogotá has, at some point in their lives, been a victim of sexual assault.” The region is also leading in female murder rates. Brazil, for example, has a homicide rate for women—most of them killed by their partners—that is higher than that of any of the 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In this context, consider the following lyrics form Colombian reggaetón singer Maluma:
“I’m in love with 4 babys. They always give me what I want. They f*** when I tell them to. None of give me a ‘but’.”
You can easily find several examples with just a quick search. For instance, “If you continue with that attitude, I’m going to rape you” by Jiggy Drama, “When I catch her by the hair I hit her against the wall, and I tell her I'm going to send her to intensive [care]” by Alexis y Fido, and “I know you like to twerk in the wall” by De La Ghetto.
Reggaetón, having emerged from working-class sectors, had a real opportunity to be a positive force promoting social justice, which it did in some cases regarding racism and segregation. Unfortunately, much of the genre has gone the opposite direction. Reggaetón now seems to be promoting injustice and unequal relations between women and men with women depicted as sexual objects, both verbally through lyrics and graphically in music videos.
Still, Daddy Yankee led the Billboard Hot 100 chart for weeks, and while Latin people feel proud that a Spanish speaking song is dominating the airwaves in the United States, they should think twice. In “Despacito,” or “Slowly,” Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee continue to promote the discourse of the dominant male and the subordinate women: “Let me surpass your danger zones to make you scream and you forget your last name” and “If I ask you for a kiss, come, give it to me.”
Music is a reflection of society, but we cannot ignore the role that music plays in shaping social norms, and consequently, our behavior. While the effects of misogynistic and sexualized lyrics should be researched further, various studies have found a direct correlation between music lyrics and sexual behavior and aggression.
In 2015, a very successful campaign, called “Think about it – don’t let the music degrade you,” translated the horrendous language of various songs into images that depict the meaning of this discourse. Another positive initiative was the creation of Puerto Rico’s first Reggaetón Symposium in 2016, which included a conversation about the negative language in the genre, at least bringing the conversation to the table. Banning reggaetón would be very difficult and a strategy that is unlikely to help. Raising awareness and bringing the subject to the forefront has a higher potential of leading people to simply not wanting to listen to these songs.
Fighting misogyny in reggaetón necessitates a commitment from citizens, schools, universities, governments, and regional bodies in Latin America. In fact, we cannot treat this assault against women in a vacuum; it needs to be analyzed in the wider context of gender inequality in Latin America. More attention needs to be directed at educating both musicians and listeners about the importance of social responsibility. Music is a product and as consumers we have a responsibility to know what we are consuming. Second, national and regional awareness initiatives need to be created, perhaps through regional bodies, such as The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), as well as regulations that discourage sponsorship of events that include artists who implicitly or explicitly perpetuate violence against women and gender inequality. Third, universities should place significant resources in researching this topic and designing music media literacy programs, such as the new task force at Illinois State University which aims to tackle this specific issue. Finally, regional initiatives should also encourage and help women become reggaetón artists and develop their own narratives. Female voices in a highly male-dominated genre would at a minimum diversify the voices we hear from the genre, and help reverse this degrading trend.
Jeanette Bonifaz is a Latin America Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). Jeanette earned her BA in International Relations, Latin American Studies, and International Development from American University. Her work has been published online in Common Dreams, openDemocracy, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, and CEPR’s The America’s Blog: Analysis Beyond the Echo Chamber.