Most people agreed that Beyoncé's incendiary halftime show was the highlight of Sunday's Super Bowl. Coming on the coattails of Inaugur-lipsync-gate, her performance answered her own pop rhetorical question: "Who runs the world? I do." While it may be said that the disparity between women and power positions has narrowed considerably in the real world, the question arises, is the same true for women in the world of music? A glance at the 2013 Grammy Award nominees is the cold shower that kills our Beyoncé buzz, with women artists absented from the categories of Album of the Year, Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song and Best New Artist. The midas touch of singers like Beyoncé and Adele nearly makes us forget that as far as women have come in the recording industry, there is still a long way to go. Where to start? How about by demanding retribution for five of the most common crimes perpetrated against women in rock music.
Who You Callin' Little?: Little darlin', little baby, little sister; "Hey little girl, is your daddy home?" Ick. Yuck. No thanks, not even coming from you, Mr. Springsteen. I suppose there might be part of us flattered by the notion that women are delicate birds who just want to be tucked up under big papa's wing. I also suppose that O.J. didn't really do it and somewhere there is a cheesecake that makes you lose weight. No one, man or woman, appreciates feeling lessened or diminished in any way. We birth babies, we are not babies. Big difference. Huge.
This Cherry Pie Comes alla Fist: Freud believed that an unusual preoccupation with eating and drinking belied an "oral fixation," which lead to other nifty habits like uncontrollable aggression. Oh, Freud! Maybe there is some truth to this chestnut, given the many song references to women as food. Thank you, fine gentlemen of Van Halen for pointing out the obvious: your baby (strike one) is pound cake (strike eleventy-gillion). Apparently, women are candy, honey, chocolate, cherry pie (natch, wink, clever) and brown sugar, to name a small sample of what's shaking behind cupboard doors. Nutritional judgments aside, (how about a song called "Sugar Baby, You Gave Me the Diabetes Blues"?), there is nothing redeeming about conflating women with food items. Your attempt to assert some form of hyper-masculinity vis-à-vis figuratively consuming your "candy girl" is simply embarrassing.
Does This Blue Dress Make My Devil Butt Look Fat?: The depiction of women as she-devils, witches, evil soul-and-credit card-sucking goblins predates the advent of rock-n-roll. Rock was simply the first medium to put these characterizations to a catchy beat. Already branded a troublemaker by Christian mythology (Eve, the apple, eternal damnation ring a bell?), women have historically worked to unravel the associations between malfeasance and femininity. Sure, we admit to losing our cool once in a while, especially when it comes to matters of romance, but this hardly warrants taunts of "witchy woman," insinuations that our love is "like bad medicine" or allegations of cannibalism (Maneater? Please. It's not like you're covered in chocolate.) While we're on the subject, idolizing us as angels is equally troublesome. This is too much pressure and too confusing: Our ethereal perfection makes us ideal, yet these same qualities make us unattainable. Is this your way of getting out of commitment? Hmm? Why are you walking away? DON'T MAKE ME SMOTE YOU WITH MY GOBLIN SHE-DEVIL LOVE POISON!!
I Do Have Legs, and I DO Know How to Use Them. To Kick. Your. Ass: The quickest way to get on a woman's bad side is to, well, reduce her to her bad (or good) side. Recording songs about a woman's legs, eyes, bottom or other assets demeans and degrades her. It strips her (sometimes literally) of the power afforded an otherwise autonomous subject. It is also very creepy and will quickly earn you comparisons to real and cinematic psycho-killers. The rockers of the 1980s, especially party-hard hair bands like Aerosmith, Motley Crue and Poison, played heavily into the "woman as collection of parts to be enjoyed" trope. Videos echoed this sentiment with weird images of women's disembodied lips, hands and legs. It was as if that collective hit of acid everyone did at Studio 54 kicked in at the same time in 1986. Bottom line: uncool.
You Rent, You Do Not Own: Without getting into all the thorny and sensitive particularities of what made the nineteenth century not great before the ratification of a certain amendment, I will simply point out that women are no longer considered property. Not only are we not "little girls," but we are not YOUR little girls. We are not your ladies, nor are we trophies "won" from other men or women. It is a fine line between acknowledging a feverish commitment to monogamy in verse and getting hog tied to some guy's radiator. We would rather not tread that line. Similarly, just because a woman does not wish to be referred to as a prize, thing or object of adoration, does not make her loose, available, asking for it or "super freaky." It is true that we know the "sad tale" of "Runaround Sue," but what about her side of the story? Maybe Sue just wasn't that into you, maybe she had her eye on Mustang Sally the entire time, or maybe, just maybe, she was sick of being your little, baby candy girl angel with the luscious peaches and instead was just too busy running the world to give you the time of day.