Gender Role Reversal in Music Videos Can Only Be Achieved By Objectifying Women

What Women Really Think
July 28 2014 4:37 PM

Gender Role Reversal in Music Videos Can Only Be Achieved By Objectifying Women

Girl In A Country Song

The video for “Girl In A Country Song,” Maddie & Tae’s catchy critique of female objectification in country music, begins with a shot of two lithe young women in cowboy boots, cut-off jean shorts, and bikini tops, tousling their hair as they strut down a country road. Three men gawk from their perch on the bed of a pick-up truck; musicians Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye clutch their guitars and roll their eyes. Then, Maddie & Tae flip a switch labeled “ROLE REVERSAL,” and suddenly, the male gawkers are the ones wearing the short shorts and the flannel crop tops, flipping their hair back in an outdoor shower, and wrapping their lips around strawberries in slow motion. “Being a girl in a country song, how in the world did it go so wrong?” the women sing. “Like all we’re good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend, nothing more.”

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But apparently, Maddie & Tae’s role reversal switch only works on one gender. The objectified women from the first shot don’t get a masculine wardrobe change; throughout the video, they’re filmed pushing out their butts as they play at farming and making eyes at the camera as they writhe on a tree swing. Meanwhile, the gender-flipped guys are styled and directed to appear purposely ridiculous, not actually sexy. The video’s ostensible aim is to demonstrate how ludicrous it is that women in country (and in music, and in America) are treated like candy for men to consume, but turning “sexy men” into a joke just ends up poking fun at the very idea of a female (or a gay male) gaze. Conveniently, the “sexy women” are preserved throughout the video to satisfy the straight men in the audience. As for Maddie & Tae, they appear in full makeup and slightly “classier” sexy clothes. The video ends up looking like a call for a more modest presentation of femininity, not a real rejection of sexism in country.

Maddie & Tae’s take recalls Shania Twain’s 1999 video for “Man! I Feel Like A Woman,” which is an homage to Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” with a gender-bending twist—but again, not a full turn. In the video, Twain recruits a band of hunky automatons to don skintight sweaters, stand behind her, and plunk ineffectually at instruments (just as Palmer did with his fleet of leggy female models faking on their guitars). But unlike Palmer, who survives his own video with his shirt intact, Twain executes a slow striptease over the course of the song, starting out in a full-length coat, top hat, gloves, and closing out the video in a corset and short shorts. Twain’s video succeeded in showing that women can objectify men, too—but not that they can release a successful music video without taking off their own clothes, too.

Also dancing this line is Jennifer Lopez’s April video for “I Luh Ya Papi,” which opens with a meta scene: J.Lo and her female entourage dream of filming a music video that objectifies men instead of women, featuring Lopez lounging on a bed surrounded by “a bunch of naked guys, for no reason.” So Lopez brings in a crew of immaculately-toned male models to lay naked on her bed, wash her car with their asses, don speedos on her yacht, and comply silently as Lopez pokes at their glistening abs. But while Lopez takes on the role of objectifier to these men—she snaps creepshots of the guys with her tablet and pours a drink down one of their swimsuits—she herself functions as an object for the video’s viewer. Her short shorts, plunging jumpsuits, and pantsless leotards aren’t any less revealing than the guys’ getups, and her dance moves are as sexualized as they are in any of her other videos. Meanwhile, French Montana, who raps on the song, somehow gets through the entire video wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Lopez’s dancers writhe before him in animal-print leggings and bikini tops; the male artist is never expected to drop his pants.

Compared to Maddie & Tae’s version, it’s a victory that the men in Lopez’s video aren’t simply meant to look ridiculous—they look legitimately hot, too. Still, it’s telling that none of these music videos manage to flip the script all the way around, even for the length of a five-minute fantasy sequence. Part of the problem may be that the “role reversal” switch is a little too limiting for both women and men. A pop-feminist vision of sexuality shouldn’t literally require a full switch, wherein women in hoodies ogle men in speedos. Amore equitable vision of sexual expression, where everyone’s allowed to be sexy without adhering to strict gender roles, seems more fun for everyone involved. Back in February, Ingrid Michaelson took a stab at that version of sexuality with her video for “Girls Chase Boys.” The video starts out as a straightforward gender reversal of Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible: As Michaelson sings, gorgeous men dance in red lipstick and hot-pink tank tops. But as the video progresses, women join them, and by the time the song ends, they’re dancing side by side.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

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