Turns out Maddie & Tae were right—new research shows that girls in country songs really are only good for their looks.
In 2014 the country duo Maddie & Tae released their hit single “Girl in a Country Song,” a song that laments how women in country music today are portrayed as objects, play-things meant to satisfy a man. As you know, I have 4 daughters, and they all listen to country music. Wanting to know if my daughters really are exposed to messages in country music telling them that what makes them special is how they look and how tight their clothes are, we analyzed 750 country songs from the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s for how they portrayed women.
Here’s what we found. Country music in the 2010s, compared to earlier decades:
- talks more about women’s appearance
- talks more about women in tight or revealing clothing
- compares women to objects more
- refers more to women using slang instead of their real names
- talks less about women being empowered
- talks less about women in non-traditional roles
These were true for songs sung by male singers, but none of these findings were true for songs sung by female singers. In addition, country songs sung by female singers in the 2010s referred more to women as distrustful or cheaters than songs in the 2000s.
Let’s talk about what this research means. Country music is the most popular music genre in America. Country music is often considered more wholesome and “safe” than rap, hip-hop, and rock music. Unfortunately, this research shows that Americans rarely escape the message that women are to be valued for their looks and for sex appeal instead of for who they are as a person or for their competence-based attributes. And here’s the problem with this—research also shows that women and girls can internalize these messages, resulting in a host of negative outcomes, such as feeling bad about one’s body, depression, and eating disorders. Not to mention what these types of lyrics do to boys’ perceptions of girls.
Don’t women deserve better than this? Don’t our children deserve better?
As a parent, what can you do? As I’ve written in the past both on this blog and at PBSparents.org, parents are in the best position to help kids avoid the effects of listening to negative media lyrics. In these links I outline specific things parents can do and say about the music kids listen to, so I won’t repeat them here. As you’ll find, there is no need to feel powerless as a parent. In fact, you have a greater influence than you think. I encourage you to start paying attention to the lyrics of music you listen to, especially when little ears are around. We may not be able to change the country music industry and the music they create, but we can make a difference for those we love.