Women in music videos: help your daughter press pause on female stereotypes

  • Age: 12-15 yrs
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Women in music videos: help your daughter press pause on female stereotypes

As young people are exposed to a huge range of media content, through an ever-growing number of channels, a spotlight has been shone on the effect that music videos might have on female stereotypes and the portrayal of women.

Research from institutes including the American Psychological Association and the UK’s Home Office have clearly shown that music videos are increasingly sexualising and objectifying women. For this reason, we’ve put together an action checklist to help you start a conversation with your daughter about women in music videos and how they are portrayed.

"My daughter sees stuff on telly and thinks she has to look like that," says Jo, a parent who spoke in a recent Home Office inquiry into the sexualisation of childhood. "It’s the music videos for her – they’re half naked – do they really need to do that to sell a song?"

If you’ve seen any of the music videos your daughter watches you may well feel the same, but there’s no getting away from the fact that music videos are an ever-increasing part of young people’s lives. The Home Office inquiry reported that in 2002 it was estimated that young people watched around 9 hours of music videos each week. Fast forward to 2010 and another report suggested this had jumped to a shocking 2.5 hours each day. Meanwhile, Ofcom’s most recent research into media and children reported in 2012 that 40% of 12- to 15-year-olds watch or download music videos on a weekly basis and with ready access via mobile devices.

What’s the problem with women in music videos?

You don’t have to look far to find examples of stars singing suggestive lyrics, wearing very few clothes and lots of make-up. Close-up shots of perfectly-pouting lips, wiggling bottoms, shimmying cleavages and bare, chiselled stomachs all feature heavily too, reinforcing the idea that women have to look – and behave – a certain way to be attractive.

The negative impact of music videos on girls’ self-esteem

Researchers at Ryerson University, Toronto, looked into the impact of music videos on young women, asking them to watch five popular music videos selected because they star women who match the description of a stereotypically 'perfect-looking' woman. The young women in the study were shown the music videos interspersed with advertising to simulate reality as closely as possible.

The study was split into three groups with different types of advertising interspersed between the videos. Some watched music videos alongside normal ads, some watched them alongside ads without people in them and some watched Dove’s 'Evolution' ads, designed to address the issue of body confidence.

The result? Compared to viewing normal television, viewing music videos resulted in significantly lowering the young women’s satisfaction with their appearance – but watching the Evolution ad reversed this effect. This study shows that by helping girls become more media savvy and aware of how images are regularly manipulated in media, it’s possible to counteract the damage to some degree.

The UK government was so concerned about the impact of music videos on girls’ body confidence that it commissioned the Home Office inquiry that Jo spoke at. The Sexualisation of Young People Review recommended age restrictions for music videos and guided broadcasters on when to show them. But this can only be part of the solution.

You can help your daughter be savvy about female stereotypes

It’s unrealistic to try to police your daughter’s viewing habits all of the time. Gone are the days of consuming the latest music with a radio to your ear or a special 2 hours of TV on a Saturday morning. Today’s girls have music and video available to them at any time through the many devices and platforms they have access to.

So instead of trying to limit her access, help her to build her knowledge and understanding of what she is seeing when viewing music videos so she can develop the savviness she needs to protect her body confidence.

Music videos are a popular part of youth culture, and dancing and singing are excellent activities to be involved in. Not all music videos are damaging to self-esteem but helping your daughter be discerning when watching them will help protect her body confidence over the long run.

To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of the people whose stories we tell on these pages. But the stories they tell are absolutely genuine.

Action checklist:
Help your daughter understand the negative impact of female stereotypes

Watch together: watch some music videos together and ask her what she likes and dislikes about them. Point out the roles men play in the videos as compared to women. What message is trying to be sent here? Don’t make the conversation too serious, but ask her about how they make her feel and let her think out loud about what affect they might be having.

Learn about video production processes : help her see through the production process by talking about how the videos might have been made and who would have been involved – from make-up artists and wardrobe/costume people to special effects and cameramen.

Do your homework : if she doesn’t want to watch the videos together, do your homework on your own and then, the next time she is listening to the same artists’ music, casually mention their videos and see if you can start a discussion about them.

Focus on the positive : Remember that there are 'good' examples of music videos too. Adele and Little Mix both buck the trend, for example, shunning nudity for a look that says more about their own personalities. Watch these as well and ask your daughter what is different about these videos and what she likes about them in comparison to the others.

What next: action steps to help

  • Share the Spot the Fakes tool with your daughter to explore the subject in more detail. It will help her think more deeply about female stereotypes and real beauty.
  • Talk to her about how the images of women in these clips make her feel about herself and reassure her that they only show one kind of female ‘beauty’.
  • Encourage her to talk to her friends about the same subject the next time they’re watching music videos together.
  • Would your daughter have the confidence to contact her favourite female pop star to ask her about the way that women are portrayed in her music videos?

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