I am a huge fan of Taylor Swift. You may love me or you may hate me for it, but I don’t care. I can tell you which of her albums are my favorite and which songs are based on which ex-boyfriends.
I have friends who judge me for liking Taylor Swift, which is fine. I’m not forcing anyone to enjoy her music. But if I’m judged for liking Taylor Swift and the only reason I’m given is “just because,” it makes me wonder if her music is deemed less valuable because of her gender and topics she chooses to sing about.
The same can be said for artists like Harry Styles (even One Direction), Ariana Grande or Olivia Rodrigo.
“In particular, when we see age and gender interact, young women's tastes are considered basic,” said Abby Newell, an instructor of sociology and women and gender studies at UNC. “They're considered poppy mainstream rather than legitimate art.”
Society assigns innate characteristics to gender that don’t actually exist, Newell said. Emotions themselves are often gendered. All genders experience emotion, but men are often criticized for expressing it at all, while women are criticized for expressing it too much.
“After losing the Super Bowl, [players] might cry or get angry or throw [their] helmet,” Newell said. “We see this a lot with soccer and baseball, men getting into fights and screaming. And in the context of athletics, those emotional outbursts are acceptable, in part because they're seen as anger typically, but outside of athletics, men aren't given the same space to play with and experience emotions.”
On the other hand, women at a Harry Styles, BTS or Taylor Swift concert seen crying or laughing may be ridiculed for behaving in ways that we consider stereotypically feminine.
If I told you that I cried at a Taylor Swift’s concert when I was younger, what words would you use to describe me? Would you say I was hysterical, crazy or obsessed? Or would you say I was passionate, appreciative and excited?
Generally, younger female fans' reactions to music artists are often labeled as hysterical, obsessive and stereotypical.
Newell said that under the domination of cisgender masculinity, anything that is considered feminine, or associated with women, is often devalued. The devaluation of femininity is generally referred to as androcentrism.
There is a lot of societal value and attention placed on things like the Super Bowl and professional men's athletics. They are generally dominated by men and perceived as masculine when, in reality, no gender should be associated with them.
“As humans and society, we tend to give nongendered objects, activities and preferences gendered associations,” Newell said. “For example, liking Taylor Swift is not necessarily masculine or feminine inherently, but rather we type Taylor Swift music as being feminine, and thus it's devalued.”
Interests, whether they be sports teams or music artists, should not be gendered. Gendering these interests creates harmful stereotypes and influences which interests society places more value on.
Next time someone expresses criticism for someone’s music taste or appreciation of art in general, feel free to ask them where that criticism comes from.
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