Are People Who Listen to Sexist Lyrics More Sexist Than Others? Science Weighs In!

Are People Who Listen to Sexist Lyrics More Sexist Than Others? Science Weighs In!

Hello all! Here at West Coast Sound we pay attention to what scientists discover about music so you don't have to! Today, thought we'd use Blinding You With Science to explore the relationship between misogyny and lyrics. As in, is does constant exposure to misogynistic rap or hip-hop lyrics lead a listener to become a raging, obnoxious misogynist? Let's find out!

First, dear readers, let us note that academic literature dealing with misogyny, sexism, and the objectification of women predominantly focuses on rap and hip-hop even though there it is clear that rap and hip-hop certainly have no monopoly on anti-woman attitudes . Also, some researchers have argued that the studies examining rap lyrics and sexism generally leave out the perspectives of rap aficionados themselves.

Be that as it may, does it matter that many rap lyrics are misogynous and rape-positive? Does this affect male listeners' perceptions of women, or make female listeners more likely to excuse or tolerate abusive behavior? As with most things academic, the answer is "sometimes" and "depends". Let's explore the reasons why:

Misogynistic lyrics lead listeners to be more comfortable in expressing whatever sexist attitudes they have already.

Run for your life if you can, little girl, if I catch you with another man, little girl, that's the end. Little girl.

Stereotype priming refers to the process of administering a stimulus that activates group category information stored in memory. In other words: let's say Person A is already predisposed to think that women are idiots, and stumbles upon Real Housewives while channel surfing. This person may conclude that yep, women are idiots as documented on "Real Housewives." This is called "stereotype priming"--examples of women's idiocy simply confirms already held notions. On the other hand, if Person B, who did not already have the opinion that women are idiots, sees "Real Housewives" this person will simply conclude that those specific women are idiots, not womankind as a whole. We can conclude then that Person A's sexism was not caused by "Real Housewives", per se--it isn't "Real Housewives" that made Person A sexist---"Real Housewives" just confirms this pre-existing bias.

But for rap music, the stereotype priming is not only sexist, it's racist

White men who watched Foxy Brown videos reported "distinctively bad attitudes" about African American women, including the belief that black women are more sexually promiscuous than white women.

One paper out that just about all of the studies surveying attitudes about rap were limited to white audiences. They played rap and hip-hop songs performed by black women to a white male audience and concluded that listeners were primed not only to recall negative attitudes about women in general, but also "distinctively unfavorable attitudes" about African-American women.

But it seems that sexually violent lyrics in particular can trigger bad attitudes about women

Deep inside the garden of Eden / Standing there with my hard on bleedin' / There's a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen/ Good God no that would be treason

Believe me Eve she gave good reason/ bootie looking too good not to be squeezin'.

A study done in the late 1990s conducted a survey on men who reported little, if any, exposure to "gangsta rap". These men were from a small, conservative, white religious college and reported no exposure to any rap music. At all. The authors obtained "five sexually explicit audio recordings of sexually violent gangsta rap". The survey respondents then either listened to the songs, or just read a transcription of the lyrics, or sat around doing nothing (to provide a control condition). Results? Exposure to the lyrics, with no music, increased sexually violent attitudes towards women, but exposure to the music itself did not. This would suggest that sexually aggressive lyrics, rather than aggressive music itself, triggers sexually violent attitudes.

Exposure to sexually explicit lyrics doesn't just impact men; they also affect girls and young women negatively (NSFW video)

Hello. My name is Dita. I'll be your mistress tonight.

A study surveyed over 500 adolescents and concluded--among other things--that women who are exposed to "sexually explicit lyrics" -most of which objectifies women--are more likely to engage in behaviors like binge-drinking and weed-smoking, and have lots of sexual partners. OK, you might ask. Maybe these are just some hard-partying chicks who don't fall for no dudes and like to drink and smoke and there's nothing wrong with that. Perhaps, but another study revealed that women who reported lots of drinking, weed-smoking, and sexual partners also are more likely to have a negative body image.

Listening to rap music in general, whether the lyrics are sexist or not, can increase men's sexism.

I'm telling all y'all it's sabotage...

Bizarre, right? Apparently, exposure to rap music in particular--with or without misogynous lyrics--increases misogyny. This isn't true of other types of music. Some researchers speculate that this is because rap is stereotypically associated with sexism and misogyny, so listening to rap music--particularly if one doesn't pay particularly close attention. In one experiment 407 undergraduates listened to two rap songs. One was "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys--not considered sexist or misogynous--the other was "Kill You" by Eminem, definitely considered misogynistic. The participants then filled out a questionnaire that measured sexism and were surprised to learn that listening to Sabotage produced far more sexist responses than listening to Eminem. Why would that be?

The researchers theorized that it was due to the fact that people simply associate rap music with sexism and misogyny. This is not just the case with rap--people exposed to heavy metal Christian music have reported increased sexism after exposure simply because they associate heavy metal with anti-woman attitudes.

What do you think? Do people already have these attitudes, and exposure to the music simply allows them to feel more comfortable expressing it? Or does the music bring it out of them? And is rap any more or less sexist than other types of music?


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