Friday, February 20, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Charlotte Church's lecture on sexism in music

Now, here's a strong opening for a speech:
I’d like you to imagine a world in which male musicians are routinely expected to act as submissive sex objects. Picture Beyonce’s husband, Jay Z, stripped down to a t-back bikini thong, sex kitten-ing his way through a boulevard of suited and booted women for their pleasure. Or Britney Spears’s ex, Justin Timberlake, in buttock-clenching, denim hot pants, riding on the bonnet of a pink Chevy, explaining to his audience how he’d like to be their teenage dream. 
Before we all become a little too hot beneath the gusset, of course, these scenarios are not likely to become a reality. Unless for comedy’s sake. The reason for this is that these are roles that the music industry has carved out specifically for women. It is a male dominated industry with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.
The speaker was Welsh singer, songwriter and actress Charlotte Church, delivering the 2013 John Peel lecture to an audience at BBC 6 Music, an industry conference. If you remember her as the very young girl with the voice of an angel, this talk will change that view. Here, she looks at the modern origins of how women in music are treated:
The culture of demeaning women in pop music is so ingrained as to become routine. From the way we are dealt with by management and labels, to the way we are presented to the public. We can trace this back to Madonna, although it probably does go back further in time. She was a template setter. By changing her image regularly, putting her sexuality at the heart of her image, videos and live performances, the statement she was making was: “I’m in control of me and my sexuality.” This idea has had its corners rounded off over the years and has become: “Take your clothes off, show you’re an adult.”
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't mince words when your industry is your audience: Not unlike Elisabeth Murdoch's taking-to-task of the UK television industry--also a Famous Speech Friday entry--Church wastes no time putting her issue before the industry. For many, including performers and talent, the chance to address top executives is a rare one. Waste no time getting to your point.
  • Dig deep: Church's example of how Madonna's bold approach later "had its corners rounded off" is itself bold, an effort to go past image to reality. In doing so, she calls it as she sees it, speaking truth to power. She digs just as deeply into the impact on her own career, taking time to note that early pressure to present herself as sexualized affected and limited her later choices in how she wanted to be seen as an artist. Using yourself as an example should always have this much impact.
  • Turn the gender tables: Just as suffragette Nellie McClung reversed genders to hilariously question whether men should vote, Church turns the tables on Jay-Z and Justin Bieber to make a crystal-clear point about what women in the industry are asked to do. It's a vivid visual example.
There's audio available of the full speech in the video below, and you can read the full speech here.

(Creative Commons licensed photo from Craig Martin's photostream on Flickr)

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