I was 16 when I began dating a music snob. We have all met a music snob. They refuse to listen to your music, viewing their playlists as superior. We shared our favorite artists, blasted their songs in car rides, and bonded over sharing stories of our idols. In short, we both liked music. However, my music tastes differed from the Eddie Vedders and Kurt Cobains of his world. Instead, I found solace in Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, The Cranberries, and Lorde. This was often met with an eye roll. Though he hated my music, I loved seeing women like me on a stage- women who had the same trauma, emotions, and lifestyles as I did: women who sang about falling in love, going to parties, and being sad. I have always believed that the music we listen to reflects what we know and what we have experienced. For a teenage girl, those experiences are ripe with hope for the future. We all seek the thrill of new love, the pangs of heartbreak, and the power of friendship, which Jane Austen described as “the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love”. These are the experiences we want to see reflected in our music. Thus, our music tastes change and evolve with our life experience.
Unfortunately, the music snob in my beau disagreed with my preferences so much that he put them down in writing… for a Women in Music course. His essay, weak in both argument and vocabulary (as well as lacking valid sources), shamed women who enjoyed songs by glamorous feminine artists. These songs and their lyrics, he claimed, encouraged the sexualization of young girls and risky lifestyles. All in all, he concluded his argument by stating, “Sara (my persona in his essay) now suffers from bipolar disorder and PTSD as a result of several incidents in her youth which can in some way be traced back to behaviors she picked up from music she listened to.”
Upon his proud presentation of his essay, to both myself and his parents, I was appalled. I was in disbelief that someone who claimed to love me could boil all my pain and struggle down to the songs I had on my Spotify playlist. I became a case study of horrible music and its connection to my mental illness. However, this incident (and the subsequent breakup) ignited a fire within me to investigate and call out music shaming, especially when it involves women and female artists.
Mary Shelley was a teenager when she wrote Frankenstein, yet her work is not seen as cheesy or classless. When did we begin to associate the experiences and interests of young women with tasteless, worthless pastimes? Looking back, I can cite experiences in elementary school, where the girls all looked up to Hannah Montana and had heart eyes for the Jonas Brothers. The boys would roll their eyes and poke fun at these interests. When I was in middle school, “Directioners” came on the scene and again a music group with a fandom of mostly young girls was eclipsed by male interests.
Now, I can see that this divide is simply rooted in misogyny, the same misogyny that has picked apart women throughout each century and cultural movement. At one time, even the young women who loved The Beatles experienced the same thing. Now, The Beatles are considered one of the greatest bands to ever exist! Though, one thing is clear: our society has been pretty good at gendering every aspect of our culture, down to our music.
However, I believe that the other aspect of these girls’ identities is important: age. Every generation believes that they represent the greatness of a particular moment in history. When a new generation comes along and shakes up what they find familiar, they become uncomfortable and besmirch the cultural value of something enjoyed by those youngins. Thus, what we see happening when the interests of teenage girls are scrutinized is an intersection of misogyny and the assumption that youth is synonymous with inexperience, ignorance, and annoyance.
My takeaway from these experiences and my reflections on them is this: listen to whatever you want. Listen to Nirvana, but when you feel that teenage girl itching her way out from inside your skin, let her out. Listen to Justin Bieber. Listen to One Direction. Listen to Lana and Beyonce and Lorde. Through all of this, uplift every teenage girl to enjoy her interests and never let misogyny dictate her beliefs.