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Feminspire | April 21, 2014

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Sexism in the Music Industry Drives Female Pop Stars to Shocking Lows

Sexism in the Music Industry Drives Female Pop Stars to Shocking Lows

Although we’re all aware of the greed and discrimination in the music industry, it’s still alarming to see specific incidents of undeserved fear and heartache based on gender. In the last few days, two awful accounts of bigotry have surfaced in the news, reminding us that sexism in the music world exists on a massive and global scale.

The first story, as you may have heard, made headlines on Feb. 1st after a disturbing YouTube video of J-pop star Minami Minegishi of the group AKB48 went viral and sparked controversy. In the video, the 20-year-old pop star –– who had just shaved her head in a state of frenzy prior to recording –– tearfully apologizes for having a boyfriend. That’s right. A 20-year-old woman was made to feel as though she owed the world an apology for having a boyfriend.

She explained, “What I have done was such a thoughtless and a lack of self-awareness behavior.” Minegishi’s position in the group was consequently demoted (AKB48 is comprised of 88 members who perform everyday in shifts, and there are apparently ranks within the group) and it has yet to be determined if her membership will be terminated.

As with many other cultures, Japanese pop stars are expected to look and act sexually, but in a totally virginal and off-limits kind of way; they serve to fulfill the male fantasy –– while raking in millions of dollars for their labels –– but they are completely dehumanized and stripped of their basic rights and needs in the process. This particular group evidently takes the disturbing concept one step further by prohibiting its members from engaging in any romantic/sexual relations, lest they lose their innocence and no longer attract droves of perverted fans.

Meanwhile, an all-girl Indian rock band has just disbanded after becoming targets of an online hate campaign and having a fatwa issued against them. Pragaash (meaning “First Light” in Kashmiri) won third place in a battle of the bands competition in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, but the attention they gained from their achievement was so terrible that it caused them to not only stop performing, but to break away from music entirely. One of the three members even fled to another city.

all-girl indian pop band breaks up

The girls have been called “sluts” and “prostitutes” by online hate campaign participants and “indecent” by the Muslim cleric-issued fatwa (FYI they were all wearing jeans and long-sleeved shirts/jackets). While members of both local and online communities have shown support for the young women, others have relentlessly threatened them and their families, and made accusations of “Western-style cultural waywardness.” (Trigger warning for threats of rape and violence in the image below.)

indian pop band hate campaign

Matters of this nature are obviously complicated by cultural and/or religious differences, but the fact remains that sexism and the denial of basic human rights are common and prevalent across the globe. It also raises the question of how much more we need to evolve before it is universally recognized that this type of behavior is not simply oppressive or unfair, it is a crime.

Written by Nicole Woszczyna

  • Pumpkin

    One thing you must understand about this AKB48 scandal is that it is Japanese culture that prompted Minami to do that. It is in her contract that she signed with the company that she cannot date or be caught with another man. *She signed this*
    It is a large part of Japanese culture to show one’s shame publicly. She *chose* cut all of her hair off. The staff tried to stop her. Again: she chose to do it. She wants to show how sorry she is for losing the trust of her company and of the fans. She has lost the idol image that defines her in that group. She was demoted to trainee because she broke a rule. A rule that has costed other AKB48 members their jobs within the group. This is article is writing it out as the company told her to do it because she is a woman and she is being shamed because she had a boyfriend. You don’t have your facts straight. She wasn’t told do it. Whether she was dating him or not, she was caught leaving his house around 3 in the morning and this has consequences. She broke her contract and she is paying for it. Now with the man she was caught with, it *was not* within his contract that he wasn’t allowed to date. He is. Sure, he should have been more responsible because he was fully aware that if they got caught she would lose her job. He publicly apologized. Feminspire, please look into the culture and actual facts before writing up an article. It is only half-true.

    • immi

      i have to ask, did you even read the article?

      just because she signed a contract and knew what the penalties would be does NOT mean that this is not an instance of sexism. to ask female performers to sign such a contract is an incredibly sexist act and a reflection of greater issues within the culture. are male performers asked to sign such contracts? no? okay then.

      as someone who immigrated from japan to america and who visits japan every year, i can testify to the rampant sexism in the country and the shitty ways in which women are expected to behave.

      it may have been her choice to sign and be part of the group but it is STILL BULLSHIT.

      • marsjunkiegirl

        Male idols aren’t encouraged to date generally either…it’s part of being a idol that you’re supposed to be ‘available’ to your fans. That’s changing with Min Sunye dating and getting engaged while a member of a popular group, but she’s pretty unprecedented..

      • Jill Sandwich

        There was at least one incident where a member of a popular boy band
        got married in secret. This led to him being removed from the cast of a
        TV drama and the dissolution of his fan club:

        That said, it IS bullshit, and the media and the public do seem to judge
        female idols much more harshly when transgressions occur.

        My main quibble with this article is that it’s not just “this particular group”
        that forbids its members from having relationships; from what I’ve
        read, EVERY female idol group has a no-dating policy.

    • B.Rose

      Hello Pumpkin, very great response. However, I must have to disagree with you on a few things.

      “As with many other cultures, Japanese pop stars are expected to look and act sexually, but in a totally virginal and off-limits kind of way; they serve to fulfill the male fantasy –– while raking in millions of dollars for their labels –– but they are completely dehumanized and stripped of their basic rights and needs in the process.”

      I think that although she has signed a contract, we must remember that she is only 20 years old. By no means am I saying that she was unaware of the details of her contract, however, because of her desire to be a star (or just to sing/dance/performance)… I think that LIKE many other young stars, she probably did not think deeply into the sacrifices that she was required to make.

      Coming from an Asian heritage myself, I do understand her culture. I do understand the attraction of maintaining “innocence.” But losing innocence and growing up is a part of life. It’s natural and to preserve it in such a way… is a little disturbing to me. However, I personally believe that almost all music industries are corrupt and their requirements of their trainees are just as equally disturbing.

      I hope that her TRUE fans are supporting her. If you are in love and want to foster a healthy relationship, let it be. She isn’t going around, spreading her legs and shit. Let her be.

      • C

        Cool slut shaming “She isn’t going around, spreading her legs and shit”

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  • B

    Hahaha and feminspire has non asian writers writing about cultures they aren’t a part of again. Surprise!

  • Janelle

    See, this shows that you as a whole have learned nothing. This is exactly the kind of article we were talking about as being problematic. The WOC outcry has meant nothing to you, because rather than getting an actual WOC to write about this issue you have a white woman passing judgement and censure against cultures she is not a part of nor understands. You’ve learned and understand nothing.

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  • Thomas Hayes

    In this comment thread, people not realising human rights are universal…

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