Love Songs & Gender Norms

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Darwin observed that songs originated as a tool for courtship for birds and noted that

“Love is still the commonest theme of our songs,”

A societies shared values and rules of behavior (culture) are often expressed in popular music, especially in songs about romantic love. “Love has been a dominant theme for popular song for at least a thousand years”. “A recent study of commercial recordings finds that 90% (of love songs) are attributed to men—and most often men in their peak years of sexual activity.” (Gioia) Romantic courtship and the gender roles performed by the sexes has noticeably changed over time. I will briefly analyze songs from different generations and interpret some of the cultural clues found in lyrics.



Winter themed love song, “Baby, It’s Cold outside” was composed in 1944 and first released in 1949. A playful, call and response love song about a man wanting more time with his date during extreme winter weather. This song was considered romantic for many years, now the lyrics are described as “boundary-crossing sexual coercion”. The lyrics, “There’s bound to be talk tomorrow, think of my life long sorrow” bring up the social consequences of spending an unchaperoned night with a man.

“Women were expected to make sure men didn’t cross the line. Her personal reputation and her family’s reputation was on the line. Abortion was criminalized, and contraception was illegal in most states.” (McDonnel)

Rules for dating and consent weren’t solidly established during this time. Preventing unwanted sexual advances was a regular occurrence for single women. “The song is an important historical document because it does represent these constant negotiations. It’s describing an everyday encounter.”(TIME) This song doesn’t stand up in todays #metoo1 climate. These blurred lines of consent has gotten this song banned on some radio stations despite it being a Christmas time classic.

After the Free Love and Feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s, sexuality was much more openly explored and discussed in popular culture. People dated more casually and had sexual experiences before marriage. Cutting edge music in the 1980s included androgynous artists like David Bowie and Prince. Men more frequently show sensitivity and express romantic feelings, opposite of the masculinity performed in previous generations. Traditional gender roles are challenged with fashion; men wearing long hair, makeup and women’s clothing and accessories.


One of the top Love songs of 1983 was by London rock band – The Police, “Every Breath You Take”. Written during a marriage separation, song writer, Sting described it as being a songs about “jealousy, surveillance and ownership”. A celebrated love song, the lyrics excessively depict obsessive stalker behavior (Nguyen) that would warrant a restraining order today. Domestic violence and intimate partner abuse during the 1980s was still considered a private matter. Stalking, a form of emotional abuse is an example of irrational love is romanticized in the lyrics. (Brogaard) “Lust, Infatuation and dependency represent orientations that are often confused with love.” (Scheff 105). Obsessive surveillance from an ex romantic partner would likely decrease a persons overall happiness or well-being. (Broggard)

Neo Soul artist, D’Angelo is one of the best-known sexual icons in U.S. popular culture after “Untitled (How does it Feel)” is released in 2000. (Watson) “The opening lyrics provide a picture of foreplay and seduction that rely on a fairly predictable performance of black male sexuality in contemporary black popular music and culture. Confidently declaring his ability to satisfy his lover’s needs, D’Angelo states that he “can provide everything that u desire.” (Eilis) “Hailed a musical genius of his generation by music critics and his peers for bringing out hip hop soul’s brooding complexity and melancholic sensuality”.

“The video is a display of black masculinity that’s affectionate but confident, and delicate but strong. A middle ground between Tupac’s infamous bathtub photos and the first 30 seconds of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” music video.” (Watson).

The song and accompanying music video challenged traditional black male masculinity. Instantly turning him into a sex symbol, the music video sexually objectifies the recording artist during a time when music videos were primarily made to satisfy a male gaze.

The first two songs I analyzed reveal a power struggle in their lyrics. In The Police song, the woman is described as his property and even though she is released from the relationship she is subject to surveillance. In the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, the man won’t take NO for an answer. “In sum, the man gets the girl drunk amid her protestations so he can take advantage of her” (McDonnel) In both songs, the man expresses authority and power over the relationship. These are contrasted by the D’Angelos song lyrics that focus on female pleasure.

Progress in gender equality has normalized casual dating. Financially independent women feel less urgency when it comes to finding a husband or life long partner. This is expressed by women artists regularly through popular music, exposing the new cultural norms. 2019 Grammy Winner, Lizzo sings about women’s freedom and body positivity. In her song “Cuz I love You” she sings; 

“Never been in love before, What the fuck are fucking feelings yo? Once upon a time, I was a ho, I don’t even wanna ho no mo’. Got you something from the liquor store, Little bit of Lizzo and some Mo, Tryna open up a little more” –

Lizzo is in control of the intimacy, she’s buying the gift and is the gift. These lyrics expose a sexually dominant woman and the rejection and reversal of traditional dating roles.

My preference is to listen to love songs from the 1990s, artists like Mariah Carey and TLC. I find that as a collection of music, there is a nice balance to the messages found in the lyrics of 90s R&B. Women are allowed to be both powerful and feminine. I appreciate that today younger populations are more accepting of different artists and different kinds of relationships. Artists like Lizzo sing about self love and challenge the western ideal of feminine beauty by loving and flaunting her plus size figure. Queer love is mainstream thanks to singers like non binary artists, Sam Smith and Lil Nas X. New Zealand band, Tame Impala sings about lovers from previous lives – implying reincarnation. We are so lucky that ideas about love and relationships have transformed in such a positive way and been channeled into a more inclusive spectrum of music.



Cited Work

Brogaard, Berit. On Romantic Love : Simple Truths about a Complex Emotion, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, lib/pccol/detail.action?docID=1865700.
Created from pccol on 2020-02-21 12:21:41.

Ellis, Aime J. “Singing Love Songs to Mr. Death’: Racial Terror and the State of Erection in D’Angelo’s ‘(Untitled) How Does It Feel?” African American Review, vol. 43, no. 2-3, 2009, p. 295+. Gale OneFile: Fine Arts, PPFA?u=pcc&sid=PPFA&xid=8c5c7a6a. Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

Gioia, Ted. Love Songs : The Hidden History, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, docID=1896213.

McDonell-Parry, A. and McDonell-Parry, A. (2020). ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’: A Brief History of the Holiday Song Controversy. [online] Rolling Stone, culture-news/baby-its-cold-outside-controversy-holiday-song-history-768183/ Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.


Nguyen, San. “Why ‘Every Breath You Take’ Is the Most Misinterpreted Song.” Medium, Medium, 21 Jan. 2020, breath-you-take-c80326fd5b58.

Scheff, Thomas J.. What’s Love Got to Do with It? : Emotions and Relationships in Pop Songs, Routledge, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, detail.action?docID=4185932.

WATSON, ELIJAH C. “There Will Never Be Another Music Video Like D’Angelo’s ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)”.” Okayplayer, 24 Jan. 2020, how-does-it-feel-video.html.

Blackwell 6

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Urban Dictionary is Obscene

Essay, journal, Writing Samples

Finding offensive material on Urban Dictionary is easy. This web site crowd sources definitions for slang terms and allows users to redefine common words, names and events in popular culture. In some ways, this site encourages communication and understanding between generations by providing the context and nuances of terms that would normally only belong to/be understood by one population. Alternatively, the website encourages and is host to derogatory, sexist and racist material submitted anonymously by some of the ugliest minds you can find on the internet.

Young people are are exposed to violence and sexually suggestive material at earlier and earlier ages through television, music and internet. For this reason, people are generally desensitized when it comes to ‘vulgar language’. It has become increasingly difficult to find ideas or words that shock and offend people in younger urban populations. I will discuss nine different words/terms that I found on the site and why, in my opinion, they have no place in society or social interactions.


The first two terms I found mildly problematic were – Office Mattress and Mecretary. Of all of the words I considered, these were the least offensive to me but still a reminder of the misogyny and sexism that exists in office culture. Office Mattress is defined as the woman/person in the office that everybody sleeps with (or on)”. Mecretary is defined as a male secretary. This kind of language might be playful between peers but could never be used in a professional office setting.

The next two terms I found were: Swamp Donkey and Moobs. Both of these terms are meant to fat shame the persons they are used to describe. Swamp Donkey, is defined as “a very ugly, fat girl who hangs around bars to sexually assault males who are too drunk to defend themselves”. Moobs, simply put are an obese mans breasts. Again, these terms might be used casually and playfully between peers with similar styles of humor. However, polite culture would suggest that you should never address an overweight persons physical body in a disparaging way, ever.

Like the term Swamp Donkey, there were two others words/terms that I found extremely problematic because they have to do with sexual consent. Being Turned Out is “the process by which a male inmate through violent coercion is transformed into a female-typical or passive sexual role”. Crimson Switch is “the act of replacing one’s fingers in a woman’s vagina with one’s member (penis) into said woman’s vagina.”. All three definitions describe some form of rape or “unlawful sexual activity against a persons will or with a person incapable of valid consent”. It is revolting that terms like these could be and are used in casual conversation or jokingly because what they are describing is sexual violence and it is illegal. Could never, would never be joked about in my circle of friends.

One of the most offensive definitions that I found on Urban Dictionary site was for the term Ethnic Cleansing. The second definition on the site reads as; “The inevitable bout of flaming hot diarrhea that occurs after eating certain ethnic cuisines. Thai and Indian cuisines are notorious for this. After ethnic cleansing, the entire digestive system is vacant, or cleaned out”. Sadly, our culture has not evolved past racist humor such as this. I find this problematic for two obvious reasons. One, the very real global occurrences of ethnic cleansing, where “ethnic, racial and/religious groups are systematically removed from a region”. This is nothing to joke about, very real human suffering has occurred. Two, this definition suggests that there are health consequences to enjoying ethnic foods. It positions Indian and Thai foods below other types of cuisine and infers that they are unclean or dangerous for consumption.

Another hideous definition on Urban Dictionary is one of the definitions for Aboriginal. The word Aboriginal officially means “inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times or from before the arrival of colonists; indigenous”. Aboriginals are the indigenous people of Australia, victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing on the continent. The racist and abusive definition on the parody site reads, “an Indigenous Australian that tends to waste all of the governments money with their drinking habits and shitty life choices”. It’s clear that the person who submitted this definition has xenophobic tendencies, probably an Australian commoner with European heritage. Only racist persons could find this definition humorous or acceptable. The word Aboriginal can be used in conversation with respect to its true meaning. The likelihood that the word be used with the Urban Dictionary definition intended is very, very improbable.


The final term I came across was Ghettobilly which is defined in two ways; “a mildly offensive term for a poor white person living in urban areas. Like a redneck for city folks” and “an individual who resides in a rural/country area that has ghetto tendencies/qualities. Essentially, a hillbilly that wants to be ghetto”. The word Ghetto has Italian origin and was used to describe the neighborhoods that Jewish persons were restricted to. During the Holocaust, Jewish people were placed in Ghettos before they were further exploited and murdered. Early racial segregation in the United States pushed large populations of low income African Americans into confined neighborhoods that were coined “ghettos”. The word Ghetto carries negative connotations and is used as a (derogatory) blanket term meaning poor and black.

Ghettobilly is a combination of the words, Ghetto + Hillbilly. Hillbilly originated from Scottish dialect, meaning “Hill Folk”. The definition of Hillbilly is “an unsophisticated country person, associated originally with the remote regions of the Appalachians”. The word hillbilly is often used in a derogatory way to describe a poor white subculture of people. And so, my problem with the term Ghettobilly is that it is violent towards two poor minority populations. It stereotypes people in the urban population and proposes that “ghetto tendencies/qualities” are traits that can be imitated and adopted for ‘street credit’ by white persons. It degrades persons in both categories, suggesting that they are ‘unrefined’ or less than because of their socio economic status. The word sounds harmless but is offensive on so many levels.

Urban Dictionary website publishes harmful racist and sexist stereotypes alongside wholesome content. The anonymous contributors have turned it into a place of hate speech and violence towards women. It’s not a safe web space for most. For the purpose of searching popular culture slang terms, I think it’s useful, maybe even important for intergenerational communication. Like any site that is crowd sourced, we should be critical of the content and perhaps demand creators more carefully examine the messages they are spreading on the internet.