Hey Mama: Let’s chat about gender difference.

31 Aug

I hate the song Hey Mama (David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and Afrojack). I have literally spent all summer thinking about why I hate this song, and I think I’ve finally got my finger on it with a little help from my friend, Sociology.

Hey Mama, like so many other elements of our pop culture, represents and reinforces stereotypical gender roles and gender difference within our society. Let’s take this phrasing from the source: “Yes I do the cooking. Yes I do the cleaning. Yes I keep the nana real sweet for your eating. Yes you be the boss, yes I be respecting. Whatever that you tell me cause its game you be spitting.” In just one phrase, Nikki Minaj outlines different tasks for men and women, while also adding in a notion of hierarchy along with sexual reference. Men are bosses and leaders who women must respect in deference to themselves, while also taking care of household tasks. Minaj says, “Best believe that, when you need that, I’ll provide that, you will always have it.” Hey Mama essentially says that men and women do different tasks, but that women must lift up men in the process to be real women.

So say you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “This escalated quickly, how did we get here?” Let’s start by going over that sex, as in being male and female, is defined by our sexually dimorphic parts. This is genetic biology: XX and XY (and even the seemingly obvious biological part is actually much more complicated). Gender on the other hand, like being a man (masculine) or being a woman (feminine), is a social phenomenon. Because everyone is affected by social forces, like gender, everyone is constantly “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman 1991). Men and women must play the role in order to do their respective gender: “The man ‘does’ being masculine by, for example, taking the woman’s arm to guide her across the street, and she “does” being feminine by consenting to be guided and not initiating such behavior with a man” (West and Zimmerman 1991; 49). Can you see where the patriarchy fits in here?

Pop music and Hey Mama fit in our equation here because the media acts as a socializing agent, like the family, the workplace, and school. These institutions teach us about gender and gender difference, neither of which being biological, and reinforce it in our lives. It’s hard to tell sometimes that the media does this to us, because there are so many overwhelming examples of gender difference within our culture (Kimmel 2011). We think then that gender difference is based in biology, write songs about it, and treat it as if it’s big T Truth. However, “Doing gender means creating differences between girls and boys and women and men, differences that are not natural, essential, or biological” (West and Zimmerman 1991: 49). This is bad for both men and women.

Songs like Hey Mama are incredibly problematic because they perpetuate gender difference, and reinforce hierarchical, powered heteronormative relationships. Hey Mama especially emphasizes the phrase, “to be a man,” highlighting misleading gendered stereotypes in our society. Men do gender by spitting game, being jealous (Thanks a lot Nick Jonas), and being stoic (read: emotionless), while women in these fabled relationships buy groceries, cook, clean, and respect their men. Men must hide their emotions and be strong, while women are perceived to be more caring and are permitted to freely express their emotions. This is how we do gender and David Guetta, Nikki Minaj, and Afrojack have reinforced this ideal for us. Powered relationships between the masculine and feminine, as demonstrated by this popular song, are harmful for both men and women, because they confine each gender into a separate box that isn’t representative of what people are really like. Can we just agree to stop writing songs about this already?

References:

Kimmel, Micheal. 2011. “The Gendered Media.” Pg. 289-314. The Gendered Society. Michael Kimmel. New York: Oxford University Press.

West, Candace, and Don H. Zimmerman. 1991. “Doing Gender.” Pg 43-57. Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: The New Basics. Ferber, Abby, Kimberly Holcomb, and Tre Wentling. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Amelie Rives is a native of Charlottesville, Virginia, and a graduate of Roanoke College. She recently completed a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Roanoke, Virginia. Her interests include feminism, gendered violence, and masculinity.

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