From what I can see, there are three main roles that women are allowed to fill in modern pop music. Each of them restrictive for both artists and audience. They are mainly portrayed through the medium of the music video, you’ll find them very familiar. I call them One of the Girls’ Girls, the Victim/Torch Singer, and the Unattainable Sexbot.
The One of the Girls’ Girls role is a painfully thin reduction of feminism that generally seems to point to a world where, ‘so long as you can hang out with your girls it’s possible to sort of wave away the evils that men do.’ This denigrates women and men equally, and yet is commonly lauded for being empowering.
The Victim/Torch Singer can be divided into the sexy victim (ie, Natalie Imbruglia in the ‘Torn’ video) and the not-so-sexy victim. One female artist who does not use her sexuality to sell records is Adele. However, lyrically, her songs are almost without exception written from the perspective of the wronged woman, an archetype as old as time. Someone who has been let down by the men around her, and is subsequently in a perpetual state of despair.
But to me, the Unattainable Sexbot is most commonly employed and most damaging, a role that is also claimed to be an empowering one. The irony behind this is that the women filling these roles are often very young, often previous child stars or Disney tweens, who are simply trying to get along in an industry glamorized to be the most desirable career for young women. They are encouraged to present themselves as hyper-sexualized, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win.
Well, when the male perspective is the dominant one, the end point is women being coerced into sexually demonstrative behavior in order to hold onto their careers. This idea, repeated over generations, can’t but have a negative effect on women, whether they are in the industry or not.