" Undressing the Words: " Prevalence of Profanity, Misogyny, Violence, and Gender Role References in Popular Music

Conference Paper (PDF Available) · August 2010with 1,589 Reads
Conference: Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
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The purpose of this study was to perform a content analysis of contemporary popular music with particular attention paid to the prevalence of violence, misogynistic, profane, and demeaning references. Billboard magazine was used to identify the top popular songs in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Songs with justified violence themes were most commonly found in hip hop music, whereas songs with unjustified message themes were most likely found in Pop music, c 2 = (N= 150, 14) =20.1, p < .001. The present study shows that pop and hip hop/rap music, genres popular with most adolescents today, use frequent references involving profanity, violence, misogyny, and gender roles.
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Undressing the Words
“Undressing the Words:” Prevalence of Profanity, Misogyny, Violence, and Gender Role
References in Popular Music
The purpose of this study was to perform a content analysis of contemporary popular
music with particular attention paid to the prevalence of violence, misogynistic, profane, and
demeaning references. Billboard magazine was used to identify the top popular songs in 2006,
2007, and 2008. Songs with justified violence themes were most commonly found in hip hop
music, whereas songs with unjustified message themes were most likely found in Pop music, c2 =
(N= 150, 14) =20.1, p < .001. The present study shows that pop and hip hop/rap music, genres
popular with most adolescents today, use frequent references involving profanity, violence,
misogyny, and gender roles.
Keywords: Gender roles; sex role stereotypes, music lyrics, message themes; media effects
Undressing the Words
“Undressing the Words:” Prevalence of Profanity, Misogyny, Violence, and Gender Role
References in Popular Music
In film, television, videos, and music, sexual messages are becoming more explicit in
dialogue, lyrics, and behavior. Too often, these messages contain unrealistic, inaccurate, and
misleading information that young people can/may accept as fact. Adolescents have ranked the
media second only to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about
sex (Gow, 1993). Music lyrics have become increasingly sexually explicit, and so far, only two
studies have shown a direct correlation between risky adolescent behaviors and exposure
to/preference for music lyrics (Hansen & Hansen, 1991; Klein, Brown, Childers, Oliveri, Porter,
& Dykers, 2009). However, what is not known is whether or not music lyrics have become
sexually explicit across all genres or is if sexually explicit lyrics are associated with a particular
musical genre? The present study addresses this question through a content analysis of 150
popular songs in order to describe and make inferences about the characteristics of song lyrics
and references found in a variety of musical genres. We will also discuss future research on the
possible effects of exposure to these references and messages on adolescent attitudes and
Statement of the Research Problem to be Investigated
Music lyrics have undergone dramatic changes since the introduction of rock music more
than 40 years ago. This change is an issue of vital interest and concern for parents, pediatricians,
counselors and psychologists, educators, and to some extent teenagers. During the past 40 years,
research has proven that rock music lyrics have become increasingly explicit-particularly in
terms of references to sex, drugs, and violence (Ballard & Coates, 1995; Dixon & Linz, 1997;
Greenfield, Bruzzone, & Koyamatsu, 1987; Hansen & Hansen, 1991; Johnson, Adams, Ashburn,
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& Reed, 1995; Johnson, Jackson, & Gatto, 1995; Strasberger, 1995; Strasberger & Hendren,
1995). Recently, heavy metal and "gangsta rap" music lyrics have elicited the greatest concern
among research. And, in some cases, research suggests that rap music’s lyrics often
communicate potentially harmful health messages (Binder, 1993; Johnson et al., 1995;
Strasberger, 1995; Wester, Crown, Quatman, & Heesacker, 1997). Unfortunately, a majority of
the published reports of the lyrics found in heavy metal and rap music are over 10 years old and
outdated. Research on exposure to lyrics should be of special concern because messages
contained within the lyrics could/may pose unprecedented threats to the health and well-being of
impressionable adolescents. The current study advances literature in this area through a content
analysis of representative lyrics from all genres found on today’s popular music charts and
provides a broader framework for understanding the portrayal of women and violence in popular
Contribution and Significance to the Field of Media Effects
The present project is important in that it examines lyrics contained in popular music and
identify the number of times lyrics in popular music make references to profanity, violence, and
objectification of women. Will these anti-social references appear in songs other than hip
hip/rap and heavy metal music? The research question involves examining the number of
profane and demeaning words and violent themes found in songs listed on Billboard’s Top 100.
Since this is an exploratory study, the researcher was only interested in quantifying the
occurrences/words and in differences found in several genres, not in examining how they are
related. Thus, the main goal of the project is to simply examine whether there is a stronger
presence of negative message themes used with respect to women and violence.
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Although studies have documented the sexualization of women in music videos (see
Aubrey, 2009, Frisby & Aubrey, 2009), sexualizing content in the lyrics that accompany these
videos has not been documented as extensively. One study found that references to relationships,
romance, and sexual behavior are more commonplace in popular music lyrics and videos
(Christenson & Roberts, 1990). More recent research found that sexual content appears more
frequently in adolescents’ musical choices than in their television, movie, or magazine choices
(Pardun, L’Engle, & Brown, 2005). Unfortunately, there are no recent content analyses to
determine how often song lyrics frequently consumed by teens objectifies girls or women,
portrays violence, or relies on profanity in order to convey a particular message.
Content analyses have provided some support for the notion that most popular hip
hop/rap music appears to contain objectionable lyrics, increases aggressive behavior, and
attitudes and perpetuates misogyny (Ballard & Coates, 1995). In fact, many scholars note that
hip hop/rap lyrics tend to objectify, devalue, or subjugate women through the inclusion of
insulting and subordinating words such as “bitch, ho, and skeezer” (Ballard, Dodson, & Bazzini,
1999; McLeod, Evelant, & Nathanson, 1997; Pinn, 1996; Powell, 1991; Rose, 1994; Watts,
1997; Wingood, Diclemente, Bernhardt, Harrington, Davies, Robillard, & Hook, 2003). As part
of a study of the effects of listening to popular music on sexual behavior, Martino, Collins,
Elliott, Strachman, Kanouse, & Berry, (2006) coded the content of 164 songs from 16 artists
popular with the adolescent market. Overall, 15% of songs contained sexually degrading lyrics.
However, the study concentrated on songs and lyrics contained solely in rap and R&B music.
What is not known is if sexually explicit and violent lyrics will be found in other genres.
One analysis of hip hop and heavy metal songs from 1985 to 1990 found that hip hop was
more sexually explicit and graphic whereas heavy metal’s allusions to sexual acts or to male
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domination were fairly subtle (Binder 1993). Binder’s (1993) study, however, has an important
limitation. First, her comparative analysis was limited to only 20 songs that were deemed
‘‘controversial.’’ The sampling frame was based on songs identified as popular rather than a
more objective measure of popularity.
Armstrong (2001) conducted a content analysis of 490 rap songs during 1987–1993.
Lyrics featuring violence against women were found in 22% of the songs, and the violence
perpetrated against women included assault, rape, and murder. Although his study makes a
valuable contribution to the literature in its systematic focus on violence against women, it does
not discuss other (nonviolent) depictions of women, and provides little indication of coding
procedures. Although these studies appear to document that hip hop/rap music contains violent
and misogynist themes and that these themes can have an impact on viewers, the vast majority of
the studies do not fully investigate the depth or breadth of the anti-social themes found in other
genres. Is it possible that violent and misogynist themes are referenced and evident in other
musical genres?
Theoretical Framework
Objectification Theory
Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) proposes that sexual objectification
of women’s bodies by the media teaches women to internalize an outsiders’ perspective on the
self such that they come to see themselves as objects to be evaluated by others, a tendency called
self-objectification. The media contribute to the culture of sexual objectification. They provide
not only an important socializing function for the development of a trait level of self-
objectification (Aubrey, 2006), but also a key eliciting condition in temporarily activated state
self-objectification (Aubrey, Henson, Hopper, & Smith, 2009; Harrison & Fredrickson, 2003).
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The media do this by sexually objectifying bodies, which “occurs whenever a person’s body,
body parts, or sexual functions are separated out from his or her person, reduced to the status of
mere instruments, or regarded as if they were capable of representing him or her” (Fredrickson &
Roberts, 1997, p. 175). This finding lead to the formulation of a research question focused on the
frequency that song lyrics included references to female body parts, reducing women to
instruments, or objects.
Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development
Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation (Bussey & Bandura,
1999), which offers a framework for understanding how exposure to mediated models may
impart gender lessons to consumers, influencing their attitudes and beliefs about gender and their
own gender-related self-concept. According to Bussey and Bandura (1999), media messages
serve as one source for “the development of gender-linked knowledge and competencies,” (p.
686) influencing perceptions of appropriate gender-based conduct, normative gender roles, self-
evaluative gender-specific standards, and self-efficacy beliefs.
The media are important sources of information about gender roles for boys as well as for
girls. It is possible that media content that primarily refer to men in dominant roles and or portray
the “manly man” may negatively influence boys’ perceptions on the role of women in society.
Steinke, Lapinski, Zietsman-Thomas, Nwulu, Crocker, and Williams (2007) conducted a study
of middle school-aged children and discovered that boys who indicated the media were very
important had more negative attitudes toward women portrayed in positive roles (i.e., scientists)
than those who indicated the media were less important. The findings obtained in the Steinke et
al (2007) study are important to note in that they show that consumption of media may influence
boys’ perceptions of women’s roles developed during childhood.
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Previous Research on Music and Gender Roles
A content analysis of rock music videos found that a majority of videos (57%) presented
women in a ‘‘condescending’’ manner (e.g., unintelligent, sex object, victim) and a fifth placed
them in a traditional sex role (e.g., subservient, nurturing, domestic roles), while 8% displayed
male violence against women (Vincent, Davis, and Boruszkowski 1987). Only 14% presented
women as fully equal to men. Thus, traditional sex role stereotypes seem to continue to
predominate referring to women in a more ‘‘conventional’’ manner (passive, dependent on men,
accenting physical appearance), while a few media are found which make references to women
as strong and independent. This research lead to another research question: how are sex role
stereotypes used and referenced in popular song lyrics? Data obtained in the present study hopes
to add to the literature on gender roles in media content by providing quantitative data on
references to appropriate/inappropriate sex roles used in music.
Purpose Statement
The purpose of this study is to examine the depiction of women across musical
genres/formats. The “gap” this study intends to provide a systematic content analysis that
focuses on depictions of women hoping to determine the pervasiveness of profanity, violent
themes, and negative stereotypes of women used in popular music lyrics. This research will
further understanding of how the music industry’s representations of the female could affect a
young girl’s and boy’s understanding of gender roles and the use of violence and nick names
used to describe and refer to women.
Hypothesis and Research Questions
Before research on effects can be conducted, there is a need to better understand
references and message themes found in music that many young impressionable teens prefer and
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listen to regularly. The current study examines lyrics in order to describe and make inferences
about the types of messages communicated in today’s popular music, and will discuss the
possible effects and theoretical implications of exposure to the messages in the music on
adolescent attitudes and behaviors. Specifically, this research examined four areas: 1) the
frequency of profanity; 2) number of times violence is referred to in a song; 3) objectification of
women, and 4) type of sex role described in the lyric.
Based on a review of the literature, the following hypotheses and research questions were
H1: Frequency of profanity will be more frequent in hip hop/rap music than profanity found in
other genres.
RQ1: Within music genre of hip hop/rap music, does the proportion of profanity differ
from the proportion of profanity found in other types of music?
H2: Frequency of profanity will be more frequent in songs performed by male artists than
profanity found in songs by female artists.
RQ2: Does biological sex of the artist interact to predict the occurrence of profanity?
H3: References to violence will be more frequent in hip hop/rap music than violence found in
other genres.
RQ3: Within music genre of rap music, will the reference to violence differ from the
references of violence found in other types of music?
H4: References to violence will be more frequently used by male artists than references to
violence used in lyrics by female artists.
RQ4: Does biological sex of the artist interact to predict the use of violence in songs?
H5: Objectification of women (focus on body or physical features and not on her as a person)
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will be more frequent in rap music than the number of occurrences women are self-objectified in
other musical genres.
RQ5: Within music genre of hip hop/rap music, does the proportion of objectification
differ from the proportion of objectification found in other types of music?
H6: Objectification of women (focus on body or physical features and not on her as a person)
will be more frequently found music performed by male artists than music performed by female
RQ6: Does biological sex of the artist interact to predict the occurrence of
H7: References to appropriate female roles will be more frequent in hip hop/rap music than
violence found in other genres.
RQ7: Within music genre of rap music, will the reference to female sex roles differ from
the references of female roles found in other types of music?
H8: References to appropriate female sex roles will occur more frequently in music performed
by male artists than music performed by female artists.
RQ8: Does biological sex of the artist interact to predict portrayal of sex roles?
A song’s genre was operationalized as the lyrical style of the music. For purposes of this
analysis, genre was broken down into eight different categories of lyrical style: pop, R&B, hip-
hop/rap, alternative, Latin, folk, rock and country. Initially, a song’s genre was obtained through
a search of the iTunes music store.
Descriptive Variables
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Identifying information was obtained about each song which included song name, the
name of the main artist, the year, and popularity or ranking of the song, gender of the artist,
ethnicity of the main artist, genre or category song was listed under. This information allowed
the researcher to organize the songs and assure that the coders analyzed the same songs during
reliability testing.
In addition to the music level of analysis, coding as also done at the thematic level for
each song. Most of the variables were coded using a categorical scale that allowed coders to
chose the occurrence of the themes from (1) present, (2) not present. Each of the following
themes was coded for each variable and theme. Thematic variables are described below:
Profanity: Adapted from previous research (Kaye & Sapolsky, 2004a), the frequency of
profanity was coded during each song. According to the United States’ Federal Communication
Commission, words such as “shit, bitch, and ass” have been deemed as inappropriate for
broadcast (see Kaye and Sapolsky, 2004b) Frequency of other strong profanity was also
recorded, with coders instructed to include excretory words (e.g., asshole), sexual words (e.g.,
pecker), and other words that evoke strong emotion and offense (e.g., bitch) in this category.
Violence: Violence was defined as any overt depiction of a threat of physical force or the
actual use of such force intended to physically harm someone (Smith & Boyson, 2002).
Violence was coded as “justified” when it was presented as morally correct, right or sanctioned,
and 2= “unjustified” when violence is mentioned as morally incorrect or consequences of using
violence are emphasized (Smith & Boyson, 2002).
The first example is from the song titled, “How We Do,” from the album The
Documentary (2005), by The Game:
“Don’t try to front,
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I’ll leave yo’ ass, slumped
Thinkin I’m a punk
Get your fuckin head, lumped
This particular excerpt would be coded as justified violence as the artist is promoting
violence to maintain his tough, masculine, gansta image.
The second example is from the song, “Hollaback Girl,” from the album Love, Angel,
Music, Baby (2005) by Gwen Steffani:
Both of us want to be the winner, but there can only be one
So I’m gonna fight, gonna give it my all
Gonna make you fall, gonna sock it to you
That’s right I’m the last one standing, another one bites the dust
Similarly, this song would be coded as justified violence because the artist is portraying the
necessity to use aggression to win and be on top.
Misogyny or Objectification: The occurrence of misogyny in songs was defined as the
hatred or disdain of women where they are reduced to objects or expendable beings (Adams &
Fuller, 2006). Included in the analysis were instances or statements about women in relation to
sex or references of women causing “trouble” for men as “users” of men.
Using theoretical definitions of misogyny and objectification of women, coders were
instructed to look for instances in which women were beneath men and referred to as usable and
expendable (Adams & Fuller, 2006). Lyrics were coded as either containing misogynistic lyrics
or not.
Here’s an example from a song titled, “Lovers and Friends,” from the album Crunk
Juice (2005), by Lil’ Jon and The East Side Boyz:
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Be a good girl now, turn around, and get these whippings
You know you like it like that,
You don’t have to fight back,
Here’s a pillow-bite…that
This example would be identified as “containing misogynistic lyrics.
Gender Roles: Coders were instructed to identify songs that made references to whether
or not males and/or females were portrayed as conforming to their stereotypical sex roles. Males
and/or females were coded as “not conforming” when they were presented with stereotypical
traits of the opposite gender. When coders were unable to determine if unsure as to whether the
artist or main character in the song was conforming or not, they were coded as “mixed or
ambiguous.” Finally, “not applicable” was applied for a female, for instance, when the artist was
a male and no female character was referenced. The same criterion was used for males.
An example: “Don’t Phunk With My Heart,” from the album Monkey Business (2005),
by the Black Eyed Peas:
Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, baby
Cause you know you got me by a string, baby
This male artist would be coded as not conforming to stereotypical male traits because he
is displaying traits commonly associated with females such as dependent and submissive.
Sample Selection
To gain an adequate and unbiased sample of songs and artists, an inventory was taken of
the Top 100 charts, selecting the Top 50 of the most popular songs from years 2006 through
2008. This study focuses on a time period that has not been examined in previous research on
this topic. Top ten songs from 2006 through 2008 that attained platinum status (selling at least 1
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million copies) were identified (N =150). Sampling only platinum albums ensured that the music
had reached a substantial segment of the population.
To identify diversity in the music genre and sample, we obtained a list of all songs that
went platinum between 2006 and 2008 from the Recording Industry Association of America
(RIAA). The RIAA compiles, analyzes, and reports on the quantity and value of recorded music
shipped into market channels, is considered the premier source for comprehensive market data
on music trends in the United States. Researchers went through the list and used the Web site
ARTISTdirect (http://www.artistdirect.com) to identify top selling releases. ARTISTdirect is a
comprehensive online network of resources that provides, among other things, detailed
information about artists/groups. The principal investigator then typed in the name of each
artist/group and musical genre classification identified on this web site. iTunes also served as a
source to confirm our classification and placement of a song’s genre.
As stated earlier, few if any studies have been conducted that determine if controversial
themes and profane language may be found in other genres, which is why we selected a diverse
sample (a listing of all tops songs which included songs/artists from all genres) rather than just
hip hop music. It was believed that if we sampled from top ten lists from individual genres (i.e.,
top ten rock songs, top ten rhythm and blues, etc, other songs that contain misogynistic lyrics
would have been left out of the analysis.
Using SPSS, a sample of 150 songs was drawn and then analyzed. Each song was
listened to twice in its entirety by the primary investigator, while simultaneously reading the
lyrics. The lyrics were obtained from Lyrics.com, a social media music community described as
having the largest searchable lyrics database. This site also verified and confirmed the
popularity of the artist and the songs included on the list.
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Each line was coded to identify major themes. For example, coders were instructed to
code the occurrences; if the song included lyrics that encourage, condone, or glorify the
objectification, exploitation, or victimization of women.
Coder Training
Three undergraduate students served as coders, two females and one male. Training took
place over three weeks; each weekly session lasted between one and two hours. During these
sessions, the coders practiced on several songs so that they and the investigators could identify
and resolve problems with the coding scheme. Also during this period, coders became familiar
with relevant literature related to the variables under investigation. Diagnostics were run in
order to determine when coders were prepared to begin coding individually. After the coding
scheme was modified on the basis of these practice rounds, coding was independent. Final
coding took place over the course of two months, with weekly checks on coder fatigue.
Inter-coder reliability was based on the coding of the three undergraduate coders plus the
primary investigator. Reliabilities were computed based on the coding of 20 additional songs
(not included in the final sample; two from each genre). After reliability on each of the variables
was achieved, coding the final sample was done by the three coders. The investigator did not
participate in the coding of the final sample.
Krippendorff’s alpha was used to assess reliability. Coefficients ranged from .79 to .99,
with an average of .90 (SD = .17). Nominal data had a raw agreement of 86% or above, and a
Krippendorfff’s alpha of .80 and above. All of the variables’ reliability coefficients are
displayed in Table 1.
Insert Table 1 About Here
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Data Analysis
Because all variables were regarded categorical/nominal variables, chi-square goodness-
of-fit tests were conducted to determine if the distribution among categories was not equal.
To provide context for the results, first demographics of the artists were assessed. Male
artists (58%, n = 82) were more frequent than female artists (42%, n = 63) in the sample. The
sample consisted of 40.9% (n = 61) white/Caucasian artists, 42.3% (n = 63) black/African-
American artists, .8% (n = 1) Asian/Pacific Islander artist, 2% (n = 3) as Hispanic/Latino, and
14% (n=21) mixed/Biracial artists. The race of two of the artists could not be identified. Also,
because our results examined genre differences, we also consider the genre breakdown. Of the
150 songs included in the study, 54.7% (n = 82) was classified as Pop, 10.7% (n = 16), was
classified as R & B, 21.3% (n = 32) was identified as hip hop/rap, 1.3% (n = 2) as belonging to
the country genre, 9.3 (n = 14) as alternative, .7% (n = 1) was identified as Latin music, 1.3% (n
= 2) as Country music, and .7% (n =) Folk music. Pop music, it appears, tends to have the most
balance in terms of popularity and ranking on top music charts.
Artists included in the sample ranged from Akon, Alicia Keys, All American Regects,
Beyonce, Linkin Park, Katy Perry, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Fergie, Jordin Sparks, Ne-yo,
Natasha Bedingfield, Rihanna, Pussycat Dolls, Gwen Stefani T-Pain, Timbaland, Maroon 5,
Usher, One Republic, Leona Lewis, Panic at the Disco, Daughtry, Coldplay, Carrie Underwood,
Jonas Brothers, and Gnarls Barkley, to name a few. For a complete list of the artists included in
the study, see Table 2.
Insert Table 2 About Here
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Hypothesis and Research Testing
H1-2: Frequency of Profanity in Song Lyrics by Genre and Gender
All hypotheses and research question results on genre differences are reported in Table 2,
and the gender differences are reported in Table 3. H1 and RQ1 investigated whether the
presence of profanity differed among several types of genres. The relationship between musical
genre and the use of profanity was statistically significant, χ2 (7, N = 150) = 13.2, p < .01
Cramer’s V = .30. Thus, hip hop/rap music was found to use profanity more than other genres
while songs found on the Top 40 “pop” charts were not found to use profanity in the lyric. There
was also a significant relationship between gender and use of profanity, χ2 (1, N = 150) = 6.5, p
<.01, Cramer’s V = .18. Of the songs found that were classified as “hip hop/rap,” 77.0% (n = 24)
found to use profanity in the lyric were of male artists, whereas 22.6% (n = 7) were songs by
female artists, a statistically significant difference.
H3-4: Frequency of Violence in Song Lyrics by Genre and Gender
Hypotheses 3 and 4 along with research questions 3 and 4 investigated whether
references to violence in the songs varied by genre. The relationship between genre and the
references to violence, justified and unjustified, was statistically significant, χ2 (14, N = 150) =
20.1, p < .001. In particular, 86.1% (n = 81) of the songs in which the genre was identified as
pop were found to reference violent acts, which is significantly more than the occurrences of
violent messages found in the other genres. Further, the relationship between gender and
references to violent behavioral acts was also statistically significant, χ2 (2, N = 150) = 4.3, p
<.01. Male artists were found to refer to violent acts more than females, which as Table 3 shows,
is significantly more significant than female artists.
H5-6: Frequency of Misogyny/Objectification in Song Lyrics by Genre and Gender
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Hypotheses 5 and 6 and research questions 5 and 6 examined the extent to which today’s
music lyrics demeaned/objectified women. Were misogynistic themes found in other forms of
music besides hip hop/rap music? The relationship between genre and the misogyny was
statistically significant, χ2 (14, N = 150) = 36.9, p < .001, Cramer’s V=.49, suggesting that hip
hop still continue to rely on lyrics that exploit, demean, and objectify women. Further, the
relationship between gender and misogyny or the use of nicknames and objectification of women
was also statistically significant, χ2 (2, N = 150) = 13.2, p <.01, Cramer’s V =.30. Consistent
with prior research, hypothesis 5 was supported and shows that lyrics/words found in hop rap
music demean and objectify women 64.3% (n=9) when compared to all other musical genres. In
terms of gender differences, male artists were found to significantly differ in their use of
misogynistic themes than female artists were, χ2 (2, N = 150) = 13.2, p = <.01, Cramer’s V=.30.
H7-8: Frequency of References to Appropriate Sex Roles in Song Lyrics by Genre and Gender
We further examined whether differences would be found in the occurrence of sex role
message themes in popular songs. Not surprisingly, there was a statistically significant
relationship between song lyrics and message themes related to appropriate sex roles, χ2 (42, N =
150) = 165.9, p < .0001, Cramer’s V = .43. Of the 34 songs that coded women as conforming
and the 43 videos that coded men as conforming, surprisingly, pop music was found to exhibit a
significantly higher reference to sex roles than all other genres, including hip hop/rap.
Insert Tables 2 & 3 About Here
Summary of Key Findings
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The primary goal in the present study was to measure genre differences in anti-social
message themes. Not surprisingly, findings suggest that hip hop/rap music contains more
profanity, misogyny, and references to appropriate sex roles than lyrics found in pop, R & B,
country, alternative, Latin, jazz, and rock music. When compared to female artists, however,
songs performed by male artists were found include more references utilizing the following:
profanity, violent behavior, misogyny, and messages about the appropriate sex roles.
Of the eight genres, hip hop was found to more likely use profanity, misogyny, and
contain themes that show women as submissive, supportive, and beautiful. It was somewhat
surprising, however, to discover that lyrics obtained from a random sample of pop music
revealed that this genre utilizes violence, justified and unjustified violence, more than other
music formats. If this is the case, one wonders why pop music is not as maligned as R&B/hip
hop for its heavy reliance on physical violence.
Lynxwiler and Gay (2000) contend that hip hop/rap music is a type of audio pornography
that endorses sexist and violent ideas and behaviors. The present study shows that music
popular with most adolescents today contains references to message themes centering around the
use of profanity, communicate violence, demeans and objectifies women, and perpetuates gender
stereotypes, supporting theoretical caveats of cognitive schema theory, objectification, and
cognitive learning theory.
Future Research Recommendations
Results from the present study suggest that concern about references to anti-social
message themes should also include other musical genres. Findings obtained in the present study
beg for future quantitative research on the effects of exposure to genres other than hip hop/rap on
young impressionable teens. Future research in this area might be used to determine how
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exposure to the anti-social messages found in song lyrics affects adolescent attitudes toward
violence, use of profanity, sex, and feelings about gender roles. In spite of the interesting work
that has been done so far, much more research needs to be undertaken.
Many researchers believe that exposure to hip hop lyrics are harmful to both youth and
the society as a whole (Fried 1999; Rudman and Lee 2002). Consistent with prior research, data
obtained in the present study also found that hip hop/rap lyrics objectify, devalue, or subjugate
women through insulting and subordinating words such as “bitch, ho, and skeezer” (see
Henderson, 1996; Pinn, 1996; Powell, 1991; Rose, 1994; Watts, 1997). If young people hear
(consume) profanity and/or sexist lyrics on a regular basis, does/will this exposure to the
demeaning content shape their language and use of profanity? Social learning theory might be
used to determine the effects of references frequently heard in song lyrics describing and
referring to women as “bitches and ho’s” on young girl’s relationships with other girls. In a study
by Johnson, Adams, Arshburn and Reed (1995) data revealed that women who viewed rap
videos of women in sexually subordinate roles showed greater acceptance of violence than
females who were not exposed to these videos. Thus, future research should explore if exposure
to sexist language in music lyrics encourages young girls to identify with these labels more than
the positive, more professional references, such as being called a woman versus girl.
As previous research shows, music can have a negative affect on attitudes. The present
study found that of all the musical genres, pop and hip hop/rap lyrics tend to convey negative
demeaning stereotypes of women. This means that each time a listener is exposed to these
representations in the music, effects of this exposure could result in unintended consequences
such as desensitization toward sexual and domestic violence, increase in aggressive behaviors,
negative attitudes toward women (African American women in particular), increases in the use
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of profanity, and relaxed attitudes toward sexual promiscuity. Much of the early research in this
area neglected to compare lyrics in hip-hop music to other forms of music, and few if any studies
have examined how message themes and stereotypes in song lyrics differ by genre, gender, and
Researchers interested in the effects of deleterious song lyrics may want to also take into
account gender differences in future work. Clearly, lyrics differ between genre and gender,
however, little attention focuses on female artists and how their lyrics may impact their self-
concepts, ideas about gender roles and attitudes toward misogyny, violence and sexual
permissiveness. Rather, it seems as if media effects researchers spend much time and attention
focusing on hip hop music, African Americans and African American male hip hop/rap artists or
rap artists in general. Moreover, it is seems that much of the literature published in this area
presumes that all hip hop/rap music is performed by African Americans and that all hip hop/rap
artists are male when clearly this is not an accurate reflection.
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Table 1
Intercoder Reliabilities
Thematic Variable
Musical Genre
Name of Artist
Ethnicity of Artist
Sex Role
Female Image
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Table 2
Male and Female Top Musical Artists 2006-2008
Name of Artist
Alicia Keys
All American Rejects
Male Band
Avril Lavigne
Britney Spears
Carrie Underwood
Chris Brown
Male Band
Daniel Powter
Male Band
Fall Out Boy
Male Band
Gnarls Barkley
Gwen Stefani
Hilary Duff
Jonas Brothers
Jordin Sparks
Justin Timberlake
Katy Perry
Kelly Clarkson
Leona Lewis
Lil Wayne
Linkin Park
Male Band
Maroon 5
Mary J. Blige
Natasha Bedingfield
Nelly Furtado
Nick Lachey
One Republic
Male Band
Plain White T’s
Male Band
Pussy Cat Dolls
Female Band
Ray J
Sean Kingston
Sean Paul
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Shop Boyz
Soulja Boy
The Fray
Toko Hotel
Male Band
Young JOC
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Table 3
Genre Differences in all Categorical Variables
R &
Use of Profane Language
Present (what was
Not present
c2 = (N= 150, 7) =13.2 *, Cramer’s V= .30
No violence
c2 = (N= 150, 14) =20.1** Cramer’s V= .37
Apparent (lyric
degrades and
objectifies women
by the use of
Moderately apparent
Not apparent or part
of the song
c2 = (N= 150, 14) =36.9***, Cramer’s V= .49
References to Sex Roles
Conforming Female
Conforming Male
N/A for female
N/A for male
c2 = (N= 150, 42) =165.9****, Cramer’s V= .43
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Table 4
Gender Differences in all Categorical Variables
Use of Profane Language
Present (what was used)
Not present
c2 = (N= 150, 1) =6.5**, Cramer’s V= .20
No violence apparent
c2 = (N= 150, 2) =4.3*, Cramer’s V= .17
Apparent (lyric
degrades and objectifies
women by the use of
Moderately apparent
Not apparent or part of
the song
c2 = (N= 150, 2) =13.2**, Cramer’s V= .30
References to Sex Roles
Conforming Female
Conforming Male
Nonconforming Female
Nonconforming Male
N/A for female
N/A for male
c2 = (N= 150, 5) =128.9****, Cramer’s V= .93
Note: * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001, **** p < .0001
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