Feminism is becoming a buzzword, and an increasingly popular one. It is thrown around in the media, by politicians, and by universities throughout the world. At its heart, feminism is about gender equality, but what exactly that means and how we achieve it is a matter for dispute. Feminism is a complex and diverse movement with multiple factions, and feminists will often take opposing sides in debates. This is not necessarily a problem: feminism is a broad movement and there should not be a central authority dictating what it means to be a feminist.
In many ways, this surge in popularity makes it an exciting time to be a feminist, but it also brings problems. As feminism becomes more prominent in mainstream consciousness it often becomes simplified. I do not think anyone has the right to instruct people on ‘how to be a feminist’, but I do think that the movement should be open to critique.
One of many popular figures living out a seemingly feminist agenda is Megan Trainor, a singer who rose to prominence through her smash hit All About That Bass. She is a very influential public figure, who has a significant impact on the feminism of many people, especially young women. Whilst no one has the right to define her feminism, or even if she is a feminist, her influence calls for a closer inspection of, and a more thoughtful reflection on, some of her lyrics.
All About The Bass has put her on the map and, arguably, is a song about body positivity and ignoring society’s message that you have to be skinny. So far so good, but some have argued that Trainor’s angst about ‘skinny bitches’ is part of a skinny-shaming culture that is just a different kind of exclusionary. She does seem to turn this round with the phrase, ‘No I’m just playing’ but, whatever your position on this issue, I do not think it is the biggest problem with the song.
On first listening to the lyrics, the song may sound like a positive reclamation of the female body and an enjoyment of her shape and size, but it is not all so positive. The reason she feels it is ok to be her size is because, ‘Boys like a little more booty.’ She does not seem to have reclaimed her body for herself but rather embraces her size solely because some men like larger women.
At an individual level, she is more than welcome to her personal opinion, but this is a dangerous message to be offering young women. To suggest that a woman’s worth rests on her body type, and that her body type can only be validated through male approval, is not a form of feminism I am entirely comfortable with. I do not think ‘fat’ is an insult, nor do I think it means you are unhealthy, nor do I think anyone should have any reason to feel ashamed of their body. All body types should be celebrated, but not because men will still sexualise you, because you believe in your own self-worth.Megan Trainor’s feminism is often confusing– she offers a positive message only to undermine herself. She does this in Dear Future Husband, where she seemingly undermines gender roles, only to reinforce them again. In the first part of the song, she sings out, ‘you’ve got that 9 to 5, but baby so do I, so don’t be thinking I’ll be home and baking apple pie.’ Whilst this is rather simplistic, it is a positive message of women’s right to work and not be reduced to domestic chores. It undermines the expectation that women can work only if they also perform a more ‘traditional’ function as well. The lyric suggests that this is a partnership of equals, and that the man should not demand anything of the woman he would not do himself.
But then she undermines herself. Having subverted traditional gender roles and placed the characters in her performance on an equal footing, she seems to return to a traditional view of a man and woman’s role in a relationship. She demands that her partner always tell her she is right and ‘don’t forget the flowers every anniversary.’ That is not gender equality, nor is it a helpful message to be spreading through a supposedly feminist lens.
Conforming to the stereotypes of women as demanding, mercurial, and obsessed with flowers is not helpful when singing about gendered dynamics. If she, as an individual, wants flowers and always to be given her own way then that is no one’s business; but to suggest this is something women as a whole want is ludicrous. If she thinks it is wrong for her to be expected to make apple pie, why does she not think it is wrong for men to be expected to buy flowers? Her feminism seems simplistic and ill-thought through. Her lyrics sound to me like those of an enthusiastic sixteen year old girl who has discovered feminism for the first time, and is excited to learn that others feel as she does. That is perhaps endearing, and may make her songs popular, but it is not helpful to a complex movement aiming to ensure gender equality for all.
Her latest song My Name is No is in many ways less problematic, and is a positive message about women’s right to say no to whoever they choose. Perhaps this is a sign of progression? Who knows, but it is interesting to trace the journey of Megan Trainor’s music, alongside the development of the feminist movement.
I do not deny her as a feminist if that is a label she ever chooses, nor her right to express herself as she wishes, but she is putting her music out there through very public platforms and, in my opinion, that leaves them open to critique. The music industry is notoriously sexist but many feminist themes, songs, and performers seem to be coming through. I look forward to seeing how Megan Trainor’s music develops, and whether her feminist ideology becomes more complex over time.