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The feminine in music

Her.meneutics ran a piece today on the absence of women from the contemporary Christian music scene in the US – none in the top 10 Christian songs and artists and only 2 in the top 50. I’d be interested in getting an Australia perspective on this. I don’t really listen to Christian radio stations, so if you do, what’s your observation – are the Christian singers mainly male? My hunch is that in Australia we’re slightly more egalitarian than in the US – Brooke Fraser jumps to mind as an example of a prominent Christian female artist.

In the States, this move is apparently this is shaped by what 30-40 year old mums want to hear and apparently they’re uncomfortable with women on stage: “there is a fear of sensuality and sexuality within the church.” This premise assumes that women are anti-women on stage rather than pro-hot men on stage and that may need consideration. However, it stands to reason that what happens in popular music will dialogue with Christian music. And even if Australia has more prominent women in Christian music than the US does, our popular music is influenced in large part by the American scene. We have to come to terms with the overt and often immoral sexuality of women in popular music.

The Her.meneutics writer Laura Leonard suggests that we’ve been trained to think that promiscuity is what female music is about, hence the rejection of female worship leaders and singers. If this is the case, it’s a tragedy – our picture of femininity ought to be shaped by the Bible, not Lady Gaga! A Christian response to Lady Gaga is not to withdraw women from performing but to offer a distinct alternative.

The question is, what is that alternative? I’ve written before about how I don’t it’s to conceive of yourself simply as ‘Christian’ – we’re either male or female Christians. But how do you express female sexuality (i.e. being feminine) without sexualising femininity? I suspect that this is what Paul is getting at in 1 Peter 3:3-4, though what that looks like in practice is a tricky issue. One option in the past has been monasticism – to harness feminine sexuality in the service of Jesus, apart from the rest of society. I wonder how much our ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ worship music taps into this: the focus on Jesus makes the feminine ‘safe’ somehow.

What do you reckon? How do you feel about female worship leaders and singers? Which artists do you observe being feminine without sexualising their image?

Categories: Church Culture Woman Written by Tamie

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

4 replies

  1. I think guys have more time & know-how when it comes to making music happen, certainly in Colin’s music scene. Although I know a lot more women than men who are good singers, I know more men than women that can sing and play an instrument at the same time, write music etc. I think that’s the primary reason.

    The recent issue of Eternity can an article about a number of current female Australian Christian music artists.

    In many churches, the singing/worship leader is more often female. In the “culturally influential” large churches, perhaps the prominence of young male singing leaders is an attempt to make the church slightly more male-friendly and youth-friendly.

    In popular music, there are two different divisions of labour (lotsa generalisation here): Sometimes there is a named band (this format tends to be male), sometimes there is a named singer backed by unnamed musicians (this format has more women than the other).

    The named band format happens when musos get together to do what they love. The named singer relies more heavily on the music business to make them a celebrity, while the band makes more of the distance on their own talent.

    While in the old days, singers and bands were heard and not seen, in our time the music business uses celebrity, image, advertising and music to make money. They often try to make a sex symbol of the performer in so doing. Perhaps the higher incidence of women in the top level of pop music than their at the lower levels is to do with their marketability in ways that Christians deem inappropriate.

  2. I reckon the problem is our societies gender constructions, particularly for women – to be feminine is to dress in a way that’s displaying your body and seeking to attract.

    Consider the dress expectations for women – if not baring flesh and cleavage, at least wearing tight figure-hugging clothing that puts the body on display. Likewise, the emphasize on makeup and lipstick as forms of “femininity”.

    This can complicate things when a woman is up-front in any context.

    I think this is terribly sad and I don’t know what the answer is. Any thoughts from a female perspective?

  3. Yeah Sam, I think you’re right – it’s part of a larger question of how we understand femininity. Have you seen blogs like Melinda Tankard Reist’s – she blogs through a lot of this stuff about expectations of women. What interested me was that these are not just men’s expectations but women’s as well. As you say it’s a societal gender construction. I suspect though that we (both Christians and not) haven’t yet worked out what to replace those constructions with – from a Christian perspective we’ve got the outline in 1 Peter but the application is tricky.

    Eric, your observations about the band vs. singer with back ups were interesting – I think some of the comments on the article were getting at that too. But with the thing about men having more know-how, isn’t that in part because they’ve been mentored up by others or have those connections? Their know-how could be attributed to either initiative or to having more opportunities.

  4. Yes, probably multiple reasons for more males in bands. My main exposure to the scene was through Colin in 98-04, so considering people aged 15-22. Main thing is more guys learn to play guitar and drums. Guys at that age like to do things together while girls are more able to just hang out and talk. Then there’s the carrying around heavy drums and amplifiers, if you’re doing gigs here & there.

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