It doesn’t make sense that I like country.
I grew up in France, where the genre is relegated to the depths of rural wastelands. All my friends back home (and some in America) make fun of me for my musical taste, and I get it—after all, new country is just overproduced pop music with a hint of banjo and a whole lot of questionable lyrics. “Red Solo cup, I feel you up,” anyone?
Beyond the discrepancies of regional origin, I recently declared a gender studies minor at UCLA that has me questioning everything.
When I went to see Furious 7, I couldn’t look past the male gaze that was placarded all over it. I can’t understand why surveys continue to ask respondents whether they are male or female, as if those were the only imaginable options. I just turned in a paper for an English class; it had the terms “hegemonic femininity,” “structural sexism,” “gender binary” and “equal rights” in the introduction alone.
Of course, you don’t need to have read Betty Friedan and Frances Beal to understand that there is something deeply and inherently sexist about country culture. Worlds away from my Californian bubble, women are “getting ready” while men are “gassing up the Chevy.”
And speaking of Florida Georgia Line, every one of their videos is pretty much just a whiter version of a misogynistic hip-hop clip, macho-man car and bikinis included.
Yet country music grew on me, as I found myself graduating from old-school Taylor Swift to full-on Jason Aldean in the space of one year in the U.S. In the words of Blake Shelton, country is my guilty pleasure, my old go-to.
I skip to “21” and bob my head to “Fly Over States.” “Cruise” turns every bad day around. “Hey Pretty Girl” gives me faith in love.
And most days, I recognize that it is just music, however condescending to women some lyrics may be. But you can’t take a gender studies class without understanding the very real consequences of popular culture on all of our lives, not to mention how much it reflects its social context.
So I scream internally when RaeLynn sings that “God made girls” to “wear a pretty skirt” and “be the one to flirt,” because I know that some girls will hear those words and internalize that they exist solely for the benefit of men. So much for 170 years of the struggle for women’s rights.
Still, country culture is not all bad. There’s nothing wrong at all with a strong sense of tradition and simple values—most people would agree that family, sun and a few cold ones make for a pretty solid life.
And I know I want to get married and have kids and, yes, probably a white picket fence. Sue me. All in all, tradition is not entirely incompatible with feminism, but “bro country” does present it as such. You don’t hear many women singing about their simple lives—can we assume that they’re the ones fetching that beer for their man’s man of a husband?
Instead of cold beers and pick-up trucks, the many strong women in country sing about independence. Unfortunately, more often than not, this independence is achieved from a man and not for herself.
Maddie & Tae have to fight not to be “the girl in a country song,” while Miranda Lambert feels the need to “show him what little girls are made of: gunpowder and lead.” Then again I suppose calling men out on their misogyny is the first step to achieving true equality.
But for all of their flaws, most of these male singers are true gentlemen… if they ever grow out of their rowdy frat boy days—I’m looking at you, Luke Bryan. The singer sways back and forth between asking “country girls” to “shake it” for him and encouraging the woman he loves to crash his party anytime.
Many of Bryan’s counterparts are more consistently respectful in their lyrics; I’m thinking of Eric Church’s “Love Your Love the Most” and Tim McGraw’s “Just to See You Smile,” among so many others. A lot of these guys are actually pretty damn dateable.
As for me, I’m forever trying to reconcile wanting to be treated like a princess and acknowledging the double standard in that, which is why I feel a certain sense of guilt around being a die-hard country fan and calling myself a feminist. I’ll try to be more Frozen and less Sleeping Beauty—promise.
And even though “Shake It For Me” will always be the catchiest chorus ever, I’ll shake it for myself, thank you very much.