Gender Inequality in Pop Music


I was visiting my granny recently and she mentioned her dislike for the way female artists, such as Taylor Swift and Lizzo, dress ‘these days’. She had seen some purposefully unflattering pictures of these women in leotards that they usually wear to perform, on a Facebook post ridiculing their looks. The interest of everyone in the room was peeked and a small debate ensued, as it usually does on Sunday visits, about how women in music are treated. Various opinions were shared and though the conversation soon faded into a different topic of who was going to win this year’s Britain’s Got Talent, I couldn’t help but notice how varied our views were on the matter.

With Taylor Swift’s ‘The Eras Tour’ well under way, Swift has become the most sought after concert ticket as of 2023 and the average ticket price reaching an unbelievable £852. Alongside her are some of the world’s most popular stars, Beyonce, Adele and P!nk, whose recent concerts have been nearly impossible to attend. These concerts are incredible productions consisting of elaborate stages, multiple costume changes, expansive set list and often running upwards of 3 hours long. It is little wonder they have received critical acclaim. When artists put that much effort into their shows, the pricing doesn’t seem just as steep. However, male artists high on the list of the most in-demand tickets, such as Ed Sheeran and Bruce Springsteen, are able to charge similar prices for less demanding shows. There are clear differences between male and female pop stars but when it comes to performance and expectations, female stars provide an incomparable experience for their fans.

So, lets explore sexism in the music industry.

Women browsing records.

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Double Standards

Double standards are common in the music industry, whether it’s music video concepts, lyrics, or the image an artist must project in everyday life. Female artists must come back with unique looks and fresh sounds each time they release new music whilst for men an authentic and relaxed persona is often more appreciated. Donning a similar style and sound for them means maintaining their brand, whereas for women, this is interpreted as not trying hard enough.

Creatives often sing about personal experiences as a way to express themselves, usually calling to past relationships and the topics of love and sexuality. For male artists, graphic descriptions of admiration for a partner are accepted and sexualised lyrics spark little retaliation. Yet for an artist like Taylor Swift, when singing about past relationships, she has been ridiculed and posed as someone who can’t move on from a bad break-up. If a female artist tries to embrace their sexuality they are shunned by disapproving parents of young fans, as they should know better to be role models and hide that side of their lives. Even when they try and maintain a more age-appropriate image they are seen as lesser for having a younger fan base, as if that makes their art any less significant to music.

For those women who find themselves in male dominated genres, like Indie-Rock, Rap and EDM, they end up second guessing outfit choices and appearances to avoid feeling uncomfortable. In their attempts to gain the same level of respect as their male counterparts, they face being defined by their gender and sexualisation.

The double standards that exist between male and female artists have even filtered down to their fanbases, who are treated unfairly. Fans of famous women are often not taken seriously in their support and mocked when wearing merchandise in public. Even female fans of groups such as The Beatles and One Direction received criticism for unnecessary fangirling over their favourites. Misogyny appears to taint women’s enjoyment of music, whether as an artist or fan.

Medias Influence

The media plays a major role in setting standards for celebrities and artists. The attention received through news articles and social media can make or break a career. With motos such as ‘no publicity is bad publicity,’ the media gets free reign ridiculing stars and steering the public expectation of them. Traditional forms of media, such as newspapers, are regulated but social media platforms continue to struggle with drawing a line with between freedom of expression and hate speech. Misinformation and hateful language are becoming so widespread that positive comments are being lost. As a musician’s fame grows, so does their online presence, and the moderation of these spaces will be difficult.

It’s not surprising that female artists are berated more than men. A women’s worth has often been linked to their appearance and ability to look good in the public eye and across the world, expectations for women are higher in every aspect of life. Beyond the attacks on women’s appearances themselves, is the glaring fact that famous male artist receives far less criticism on their looks as well as being able to fly under the radar.

Taylor Swift found herself in drama with famous rapper Kanye West in 2016 that made her nearly walk away from her career due to the media turning against her. In stark contrast, male artists accused of being violent and abusing women are allowed to perform and keep their fame whilst still being loved online. Male artists’ expectations are generally lower, so there is less opportunity for media outlets and online trolls to find them lacking enough to create hateful posts.

Taylor Swift

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Sexualisation and Sexism

Due to the nature of marketing in music, physical appearance plays a key part in selling an artist. Fashion and music video production varies across genres but also genders, with men often getting more creative input compared to female artist. Female musicians are marketed as feminine because this aligns with the general public’s expectations of them, and the media responds well. Women are also more often than not positioned in the media in a sexualised and objectified way, as this sells even better. The term ‘sex sells’ is unsurprisingly true, and confirmation of this can be found looking at music videos with the most views which usually include more provocative themes.

The prominence of sexism and misogynistic language in song lyrics has steadily increased over the decades. A recent study found that a third of male solo artists songs would be classified as sexist compared to lower figures for female soloists. The research also found that the songs that included sexist content were consistently placing on Billboards Top 10 most popular songs across time.

Challenges and Changes Needed

Within the music industry, there is an alarmingly high level of ignored abuse and use of NDAs which makes reporting instances difficult . Society struggles to believe female victims and when your career hangs in the balance, many have had to try to brush off incidents of harassment and abuse. Women are more likely to experience online harassment, cyber stalking, and hate crimes motivated by their gender – it seems this would apply to famous females as well.

Music has been thought to evoke social change, but it seems almost ironic that the industry itself is putting down women and seems stuck in its biased and old-fashioned ways. To look at the music making process in general there are few female songwriters let alone producers. Music labels are more often owned and dominated by men sitting in the majority of higher up positions and one can imagine women’s voices fail to be heard in an environment like that.


There is a clear need in society to amplify women’s voices, and music has the potential to facilitate this. However, artists attempting to advocate for change, face obstacles at every turn. High levels of hate online and disdain in general conversation reinforces the double standards. A shift in attitudes towards female artists attempting to navigate a misogynistic industry is required. Whether it’s reporting extremely hateful posts on social media or having discussions with family members when a spiteful comment is made. It can feel strange defending a famous person who you will never know, but unnecessary hatred towards any women attempting to pursue a career is uncalled for and only perpetuates the unfair treatment of women in society.

By: Alex, Ulster University Placement Student.