“You know Ed Sheeran is a good singer because even though he’s ugly, he’s still famous.” This direct quote is one of the few specific things I remember being said in middle school. While I am not sure why Ed Sheeran’s talent or appearance was the topic of conversation that day, seven years later, the quote has clearly stuck with me. Beyond it is a poignant representation of both a middle schooler’s humor and logic, it remains to be uncharacteristically truthful.
An extension of this logic would be to assume that artists who are considered to be beautiful require less raw talent in order to become successful. Of course, in order to prove such a thing, we would need some objective measure of beauty and talent, a thing I am woefully incapable of creating. I am, however, quite certain that a glance at popular artists today would make one thing clear; famous women in the music industry are required to be beautiful men, however, are not.
Beyonce, Adele, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Carol G, and Doja Cat are the most popular female artists today and are all evidence of this. In comparison, the most popular male artists are Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, The Weekend, Harry Styles, Khalid, Drake, Post Malone, and Charlie Puth. While it’s unnecessary to pick out which male artists are not beautiful, the list speaks for itself; the men are allowed to be average.
When famous rapper, Cardi B, was a judge on Netflix’s music competition show Rhythm + Flow, she explained that female rappers are expected to be the whole package “men need to want to fuck you, and girls need to want to be you.” This has not been the only time she has spoken out about this.
When a Twitter user posted this to the platform: “I hate how Women rappers can perform & have whole ass choreography routines & still get criticized & picked apart while men rappers just walk around in one circle, jump up & down, giving the bare minimum with no criticism @ all,”
Cardi B responded, saying, “Female rappers have to bust their ass on performances, great visuals, hours on make-up, hours on hair, pressure by the public to look perfect, make great music and yet are the most disrespected. It’s always they not good enough. What’s new?”
The evidence speaks for itself, and deep down, we all know that this is true. But why? Why are women in the media not allowed to age past thirty? Why do we exclusively expect women to be beautiful always and then take joy in ripping their appearance apart? Above all, why do we allow famous men the grace to be human beings while holding that empathy hostage from famous women?
This is, of course, because a woman’s value in our culture is intrinsically linked to her proximity to the beauty standard. This isn’t particularly groundbreaking, yet, I don’t think we contemplate its implications enough. A conservative’s response to this thought would be an essentialist approach, something similar to our biological instinct to value a woman’s beauty more than a man’s. I advise steering away from arguments that fully explain human culture through the lens of biology without providing a sociological analysis, as it’s always the argument used to justify hierarchies based on race, sex, gender, and class.
Furthermore, a complicating factor is that men are not the people who make female artists famous. Seeing as female artists’ fan bases are almost exclusively women, it’s women, not men, who are choosing to make these beautiful women famous, not men. So then, why do women hold other women to such high standards? It’s simple; we were taught to.
In the book Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism, Kristen Ghodsee explains that in response to the USSR’s policies to raise the economic equality of women, the capitalist U.S doubled down on promoting the nuclear family’s backbone; the American housewife. This hierarchy ensured that every man in America got a maid, a cook, a babysitter, a sex worker, a therapist, and a surrogate all for free. It also impacted the evolution of feminism forever. Unlike under soviet communist rule, women in the US maintained the freedom to be sexy, to be beautiful, and to be desired by men. This messaging worked wonderfully when women were legally forced to marry men in order to have any economic prospects at all.
Yet, unfortunately, this message continues to this day. What American women view as empowering often stops at us asserting that all women are beautiful without questioning why we ever even needed to be.