Robin James

Robin James is associate professor of philosophy at UNC Charlotte. She is author of Resilience & Melancholy (Zer0) and The Sonic Episteme (forthcoming with Duke University Press). Her writing has appeared in places like The New Inquiry, SoundingOut!, Noisey, Real Life, and The Journal of Popular Music Studies. She usually writes about gender, race, and music, and she’s beginning a project on the modern rock radio station WOXY.

"You Don’t Own Me: Gender and Private Property in 21st Century Pop"
After the 2017 Arianna Grande concert bombing, some speculated that she was targeted because of her assertive performances of sexuality. Unlike Madonna, who used femme sexuality to create a transgressive bad-girl persona, Grande uses it to demonstrate her own good-girl empowerment. For example, Kelly Dunlap says that “there’s a lot to love about this ode to sexual agency from pop superstars Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande [titled “Get On Your Knees”]...but, mostly, it’s refreshing to hear two women reject objectification and assert their status as sexual subjects.” Marriage law used to revoke women’s ownership of their bodies as sexual property, but now we celebrate women like Grande who proclaim their sexual self-ownership. Feminist theorists have long understood gender as a private property relation. How do changes in how we think about and interact with private property impact representations and performances of femininity in contemporary pop music?

First, I consider how post-feminism’s “new sexual contract” nominally grants women self-ownership of their bodies as sexual property yet prevents that ownership from translating into the status it once guaranteed. This can partially explain why there is a glut of empowerment-pop by women vocalists while the charts continue to be dominated by men: we like empowered women, but not more than Ed Sheeran. Second, I consider how financialization changes the gendering of avant-garde music, which is traditionally masculinized. Financialization is speculation and investment: you make profit by buying low and selling high. Financialization thinks the future is feminine--women and girls are the best investments because their low status gives them lots of room to make gains. For example, BBC Radio 1 brands its underground dance music show as “forward-thinking underground dance music” and connects that to the gender of its host and guests, who represent what’s “under-represented to date” in dance music.