"Rhythm, Roots & Research" - Part III

upcoming & remarkable - a special series by talents on the rise

Dear ladies, today I will focus on the first conclusion of my research question. I will take you through the several levels of the “submissive attitude" in music, gender and race. Check out part I and II here!


Attitude #1 - The Submissive Attitude

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man’” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2013). A quote from well-known Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from her 2013 TEDx talk. And also a lyrical verse in Beyoncé’s song Flawless. This sentence sets the tone regarding the traditional and clear role division between the sexes: the dominant male versus the submissive female.


the pressure to shrink

In her talk Adichie states that women are being kept small, because of the way gender, and gender roles, are constantly prescribed and re-inscribed in our society. Female composer Pauline Oliveros agrees with this statement in het work “A Conversation About Feminism and Music” (Olviveros & Maus 1994). One of the points she makes is that because women have traditionally been channeled into domestic roles that do not encourage them to be involved in the public life, it makes it hard for women to even form the ambition to take on certain roles, particularly leadership positions. The same is true for the music industry. The social pressure to be and act a particular way as a woman and a man, can make it hard for women to even form the ambition to become for example a composer, or any other type of artist. “[In general] Most people, and [particularly] women, are very suppressed” (Oliveros & Maus 1994, 178). These sentiments of social pressure have been, and still are very present. Although there have been positive developments with alleviating this social pressure (for instance through the campaign “Beperkt Zicht” initiated by WOMEN Inc to zoom in on stereotyping in media), if you analyze Adichie’s talk (2013), 5 years later, we still have a long way to go.



In 2012, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a fundamental talk on the topic of feminism in the 20th century at TEDxEuston. The TED talk was later transformed into the written essay “We should all be feminists”. In the essay Adichie offers an updated definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, that is rooted in inclusion and awareness. “We have evolved” Adichie stated in her TED talk (2012) “but it seems to me that our ideas of gender had not evolved”. As an example the modern feminist recalls on an incident that happened weeks before her talk. Adichie walked into a lobby of a top Nigerian hotel. At the entrance a guard stopped her and “greeted” her with a very odd question. Automatically assuming she - as a Nigerian female in a hotel alone - was a sex worker. In the perception of the guard, if she would have been accompanied by a man, this would not have been the case, Adichie states. “Each time I walk into a Nigerian restaurant with a man, the waiter greets the man and ignores me”, is another example she gives in her TED talk (2012). Both examples show how ideas about gender are in desperate need of a make-over. These waiters, she explains, can not be blamed for this behaviour. Because in their minds, this was the socially correct thing to do. What has to be changed is our mindset. But also the education of our kids, who are the next generation. “We must raise our girls differently. But we must also raise our sons differently” (Adichie, 2012). 



Beyoncé’s feminism could be interpreted as contradictory. Although she quotes Adichie’s feminist statements in one song ("Flawless"), other songs seem to illustrate a need to be validated by men. In the song “Single Ladies” for example, Beyonce sings “If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it”. This lyric is an example of the issue of the “submissive attitude” that is often taken in in popular music. The submissive attitude in music represents the attitude that women ought to be submissive to men’s domination and is a reflection of the sentiments resulting from social pressure. 

Next week we will look into the second conclusion of my research. Curious? Stay tuned!

- Maxime


BloG: Maxime Ten Brinke | Photography: Els Danquah | Creative Direction: Shenelva Booij