Assistant Professor of Communication Megan Hopper is working with the American Psychological Association (APA) to create a way to combat the negative effects associated with sexualized popular music content.

image of Megan Hopper

Megan Hopper

Hopper was asked to be part of an APA task force examining the messages in music lyrics and videos, and how they impact young people. “Research finds that when young people—especially young men—listen to lyrics and see sexualized imagery of women, they are more likely to believe that women should be sexually exploited and dominated,” said Hopper, who has been studying media stereotypes of women for years. “And young women believe being ‘sexy’ is the only way to gain attention or find worth.”

The aims of the group, which includes scholars from across the nation, were recently published in the APA’s Amplifier magazine of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology. Currently, the task force is putting together a comprehensive review of research on the effects of sexual music content, which will be used to illustrate the need for music media literacy at a young age and continuing through the lifespan.

Young women swallow this false idea that their value is based solely on how they look or how sexy they act. — Megan Hopper

Prior to joining the task force, Hopper was part of a research team that asked college men to watch music videos and take surveys immediately after viewing. “We showed several groups videos that showcased Beyoncé, Fergie, and Hillary Duff in very objectified and sexualized ways. Other groups watched the same set of artists in videos that had very low levels of sexual objectification,” said Hopper.

The results of the study showed those who watched the sexualized videos were much more likely to answer questions in a way that accepted a demeaning attitude toward women. The young men who viewed the highly objectified female artists reported more adversarial sexual beliefs as well as more acceptance of interpersonal violence than the men who viewed the low-sexually objectifying music videos by the same female artists. “Our study illustrates how representations of female music artists have the potential to affect multiple attitudes and self-perceptions, including conceptions and understandings of masculinity and femininity, women’s rights, and self-esteem,” said Hopper.

One of the main goals of the APA task force is to create educational materials to enhance music media literacy including aspects of understanding, analysis, and reflection on the content based on one’s stage in development. “These messages can be internalized beginning at a young age,” said Hopper, who noted the media literacy plan will include protectionist avenues for children and youth that can be used by both parents and educators.

“Seeing female artists acting in a very sexualized manner, or male artists talking about a woman’s body in a derogatory manner, encourages men to think they need to dominate women, or that women are ‘asking for it’ because of how they dress,” said Hopper. “In the same vein, young women swallow this false idea that their value is based solely on how they look or how sexy they act.”

The next steps for the task force are to begin working on a literacy plan that can be used in schools and in organizations aimed at young people, to develop partnerships with online platforms that provide access to music, and to seek opportunities to raise national standards for music consumption.

“The existing efforts by industry and government bodies to combat the potentially harmful impact of sexual music content do not appear to have done much good,” said Hopper. “Therefore, music media literacy and education looks to be the most effective method of raising consciousness and promoting other best consumer practices for music consumption.”