PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN MUSIC VIDEOS CASE STUDY: HOW
PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN MUSIC VIDEOS
CASE STUDY: HOW KRAL TV CREATES THE DREAM WORLD
E. Nezih ORHON, Associate Prof. Dr.
Anadolu University, TURKEY
E. Nezih Orhon was born in Ankara in 1970. Completed primary and secondary education in Ankara.
He graduated from Anadolu University, School of Communication Sciences, Cinema and Television
Department in 1993 with honors. Dr. Orhon earned his first master’s degree, Electronic Media major,
from Morehead State University, Kentucky and the second one from Anadolu University, Eskisehir in
Turkey. He earned his Ph.D degree in 2002 and also participated in different international projects in the
area of communication, television and media. One of them is ‘Trainers’ Training Program for Television’
for three months in 2003 in the Netherlands. Currently, he teaches Television Journalism, Visual
Composition and Visual Narration courses at Anadolu University.
MTV, as the first music television, one of the dominant and far reaching source of adolescent socialization,
has been one of the tools of defining traditional gender roles of male and female. Gender roles on television,
especially MTV and other similar ones, have always been a factor when determining content on television
shows, videos, and etc. Music videos frequently include quick cuts, stylizations, fanciful and often erotic
imagery, and computer graphics. Different types of music videos on music channels can be categorized
into certain categories. There are videos where the male is the lead role, woman as lead role, or mixed
group. However, what keeps being portrayed on videos is violence against women, and sexually depicting
women. Women are pictured as passive and consumed with the task of perfection, they are objectified and
fragmented, while men are depicted as taking action and making choices. For example, the ‘dream world’
of MTV is one in which women are depicted as objects, dehumanized by the fragmentation and conformity
of body parts. The main function of women in music videos is to be looked at, a role which they seem to
enjoy, inviting the viewer to gaze at them. It is supposed to be a ‘male gaze’. Women are regarded as a
passive thing that can be used and explored at will. They are admired, not for their individual qualities, for
their uniqueness as people, but for their physical attributes. All, defined for MTV videos, are the same for
Turkish version of MTV. It is Kral TV. It also ‘uses’ women as the way MTV uses. This study aims to
explore how Turkish version of MTV, Kral TV, structures questioned ‘dream world’ of men. Content
analysis and artifact analysis, as part of qualitative research, are the main methods of this study.
“No art form is as schizophrenic as the music video. In part a commercial and in part a short film.,
it has flaunted the line between art and commerce, undermined narrative and character
development, and shortened an entire generation’s attention span. In the process, it has given new
meaning to the term postmodern, and has brought the long-simmering debate on the artistic merit
of mass media such as movies, photography, television, and graphic design to a fever pitch.” (Reiss
& Feineman 2000: 10)
Many women in society are tired of disturbing images of television. It has been disturbing for a
long time. This kind of annoyance is not only related with only women’s own perception but
also other people’s perceptions towards them because of those effecting images of women on
television. They are tired of how others view them in relation to women’s images. These images
include mainly sexual aspects of women, showing their bodies. As Robert Goldman calls it,
women become part of male gaze which is produced by those images. Male gaze becomes the
male perspective itself when looking at women.
All these growing attitudes and thoughts towards women determine some of defined gender
roles attached to women. We all see those defined gender roles in television programs, movies
and in other media. Especially, visual media become one of the main factors in effecting minds.
Besides many kind of television programs, music videos play one of the key roles in
representing gender roles. At the same time, there are also many types of music videos. In some
music videos, males are in the lead roles and in some other, woman are in lead roles; or they can
be in mixed groups. However, what keeps being portrayed in music videos are violence against
women, and sexually depicting women. In most of the music videos, women appear mostly as
posers and dancers. Posers and dancers in music videos can also be the singers of those music
According to Gow, ʺpopular videos suggest that for women to star in music, videos in the early
1990s they had to affect an attitude or demonstrate physical talents, rather than exhibit the
musical skills typically displayed by the men who appeared in lead rolesʺ (Gow 1996). Actually,
we see like there are both genders in music videos. There are men and women. In this case, the
mistake we do is to look at their genders. In music videos, the essential thing is not to look at
genders but their portrayal.
Music videos do not only represent and portray genders but they also reflect societal norms.
Their target audience is mainly young people. While communicating the young audiences, they
also send messages on how to behave and how to think for especially women (Bennett & Ferrell,
1987). Music videos are probably the leading ones in television strengthening sex role
stereotypes and gender representations (Morgan 1982).
BACKGROUND ON MUSIC TELEVISION AND MUSIC VIDEOS
MTV (Music Television) is the very first television station to specialize in music videos.
According to McLeod and Healy (1994), MTV, as part of cable service in the United States, was
received in sixty percent of homes in early 1990s. 28 percent of the reached audience was
consisted of people who were less than 18 years old (Pardun & McKee 1995). Later on more
research on MTV reflect that average viewing time of MTV for adolescents were between 25
mintues to two hours per day. In some cases, it was even more than that (Kubey & Larson 1990).
Besides MTV’s growing use, music videos themselves do not only present music and videos
while representing genders, but music itself keeps the records of the culture people live in
(Denisoff 1972). Music is one of the forms of the popular culture. That is why, MTV itself can
also be considered as part of the popular culture, too. Rybacki and Rybacki (1991) think that
there is a new generation compare to ‘raised on the radio’ generation. In terms of past, music is
more of an aural meaning. Today, it has more visual tendencies and we call it as ‘MTV
Music videos are not only tools for creating stereotypes and portraying gender representations,
they are also promotional tools for selling music records. According to Aufderheide (1986)
ʺmusic video is particularly important because it is in the vanguard of reshaping the language of
advertising in a society that depends on an open flow of information to determine the quality of
its political and public life. Consideration of music videoʹs form also implies questions about the
emerging shape of the democratic and capitalist society that creates and receives it.ʺ
Apparently, music videos and channels like MTV became one of the main research areas. In
relation to selected areas, certain techniques of analysis were also chosen. In using cultural
models for rhetorical analysis of music videos, exploring the unique features of the genre was
one of the approaches. Because, music videos, especially on MTV, have visual elements ranging
from album cover to staging and publicity (Goodwin 1992). According to Aufderheide (1986)
“…music videos cross the consumerʹs gaze as a series of mood states. They trigger nostalgia,
regret, anxiety, confusion, dread, envy, admiration, pity, titillation -attitudes at one remove from
the primal expression such as passion, ecstasy, and rage. The moods often express a lack, an
incompletion, an instability, a searching for location. In music videos, those feelings are carried
on flights of whimsy, extended journeys into the arbitrary.ʺ
Music videos can be conisdered as mass products and they present compelling mood states. Abt
(1987) underlines that ʺdirectors of videos strive to make their products as exciting as the music.
In the struggle to establish and maintain a following, artists utilize any number of techniques in
order to appear exotic, powerful, tough, sexy, cool, unique.ʺ Again for Abt, “they must gain and
hold the viewerʹs attention amidst other videos; help establish, visualize, or maintain the artistʹs
image; sell that image and the products associated with it; and perhaps, carry one or several
direct or indirect messages . . .ʺ
Besides their different characteristics and different areas of research, music videos may also be
categorized by three broad typologies. They are performance, narrative, and conceptual (Firth,
1988). These types describe the form and content selected by the director or artist to attract
viewers and to convey a direct or indirect message. Performance videos as the most common
type feature a star person or group singing in concert to wildly enthusiastic fans. The goal is to
convey a sense of the in-concert experience. Gow (1992) believes that ʺthe predominance of
performance as a formal system in the popular clips indicates that music video defines itself
chiefly by communicating images of artists singing and playing songs.ʺ Displaying a star or
group in the studio reminds viewers that the soundtrack is still important. ʺPerformance
oriented visuals cue viewers that, indeed, the recording of the music is the most significant
elementʺ (Gow 1992).
Narrative videos present sequences of events. In this type, music videos may tell any kind of
story in linear, cause-effect sequencing. Actually, love stories are the most common narrative
mode in music videos. The narrative pattern is, in some, one of boy meets girl, boy loses girl,
boy gets girl back. Action in the story is dominated by males who do things and females who
passively react or wait for something to happen (Schwichtenberg 1992).
Conceptual music videos rely on poetic form, primarily metaphor (Firth 1988). The conceptual
video can not be direct but indirect with poetic structure built through visual and verbal
elements. ʺThese videos make significant use of the visual element, presenting to the eye as well
as the ear, and in doing so, conveying truths inexpressible discursivelyʺ (Lorch 1988).
Conceptual music videos do not tell a story in linear fashion, but rather create a mood, a feeling
to be evoked in the experience of viewing (Firth 1988). Conceptual music videos give more
chance to viewers to interpret what they see and hear. It is more of a metaphorical way. ʺThus
the metaphorical relations between images structured according to musical and visual rhymes
and rhythms play a suggestive role in soliciting multiple meanings from us, the
viewers/listeners, that resonate with our experience--something we can feel and describeʺ
In all these categories, couple of things are very common. Techniques of the production type,
women, editing and few others are significant in music videos. Especially, ʺvisual techniques
commonly employed in music videos exaggerate. . . Interest and excitement is stimulated by
rapid cutting, intercutting, dissolves, superimpositions, and other special effects, that taken
together with different scenes and characters, make music videos visually and thematically
dynamicʺ (Abt 1987).
Back to MTV, music videos became significant with its presence. MTV aims 18-34 year old
demographic segment of music consumers. D.S. Miller (in Abt 1987) stresses that ʺwhile MTV
format performs a ‘bardic’ function of converging before its audience an array of possible
(competing) youth subcultures and lifestyle options, at the same time it negotiates these
subcultures and channels.” It pushes reflective or participatory energy on the part of the
audience into the act of consumerism. “In this sense MTV functions as a negotiator in the
hegemonic process by amplifying and absorbing elements of oppositional culture, while
ultimately legitimizing and naturalizing their relationship to the dominant institutions of a
Historically, Music Television, MTV, was launched in August 1981, by Warner Amex Satellite
Entertainment Co.(WASEC). It is a 24-hour cable program service with endless music videos.
Existing conditions resulted MTV’s entry into the market. The record industry experienced
economic stagnation after retail sales dropped from 726.2 million in 1978 to what would end up
to be 575.6 million in 1982 (Banks 1996). At the same time, technological developments of the
television created audio features, too. While improvements were being made to television, radio
remained same-old-same-old. They were generally conservative, resisting new music. These
conditions facilitated the unfolding of MTV into a major music and advertising power, which
was confirmed when, shortly after the MTV premier, music stores reported significantly
increased sales, especially of those videos featured (Banks 1996). With all these capabilities, MTV
is almost monopoly in music television market today. With the aim of consumption - of goods
advertised on the station, of music, and of the station itself. Over the years, MTV has become
increasingly and apparently commercialized (Kaplan 1987). Videos resemble commercials and
commercials resemble videos (Banks 1996). In this commercialist aspect, eventually using
women became one of the essential tools of triggering especially male consumers who already
established the ‘male gaze’.
Music videos and surely MTV uses women not only for commerical purposes but also because
of its long historical tradition. According to Kaplan, MTV was born in Reaganʹs America, amidst
materialism, racism and sexism, with women as the target of objectification and
commodification. In its celebration of ‘the look, the surfaces, the self-as-commodity,’ MTV has
reduced the female body to an objectified image right from the start (Kaplan 151). They all
served for the idea of mass consumption while creating unresistable desires in its flow of music
Music videos are like tattoos on our minds. Today, it is hard to remember a song without its
video. In videos, most of the time women play the key roles. It is not important what women
sing but it is important how they appear while singing. There is a sexual overtone in music
videos when women are involved. The ‘dream world’ of music videos represent women
depicted as objects, dehumanized by the fragmentation and conformity of body parts (Jhally
1990) The main function of women in music videos is to be looked at, a role which they seem to
enjoy, inviting the viewer to gaze at them. They are ‘regarded as a passive thing that can be used
and explored at willʺ (Jhally 1990). They are admired, not for their individual qualities, for their
uniqueness as people, but for their physical attributes. The ‘dream world’ is one of jealousy and
envy in which women are in constant competition for men and sex. Men, on the other hand,
control this ‘dream world.’ In fact, this world consists of their ultimate sexual fantasies. It is a
world in which they are the object of sexual desire, and the pursuer is a beautiful, flawless
woman (or women) with only sex on her mind. Women are objects with which to satisfy sexual
‘needs.’ This ‘way of life’ becomes the referent system for all other images presented in music
videos. It is not necessarily the specific image that can be hazardous to our sense of self and
others, but the meaning it acquires in relation to the images that surround it.
Studies of those fragmented desires seem to spell out a society slanted toward escapism and
sexism. Sexism in videos has been shown to effectively transmit negative attitudes about
women, and cannot be justified as merely harmless indulgence. There is a need for competition
with the misogynistic, male-addressed discourse that has dominated music videos. The danger
arises in relations between men and women and, women’s self-perceptions. Jhally (1990) states
that ‘understanding reality is a social process.’ Young people come to understand their world
based on this process, of which images are a part. Studies have found that both men and women
tend to perceive rape as the victim’s fault, something that she asked for with a suggestive look or
dress, something that she wanted and enjoyed. This perception can only be explained by the
ways in which young people have been socialized into this society. Music videos actively show
images of sex-crazed women who crave sexual encounters with anyone at anytime. The images
displayed in music videos are not pulled out of thin air, but are rooted in the gender and power
relations of society.
Carstarphen defines the woman most oftenly portrayed in music videos as the ‘conventional
woman’. ‘Conventional Woman’ in which the emphasis was on physical appearance and the
woman’s role was merely to satisfy a man’s desire” (Carstarphen 229).
TURKISH MTV: KRAL TV
Music videos provide many examples of where they glorify women for their bodies and where
they degrade women by not giving them the same opportunities as males but except in music
video channels. This is apparent with VJs. Most of the ‘video-jockeys’ are females and all of the
female ones are beautiful. The best example comes from Kral TV in Turkey. Female VJs get some
time with the camera and also get some time to talk. Their clothes are always trendy and
revealing and the camera almost always goes out of its way to display her well-shaped body.
Clothing worn by females in music videos is revealing in nature and very appealing to males.
They are also elements to that defined male gaze and serve for it ss Britney Spears calls her song
“I’m a slave 4 you”. Obviously, she will call it like that because not only the majority or viewers
are male but also 90 percent of music video directors are male, too. Apparently, these music
videos represent the sexual fantasies (sex with strangers, older men with younger women,
dating with teachers, school girls and others) –dreamworlds- of men by using women.
The role of women in most music videos is decorative. They may be presented as back-up
players, back-up singers (lip synching to someone elseʹs voice), as dancers, the audience
watching the band, or just as props for men. Their main function is to be looked at.
Women may also be brought in as part of the story or topic of the lyrics, but the connection is
not always clear. The women in the video dreamworlds are interested in sex with any available
man. They are like nymphomaniacs. The are, most of the time, sexually arouse; resulting
attacking men, even putting themselves at risk. In some music videos, the women are in
competition with other women for men. Men can therefore choose one (or many) women and
dismiss some others. Women always outnumber men, always willing to service them in any
way. Instant attraction and instant hook-up are possibilities and they do not even have to talk.
There is no conversation. If a man isnʹt around, the woman looks for a phallic substitute. If the
man does not desire her, the woman falls apart. She can not cope with it and mopes on bed for
days, until the man calls and ‘makes the world secure again.’
Especially in pop music videos, women constantly gets in and out of clothes. They can strip
anywhere and they can also expose themselves to strangers. They may behave like
exhibitionists. There are usually parties, stripping, dancing around and they can even dance on
tables for men. Parties often look like orgies.
Uncooperative women are dealt with harshly. Those who stay know their bodies are fair game
for whatever men may want to do. After sex, the man leaves right away. Exaggerated actions
can also be seen, such as women dancing in water, showering. They may even be in wet tshirts
as part of their fantasies.
The clothes they wear are also fantasy clothes. Lingerie, stockings and garter belts are some of
the main elements of their appeared fantasy clothing. In relation to their clothing, roles of
women are sometimes described as strippers, exotic dancers, prostitutes, playmate nurse, and
bored housewife. The final message according to these elements are all women have a desire to
rip their clothes off for men. It can happen in anytime in anywhere.
Women in music videos look at viewers directly. By looking into the camera, they invite the
viewer to gaze at them. They seem to enjoy being on display as they are watching themselves in
mirrors. Women usually present themselves as legitimate objects of desire who want to be
possessed by the gaze of men. The women position themselves for maximum sexual effect. The
angles are deliberately chosen. The camera pans up and down, so that the woman is reduced to
a body to be gazed at. Angles from above are typically focused on the cleavage, but most angled
viewing is from below (as up a dress). The camera focuses on specific parts, the bodies are
fragmented. Camera itself is like an expert to find those special parts of women. This conveys
the message that the woman is just a set of body parts for the male gaze. It detracts from
thinking about women as real people, with thoughts, hopes, dreams. The woman is nothing
more than a body to be gazed at.
Filming a woman in shadows, silhouette and under sheets is common. In these cases, the
woman is reduced to just shape. As mentioned earlier, in music videos, women are just objects.
They are passively on display and open to others by actions on them. When they say no to men
in any relation, they actually mean to say yes. Besides their relation to men, explicit violence is
only a small part of relationship. This kind of violence may seem normal in the context of all the
groping and man-handling. The women appear incapable of saying no to male advances as
All mentioned characteristics of music videos can be seen both in MTV and in Kral TV, and
surely in other music videos of music stations. Kral TV, historially, established in 1994.
Especially young music makers started taking place in music videos with this kick. Not only the
music itself, but many film makers and video people benefitted from this development.
TOP TEN MOST WANTED ON KRAL TV
In terms of Kral TV, some aspects of representing women in music videos can be shown
according to its top ten wanted video clips. Analyzing those music videos;
Number 1: Aysu Baceoglu- ‘Sen Sağlığa Zararlısın’.
There is 1 female character in video.
She is happy.
She dances, sings, poses.
She looks sexy, as Demi Moore.
She is almost naked in some parts with her sexy clothes.
Number 2: Gulsen- ‘Canın Sağolsun’
There are 2 female and 1 male characters in video.
She is both happy/unhappy.
She dances, sings and poses.
She looks sexy.
She dresses in minis.
Number 3: Murat Başaran- ‘Nankör’
There are 2 male and 1 female characters in video.
She is both happy/unhappy.
She dances, sings, attracts, mingles, loves,, etc.
She looks very sexy in bikinis on snow and in pool; when she is dumbed by her man,
Number 4: Burhan Topal- ‘Ağrı Dağı’
There are 1 male and 1 female characters.
She is happy.
She dreams about her lover and waits for him.
She looks like a newly wed wife.
She dresses more conservative.
Number 5: Çelik- ‘Sevenler Anlar’
There are 1 male and 1 female characters.
She is happy.
She poses herself and like a lover.
She is introduced by her lips and body parts.
She is dressed average.
Number 6: Hande Yener- ‘Aşkın Ateşi’
There are 1 male and 1 female characters.
She is happy.
She dances, sings and lies in bed.
She is seen with her hair and body parts.
She is dressed exaggerated for clothing.
Number 7: Hasan Yılmaz- ‘Yalan mı?’
There are 1 male and 5 female characters.
They are very happy.
They dance, eat their ice cream, dance egzotically, attractively moves.
They are shown with their bodies in sexy clothes.
They are almost in sexy-transparent clothes…Lyircs are important for their meaning,
such as “I want a kiss” and “did you suck your ice cream.”
Number 8: Ali Altay- ‘Kelepçem’
There are 1 male and 1 female characters.
She is neutral.
She sings in chorus.
She is average in clothing.
She is more of a polite.
Number 9: Aydilge- ‘Yalnız Değilsin’
There are 3 female characters.
She is both happy/unhappy.
She sings, presents herself alone.
She is presented with her lips, eyes, face, etc.
Number 10: Safiye Soyman- ‘Vıdı Vıdı’
There is 1 female character.
She is happy.
She sings, dances, moves her body.
She looks more of a sexy with her Indian look dresses and make up.
She is shown with her body movements as in the center of attention.
According to selected music videos viewed, it is apparent that they do not reflect and portrayal
women as MTV does. But, it does not mean that they do not consider women as part of sexual
images. They do use women for it. It is not direct but it is indirect. Viewers kind of smell this
kind of portrayal.
According to music videos, it is interesting that females, most of the time, are in sexy apparences
when they are the singers. As singers, they are in colorful clothings with heavy make up. In this
case, male characters are kind of servants to them.
On the other hand, when singers are males. There are many women around to make them
comfortable. In addition to this, they are in ultra sexy clothings. They are shown as dancers,
partners, minglers, cheaters, loved ones and else.
As in theater, women in music videos are in more active roles for eye catching. Even if they are
in secondary roles, they get have potential to make viewers follow them in relation to the
narrative of the song.
In terms of singers, numbers of male and female singers are almost the same. So, it is hard to
define gender’s role in singer’s position. When they are shown as dancers or secondary
characters, they are physically more active in movements. We see women trying to attract the
attention of male counterparts.
While seeing women, we usually see them with unique pieces. We may say this for a reason for
attaracting male viewers. These are sometimes bikinis in snow or commonly used ice creams.
There are also examples of traditional ones compare to contemporary examples. Male and
women in music videos can be seen in more traditional roles to attract more conservative viewer
type. They are part of traditional music types.
Another interesting issue is the names of songs. They are used to mean something for women or
men. They try to imply something. They either imply unhappiness or complaints about the other
Compare to earlier study (Simten Gundes and Murat Iri’s study) made in Turkey, which only
covered how body elements of women are shown, this study indicates and categorizes the way
how Turkish music videos create sexiness of women and their portrayal. According to the
findings, categorization for women’s portrayals and their sexiness in Turkish music videoas are
Sexy as object
Sexy as dominant
Sexy and/as beautiful
Sexy as sweet
Sexy as innocent
Sexy and/as rich
Sexy and elderly
A bit sexy and conservative
A bit sexy and purity
Free and hard to define
Sexy as playmate
It is interesting that it is impossible to see Turkish females to be playmates, but when they
females are foreigners, such as Russians or Brazilians, they are shown as playmate objects. It is
also interesting to see Indian influences in some music videos in terms of dances and make-ups.
Music videos are no more only dominated by their lyrics, beats or singer performances but they
are also dominated by their narrative and especially dominated by their dreamlike visuals. They
mean more than their lyrics. Viewers can add more on these visual and narrative interpretations.
They create something totally new in their minds with music videos (Newcomb 1987).
Music videos create not only alternatives to nay other television program type but also to any
segment of our social lives. According to Aufderheide (1986); ʺmusic videos offer a ready-made
alternative to social life. With no beginnings or endings--no history--there may be nightmarish
instability, even horror. But there can be no tragedy, which is rooted in the tension between an
individual and society. Likewise, there is no comedy, which provokes laughter with sharp,
unexpected shifts of context, making solemnity slip on a banana peel . . . identity can change
with a switch of scene, a change in the beat. The good news is: you can be anything, anywhere.
That is also the bad news--which whets the appetite for more ʺnews,ʺ more dreams.ʺ
As it can be seen from Kral TV’s music videos and from other examples, music videos often
depends on sexual content to attract the attention of potential consumers. The sexual content of
music video relies on a narrow set of characters and plot lines. Examining that narrow set can
help us understand part of music video?s impact on our everyday lives.
Women is the center and the source for defined ʺdream worldʺ where the norms of femininity
are nymphomania and dependence on and subservience to men. In this created dream world,
women vastly outnumber men, attraction is instant, and sex happens without courtship. All men
are promised sexual gratification, including the viewer.
This dream world is inextricably tied up in the fantasy life of adolescent heterosexual males.
Music videos destroy the purity of narratives but add more than that. While lessening the
listening they add more on visuals. In relation to this, the adolescent heterosexual male fantasies
of seeing women in their underwear, looking down women’s shirts or up their skirts, and
engaging in casual and erotic touch with multiple women are played out ad nauseum in
plotlines and camerawork.
These sorts of stories about women’s sexuality, while undeniably successful from a marketing
perspective, have consequences in the real world. They encourage men to think of women
primarily as sexual objects without subjectivity and encourage women to value themselves only
if they can attract the gaze or advances of men. Just as in adolescent heterosexual male fantasy,
emotions and humanity take a back seat to a mechanical, exploitative orgy.
To allow this one world as the dominant framework for popular conceptions of sexuality is to
perpetuate a dysfunctional sexual culture. On the other hand, it does not mean that we should
react as rulers.
Music videos should reflect the true diversity of intimacies and fantasies that make us human.
The real answer has to be inside of those video-music makers and viewers. Instead of looking
and thinking in preset images, there is a need for looking and thinking in logic.
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