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The Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies office in Court St.

Women’s Center challenges narratives told through popular music

The Ohio University Women’s Center will be hosting this semester’s fourth and final Thirsting for Knowledge Thursday on Nov. 7. 

The event happens one Thursday out of every month, and each one focuses on a different topic. This months topic is, “What I Learned Growing Up About Gender Through Popular Music.” Participants are encouraged to bring lunch or coffee to the event in order to create a relaxed atmosphere. 

Geneva Murray, director of the Women’s Center, said the event takes place midday in an effort to be mindful of people who cannot make evening seminars and workshops. 

“We wanted people to know that what we were talking about were quick little nuggets of information that they could get from a one hour program,” Murray said. 

Topics for Thirsting for Knowledge Thursdays are decided based on what students want to hear. The goal of these events is to have hard conversations while challenging internalized beliefs and educating the public.

“Our planning really starts over a year ago, when we are listening to students and what they want to see in our programming,” Murray said. “So everything that we do is really intentional in making sure we are meeting the learning outcomes that people are asking for.”

November’s topic focusing on popular music is a particularly important one, because every piece of media that is consumed has an underlying message that consumers may not be aware of, Murray said.

“There’s this soundtrack to our lives,” Murray said.  “And we don’t often take the time to stop and think, what is the soundtrack actually saying about me?”

Media, particularly music, is everywhere. From grocery stores to the radio in cars, music is nearly inescapable. It is crucial to be aware of the lessons and messages being discreetly sent through media channels. 

“There is so much we learn about what it means to be a woman, to be a man, through media production,” Murray said.

Messages are difficult to decipher, but this Thirsting for Knowledge Thursday aims to help consumers stop passively listening to music and other media. 

“They [consumers] don’t really pay attention to the message behind the song,” Claire Milano, a second year junior studying journalism said. “They just pay attention to the way the music makes them feel.”

It is important to consider not only the messages the media sends, but who becomes popular and successful. Rising stars and celebrities have similar impacts on consumers.

“This alone can affect how girls think about their possibilities in life,” Loran Marsan, a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor at OU, said. “If we don’t hear or see people like ourselves, what is going to tell us that we can do this when so much in the world is telling us we can’t?”

Marsan wants to see a shift in who becomes successful in the music industry; instead of more traditional stars, she anticipates the media praising a variety of diverse media personalities.

“We don’t just need better messages,” Marsan said. “We need more and better representation.”

Murray hopes that this time dedicated to reflection will help people recognize their biases and make connections between internal, unintentional prejudices and behavior. 

“Is the fundamental information I use to make decisions accurate?” Murray said. “Does it reflect what I actually believe? Is this how I want to think?”

This Thirsting for Knowledge Thursday will be an all-inclusive, safe space to welcome discussion of underrepresentation of minorities in media. 

“What we consume can have an impact on what we feel we are capable of, what we feel we “should” be doing, and how we interact with the world and people around us,” Marsan said. “Representation gives us images to imagine our lives and the possibilities we see ourselves having.”

This Thirsting for Knowledge Thursday is not intended to shame people for the music they listen to. Problematic music can still be enjoyable; however, it is necessary to acknowledge and understand how the music is problematic. 

“That’s the thing, learning about gender through music, we are not saying that you cannot love the music that you love,” Murray said. “We need to slow down and listen to the messages that we are hearing when we are listening to music.”


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