Can I Listen to Sexist Music as a Conscientious Person? The Cognitive Dissonance Two-Step

Young Man Listening to Music on Headphones in the Streets

You’re an intentional, conscientious person, but that same song that gets your booty shakin’ contains elements of sexism, violence, racism, or other flavor of bigotry. How do you deal with this cognitive dissonance? Can you listen to sexist music and still be conscientious?

Admit it: before you gave a good hard listen to the lyrics of Earth’s favorite creeper Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” it kiiind of made you want to shake your rump. Or, in my case, more than kind of.

While the rapey-ness of “Blurred Lines” has been well documented, its infectiously catchy nature causes a difficult tug-of-war between your brain and booty. What do we even call this special kind of conscious confusion? Musicognitive Dissonance? Cognitive Disso-dance? I’ll get back to you when I finalize some new buzzword for this phenomenon.

Even if there are more questions than answers, try on these three perspectives when handling the cognitive dissonance of enjoying sexist music you know you shouldn’t like, but just “know you want it.”

Cultural Context

Human behavior is often merely a symptom of a deeper psychological or societal undercurrent dictating the thought processes behind our actions.

Let’s step away from Mr. Thicke for a moment and look at hip hop as an example. How much of hip hop’s misogyny can be traced back to decades of institutionalized racism, hatred, and poverty? And regardless of context, why would we ever make excuses to be anti-women? And as a U.S.-born white man, what in the world would I personally know about any of this?

Ultimately, where does cultural context end and personal accountability begin? If I had that answer, I’d be the world’s greatest judge, psychologist, or relationship columnist.

Saving vs. Savoring the World

A female entrepreneur friend of mine whom I deeply admire lives her life based on a sage piece of advice: “Balance how much you try to save the world with how much you savor it.”

This perspective on music boils down to how willing you are to compartmentalize your life. You donate money and volunteer time championing worthy social causes; you support local business by shopping in your community; you try to buy organic and local whenever possible. Can’t you have the social consciousness equivalent of a diet “cheat day?” None of us are perfect — we’re all figuring things out and trying our best.

If you’re adamant about liking certain music for the beat but not the message it promotes, you’ve simply got to own it as your guilty pleasure while remaining true to your conscience through your actions and energy in other aspects of life. This perspective, however, can turn into a slippery slope toward one of the must fundamentally flawed arguments commonly used against homosexuality: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

So, is it “Love the music, hate the message”? Now my brain’s really doing the cognitive dissonance two-step.

Conversation Fuel

Even though the message behind “Blurred Lines” is decidedly awful, at least it has gotten a worthwhile conversation going. The song provides context and platform for a global conversation, and pushback against it has increased universal awareness about the ills of misogyny and served as a rallying point for thought leaders and supporters.

Some lessons are difficult to teach without real world examples, and though it’s unfortunate the conversation even needed to happen, at least the world is participating.

Follow Garth on Twitter @garthinkingcap

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Photo by Simon Ingram