Women’s Empowerment Through Music

Find Out How Music Therapy Can Help You Take Charge of Your Life

In times where we may be silenced, music gives us a voice. Music has the power to make us stronger -- whether it be through poetic lyrics or contagious rhythms.

For centuries, women have been using music as an outlet for their struggles in everyday life. Although they were often overlooked by history, women of the past impacted more than just the music industry -- they spread hope and courage.

Sadly, many of these struggles have remained unshaken, but feminism continues to thrive. Music therapy can be used as a tool for sparking women’s empowerment and helping individuals take hold of their past, present, and future.

In this post, we will discuss:

  • Women’s empowerment
  • Women in the music industry
  • Feminist music therapy
  • Music therapy and domestic abuse
  • Music therapy and PTSD

Women’s Empowerment

The empowerment of women is defined by the European Institute for Gender Equality as

“The process by which women gain power and control over their own lives and acquire the ability to make strategic choices.”

There are five components to women’s empowerment:

  • Establishing self-worth
  • Recognizing the right to determining and having choices
  • Having access to opportunities and resources
  • Controlling your own life within and outside of the home
  • Possessing the ability to influence social and economic change

In supporting women’s empowerment, you are supporting women, girls, men, and boys’ equal access to education, healthcare, and technology -- as well as their ability to fight injustices.

A woman and a man stand together with the female and male gender signs.
Gender equality leads to peacebuilding and leadership. Image courtesy of UNITAR.

Women in the Music Industry

A study at Northwestern University found that even though music seems to be becoming more representative, men release more songs than women, are signed to record labels more frequently, and they are aligned with more collaborators to produce music.

Despite this, women in the music industry find ways to impact their audiences on a large scale. Artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Lizzo focus on female empowerment and self-acceptance in their careers. When girls and women hear their messages of self-love, they are more likely to apply them in their own lives.

Music therapist Sandi Curtis points out that songs like the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl,” which is about two women conspiring to kill one of their abusive husbands, shock the media because many women aren’t expected to speak out about such issues.

A blue chart of statistics on the representation of women in the music industry.
Women in music set the stage for upcoming female artists. Image courtesy of Soundreef.

Feminist Music Therapy

In order to understand how feminism applies to music therapy, we must take a look at feminist therapy.

Feminist therapy is a culturally-informed approach that understands the silencing of women within the current socio-political context. In this branch of therapy, therapists address personal transformation, self-esteem, self-worth, and assertive communication skills.

Music therapy addresses similar topics, but therapists individualize approaches to each client -- songwriting, lyric analysis, performing, improvisation. These techniques allow women to express themselves and their traumas in a safe environment.

Oftentimes, we do not want to talk about what troubles us, which is why music therapy’s nonverbal elements are very successful.

Check out playingforachange.org for more information on how music empowers women and girls globally.

Music Therapy and Domestic Abuse

In Sandi Curtis’ book, Music for Women (Survivors of Violence), she writes about how music can empower domestic abuse survivors.

Curtis uses all genres of music (pop, country, rock, R & B) when working with women who encounter domestic abuse.

“One of the big things abusers do is isolate [women] and convince them the abuse is their fault," Curtis told Inlander, a weekly newspaper. "When they began to hear singer-songwriters like Tracy Chapman or Trisha Yearwood singing about their own experiences, then they were able to break out and think, 'Gosh, if that happened to them, and they certainly don't deserve it, maybe I don't, either.”

Listening to mainstream music inspired the women Curtis worked with and eventually, led them to compose pieces that expressed their own experiences with domestic violence.

Women wearing brightly colored shirts stand together supporting each other.
There are hundreds of support groups for survivors of assault nationwide. Image courtesy of Greatist.

In a Utah State University study, domestic abuse survivors found strength through writing their own songs as well. Partnering with the Community Abuse Prevention Services Agency, the study enlisted female domestic abuse survivors to take a 14-week music therapy course.

“Battered women commonly suffer from distorted affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses resulting in low self-esteem, lack of body awareness, deficit coping skills, deficit communication skills, posttraumatic stress disorder, fear, anger, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, feelings of self-blame and helplessness, shame, and other disheartening struggles,” wrote Rebecca Tanner of the Utah State University Music Therapy Program.

Through composing songs, the women were able to address these problems and replace their pain with pride, gratitude, and inspiration -- slowly learning how to stand tall again.

Music acts as an outlet for trauma and recovery, while at the same time regenerating self-worth in those who may have lost it along the way.

Music Therapy and PTSD

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event.

Someone suffering from PTSD may have intense or disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their trauma. Oftentimes, they relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares. PTSD takes a toll on our emotions and can often lead to a feeling of detachment.

Many female victims of PTSD feel that they are weak or have no control over the symptoms. Music therapists work with clients in order for them to take back their lives.

Music therapy can provide:

  • An outlet for emotional expression
  • A reduced state of anxiety and stress
  • Improvements in emotional control
  • Relaxation
  • Connections with similar people
  • Improved physiological changes

These benefits are extremely helpful in managing stress and coping with difficult memories.

Three women stand together in support of women's empowerment.
Music therapy restores confidence in women. Image courtesy of Glamour.

Until we are all treated equally, we need things like music to find strength and love within ourselves. Do not let the world silence you -- find empowerment through music therapy and shape your future into what you want it to be.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Jessica Fortunato
Jessica Fortunato is a writer who also enjoys photography, music, and hiking.
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