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Using Popular Music to Teach Gender & Crime

In my "Women and Criminal Justice" course at Michigan State, I assign an extra credit project for the students in which they identify and discuss a popular song whose lyrics reflect an issue discussed in class.

For example, "Goodbye Earl" can encourage discussion about domestic violence and violent retaliation (and also, is it OK to sing about domestic violence and homicide in this fashion?):


On another topic, I like using the song "Sex" by Berlin when we cover the "Madonna/Whore" duality. Consider the lyrics:

(Sung by a man, sung by a woman)

"I'm a man, I'm a goddess 
I'm a man, well I'm a virgin
I'm a man, I'm a blue movie 
I'm a man, I'm a bitch 
I'm a man, I'm a geisha
I'm a man, I'm a little girl 
And we make love together"

A man is always "a man", but a woman can be--and maybe is expected to be--many different things.
The song "Bitch" by Meredith Brooks is another good one for this discussion:

"I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way."


I'd love to hear from others if they've done similar projects, or if they have any feedback on this one. I've found that it really engages the students and encourages them to reflect on course material outside of class. They also start paying closer attention to how women (and gender issues) are portrayed in our culture.


3 Responses

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  2. Emily Lenning
    Thanks for the ideas Christina! I use pop music to teach crim theory more generally. Here is an article about it if anyone wants to try:
  3. Thanks! These are all great songs, and now that my students have done this for a few years I've got quite a collection. A friend recently turned me on to this song:
  4. Stacy Mallicoat
    I do a similar exercise with my students at the beginning of the semester. It always kicks off some great discussions. Some of my favorite examples over the years have been Goodbye Earl, Gunpowder and Lead, Date Rape (Sublime) - plus i always get new ideas from songs that the students bring in.