It’s Not Just Rap – Misogyny in Music

Warning: This week’s entry contains a fair bit of Explicit Content in the form of sexually-objectifying music videos, often with explicit lyrics.

I have a terrible secret to admit.  I am ashamed to write this, but the first step to getting over an addiction is to admit you have a problem…

I love to dance to this song:

I know . . . I am disgusting.  I can’t help it!  It is just so damn catchy!  I hear that song, and I just want to get Crunk!  Well . . . maybe not crunk, but it just makes me wanna shake my moneymaker.

I am so ashamed that my friend Chrissy and I decided it was necessary to make up a dance just for this song.  It’s called “Angry Faces.”  Basically, we hate that we like the song so much (or maybe she just hates the song), so we dance angrily.

I’ve had this conversation with so many people, guys and girls alike.  There are WAY too many explicitly sexist and misogynistic songs out there that we hate to love.  It seems like the easy target is Rap music.  After all, if Bill O’Reilly says that rap music is hurting America’s children, it most definitely is true.  There are arguably more explicitly misogynistic songs in mainstream rap music than in any other genre today, and there is legitimate criticism to be thrown at any rap artist who uses his grandstand to degrade women.  I mean, Kanye West’s newest monstrosity (excuse the pun), as addressed by Mikhail Lyubansky, is one of the most explicitly misogynistic displays I have seen in a long time with its clear ties between sex, sexual degradation of women, and violence.

What responsibility do artists have to promote feminism and positive sexuality in their music… or at least to not link sex and violence so directly?

I was reminded of the dilemmas posed by and connections between misogyny and the (hyper)masculinity of young men (most often young men of color) in the incredible documentary “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes” by Byron Hurt.

I think the easy explanation that many (most often white folks) come to, though, is that this is an issue of “black masculinity” or maybe “Latino machismo.”  After all, it’s “their” music (note the other) that is degrading women and encouraging sex and violence.  The fact that white kids are majority consumers of rap music simply indicates that the poor white boys are being corrupted by the angry men of color (or so might say Bill O’Reilly).

Since when did sexism and misogyny become such clear issues of race?  After all, I am pretty sure that it is men of all colors who are committing sexual violence in such staggering numbers.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I think that the levels of misogyny in mainstream rap are alarming, but, as indicated in the documentary above, these issues are complex, and there are male hip hop artists out there who are making music that builds women up rather than tears women down.  Take Talib Kweli’s “Black Girl Pain,” or Common’s “The Light:”

Plus, I’m not quite sure that it was hip hop artists who invented the sexist, objectifying music video.  Didn’t Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” with Tawny Kitaen writhing around on the hood of a car in white lingerie, predate most rap music, let alone the rap videos with bouncing asses?

Come to think of it, I can’t think of a single modern genre of music that doesn’t have at least a few songs that openly objectify women in misogynistic themes.  Maybe jazz or classical or bluegrass?  The punk kids can listen to NoFX telling them to “Punch Her in the Cunt,” and the hardcore kids have their (very weird) video with snake-like strippers dancing around Avenged Sevenfold, covered in whipped cream:

Even the country music lovers can head on over to Trace Adkins, absolving men of any responsibility as they objectify women, arguing, “It ain’t his fault; it’s so hard not to stare!”

I could keep going with example after example.  The point here is that we have a problem in music, not in a specific genre.  So what are we to do?

The easy solution is to say that we are going to boycott the music.  Is that the answer?  It’s tough because, as I admitted at the beginning of this entry, songs like these are a guilty pleasure for most of the folks I know!  Should we show our protest with a national call for more “Angry Faces” on the dance floor?

Do we write to our favorite misogynists and ask them to make music that builds women up rather than disembodies them or denigrates them?

I, personally, am at a loss.  What seems to be the best answer is to vote with our pocket book, refusing to support artists that degrade women.  However, as we all know, “sex sells,” even as the sex they are selling becomes more and more violent and objectifying each year as artists work to top their competition or their last hit single.

For once, I am at a loss for words, so I want to hear from you.  How can we work as a community to combat misogyny in our music?


11 thoughts on “It’s Not Just Rap – Misogyny in Music

  1. I have my own guilty pleasures of misogynistic music (especially old school gangsta rap and some Bob Dylan… let us not forget a song like “Idiot Wind” is both chilling and well-written), but I want to point out something that might be lost in discussions that make the music a problem: corporate interests in various artists with misogynistic lyrics are what keep this music proliferating for the masses. Especially since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, thousands of radio stations have been consolidated by companies like Clear Channel, resulting in many disappointed listeners who simply don’t listen to most radio stations these days because of the almost hilarious repetition of songs OVER AND OVER. And with government connections to such companies, I wonder if the solution is to promote alternatives to mainstream radio and television that do not degrade women and/or to demand greater government regulation of business deals like those involving radio consolidation–though I don’t see the latter happening any time soon. Of course, anti-sexist music could be filled with its own problems (for example, if the music also perpetuates classist or racist attitudes), and enough people are buying misogynistic music these days so that what is perpetuated in media and elsewhere as worth consuming is indeed being consumed. I want to say education about issues like sexism is the answer, but you can’t educate people about solutions if they don’t see misogyny as a problem, and perhaps the greater long-term goal should be to raise far greater awareness about sexism to break down attitudes that say sexism is no longer a problem in our society. The best we can do, realistically, is to encourage critical thinking and education, but perhaps such concepts like feminism will not be in fashion unless they are made profitable… now if only I heard a song on the radio these days that genuinely uplifted women beyond idealistic terms… but of course for that, we’d have to put a lot of money behind such a song to bribe a lot of radio stations to play it, and again, with what sells, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    P.S. There are indeed murder ballads in bluegrass and older country, like “Knoxville Girl”

  2. Q: How can we work as a community to combat misogyny in our music?

    A: Create music which is anti mysogynistic.

    Create music which is VEHEMENTLY anti-misogynist. Call out the sexists, be very clear about what is wrong with what they are saying and doing. Tell it like it is. Offer a positive alternative to their bullshit. Encourage women and men to stand up against that crap. Especially encourage women to stand up against it. First fight back, and then create something better. Don’t go too far and become anti-male, but certainly never let something that is patently wrong pass because it’s ‘not that bad’.

    Boycott sexist music and artists. If it comes on at the party, get off the dance floor. If it comes on the radio, turn it off. If someone asks you why, tell them. Say: “I can’t listen to this sexist bullshit.” You don’t have to put anyone down for liking it, just make a stand for your own personal integrity.

    There are hundreds of bands out there who have recorded songs against sexism. Seek them out! A good place to start might be the “Give Me Back” compilation LP released on Ebullition Records in 1990. It is still in print.

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  4. nofx? really? ”If you think her reproductive rights are inconsequent, you’re wrong” the song name is you’re wrong

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  6. […]   Not to mention movements like Quiverfull** and “Christian domestic discipline”, a good portion of music from rap to rock, the current defunding and restriction of women’s reproductive rights, the difficult in […]

  7. I’m fed up with Trace Adkin’s tantrums and condescending attitude towards women on the show. May 12th, he bitched about Marilu Henner and held his fist up at her. He needs to get knocked on his butt. That was not the first time he made remarks and talked about violence towards women on that show. To hell with him- I’m not surprised to see him mentioned here as using misogynist lyrics.

  8. I meant to say, on “The Apprentice” and the threatening fist incident happened tonight, 12th of May, 2013

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