I know that you’re a smart reader so you can see that this is a “Part 2”.Yesterday’s “Part 1” set up the premise that my feminist awakening has caused me to look at media very differently, and essentially this has ruined some of my favorite things. Give it a read.
Today, it’s all about how feminism ruined my love of hip hop. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but here goes: I love Eminem and Kanye. I’ve loved both of them for years and I honestly believe that they are talented individuals and two of the best artists in their genre. I have listened to their albums on repeat and Eminem’s album “Recovery” even got me through some really tough times.
Prior to my feminist awakening I had absolutely no qualms about professing my love for these artists. I lauded their talents openly and sang along loudly with the lyrics of their songs. A whole other entry could be written about the cultural appropriation of a white girl cruising down the streets of Vermont yelling lyrics about the Chicago ghetto, but this is not the time. Back to the point. I was vaguely aware that the lyrics I was singing at the top of my lungs were degrading to women and often expressed violent views of women, but I didn’t really care. I figured, “what’s the harm? It’s just music.”
As my feminist awakening has continued I have begun to understand the harm and the fact that it’s not “just music”. Art is a reflection of culture. Though above all art is a form of personal expression, personality is ultimately shaped by culture, therefore art is a reflection of culture. The music made by Kanye and Eminem is therefore a expression of their personality and in turn a reflection of their culture. When their music is viewed as a reflection of culture their degrading and casually violent attitudes toward women become much more dangerous. Their lyrics represent the reality of the awful treatment of women in this country.
Eminem and Kanye both rap about treating women as sexual possessions who exist to serve their needs. The women in their songs exist to be ordered or coerced in to sexual acts. They have no value outside of this purpose. These lyrics are representative of a culture that still believes women’s greatest value is her body. It also speaks to a culture that believes that men are allowed to do as they please with women’s bodies, with or without consent. These lyrics also perpetuate the culture they reflect. They normalize this kind of treatment of women and normalize the unequal power dynamic between men and women. Please don’t misunderstand my point. I’m not trying to say that men who listen to this music treat women poorly because of the music. It doesn’t work like that. People are not driven to behavior by lyrics in a song, but lyrics in a song do have the power to normalize behavior by taking the stigma away from the behavior.
Both Eminem and Kanye also rap about domestic violence. In both cases this comes from personal experience. Eminem has been open about his mutually abusive relationship with his ex-wife Kim, and Kanye has been accused of domestic violence multiple times by multiple partners. Their lyrics reflect the reality that thousands of women suffer domestic violence. The scariest thing about these lyrics is that neither seems overly apologetic for their abuse. Sometimes the lyrics even seem to imply that they were “driven” to their abuse by their partners who “deserved it”, which is a damaging story that prevents women from reporting their abuse or being believed when they do report. These lyrics also perpetuate a culture of violence against women by normalizing said violence and implying that there are few if any consequences for such violence (see also: Chris Brown).
The struggle I face all the time is whether I choose to support these artists by listening to their music. As aware as I am of the awful implications and repercussions of their work, I still like their music. I still want to throw on their albums and yell out the lyrics or dance around my living room. Part of me believes that in order to be a good feminist I should delete all their songs from my iPod and never listen to their music again. Another part of me doesn’t want to give up something I truly enjoy.
So, what’s a feminist to do?