27 March 2008

Should a feminist listen to misogynistic music?

R@d@r asked this about a post from last week:

as a songwriter/musician i am very interested in this question of whether a feminist "should" be into certain booty-shaking jams. (i know you were just being flip but this is actually something i think about.) chris rock did a whole routine about it that was pretty interesting as well as funny. my wife, who is a pretty hardcore feminist, really really loves "the seed 2.0" by the roots & cody chestnutt, in fact it is one of her favorite songs - but if you actually listen to the lyrics they're pretty horrible. i know that a lot of people enjoy songs and ignore the lyrics, but as a singer and writer of lyrics this disturbs me (or, perhaps it's just a blow to my ego). it's a phenomenon i find curious.
My friends know that this is one of my side issues...meaning that it's a great question, but one that I try to ignore as it reveals so many hypocrisies about myself as well as the movement.

And honestly, I wasn't being flip...I meant it when I said I was listening to un-feminist music. I like to explain a lot of my choices as a teen as just that, being a teen and making bad choices. But in reality, I think I did them because well, I liked the beat, the music, and even the attention that it brings a young woman when "Rump shaker" is on the sound system. Especially a young woman with a rump.

Fast forward to now and there has been a lot of attention brought to misogynistic lyrics & music in hip-hop, which brings anti-racist activists to bring to light the horrible lyrics of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix, as r@d@r pointed out in his comment as well. Misogyny in music is not a new invention nor is it located only in hip hop music where you can easier say that "I don't listen to the lyrics, just dance to the music."

I honestly think that un-feminist lyrics fall into that vat of "WTF feminism" that includes Brazilians and going to strip clubs for the fun/irony. I sometimes have no idea what to make of it.
Are we bad feminists when we listen to misogynistic lyrics? Or are we bad feminists period?

Last year I was at two feminist conferences. Both had a dance party one night and at both we ended up dancing to music that just earlier in the day we had enlightened and engaging debates about. At one point, one older feminist who was also shaking her thang pulled me close to ask, "Um, isn't this what we're protesting against?"

So r@d@r, I don't have an easy answer to your question. It's a good one. And one that will continue to be debated as long as feminists end up in dance parties...Which I believe I'll be at another one this Saturday and maybe in my own hotel room.

Technorati tags: feminism, music


Anonymous said...

wow, what fun to have my comment broadcasted in a post!

i guess the reason it comes up for me also is because in the band i used to write songs for long ago, there was a bit of a debate with my co-songwriters about such issues as whether there was a place for irony or nuance in lyrics, since some people wouldn't "get it". i think the flip side of this is that people appropriate songs and song lyrics for their own purposes. i remember an acquaintance who took the deeply conflicted and poignant U2 lyric "i can't live with or without you" and smoothed it over by singing along "i CAN live with or without you", which might have worked for her in her relationship, but was certainly not what the writer intended.

so what do we do with songwriter intent versus listener appropriation? and it's not just hip hop my friend - i know some mega-feminists who love metal, which is far more egregiously misogynist. (i'll never forget how nauseated and disturbed i felt when i figured out that "feel your love tonight" by van halen, a song i used to love, essentially starts out the gate with a reference to a gang rape behind a bar.)

but i don't think there's any such thing as a "good" or "bad" feminist. there's something about that which sounds too moralistic to me. with cultural issues i think it's important to stay outside the comfort zone, which doesn't preclude shaking one's booty to 2 Live Crew or 2 Short or the sex pistols singing from the point of view of an aborted fetus crying out for its mummy.

Veronica said...

haha! You know I love ya.

Good point on the irony. I remember when Paula Cole first hit the big time and a friend of the husband's thought she really meant she wanted a cowboy to come and save her. That said, even I don't get all the irony either.