The following are excerpts from my final paper for my Women’s Gender Studies class.
Rape culture is an environment in which sexual violence against women is normalized, sometimes even encouraged, through media and popular culture. It leads to a world in which rape is prevalent, where women live in constant fear of rape while the majority of rapists are not incarcerated or punished in any way. Music is a powerful force for social change that can be used to improve the world and bring people’s attention to social injustice. Similarly, music can be used to perpetuate harmful social constructions like rape culture. It’s no secret that many genres, especially mainstream pop and hip-hop, throw around misogynistic language and lyrics that support rape culture. As a musician and feminist, I believe it to be my duty to call attention to popular songs that promote these harmful attitudes towards women.
It is clear that these songs have a very strong and certain effect on the mindsets of our youth—especially young boys—who hear their heroes refer to women as ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ and start to think that it’s perfectly okay for them to do the same.
“if she ever tries to leave again I’mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire”
“Slut you think I won’t choke no whore”
“Every last woman on earth I’ll kill off and I still wouldn’t fuck you, slut”
“Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks/lick on these nuts and suck the dick”
“Punch your bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit”
—Tyler, the Creator
“I know you want it”
“No matter where I go, I see the same hoes”
“I beat the pussy up”
“You remind me of my Jeep I wanna ride it”
“When you put it on it’s an invitation/when they play your song get on up and shake it”
All these lines present very pressing ways in which music propagates rape culture—-they send messages that promote violent language and behavior towards women, language that is so prevalent in the media that consumers barely bat an eyelash at it. Eminem’s line “if she ever tries to leave again, I’mma tie her to the bed and set the house on fire” was part of a massively popular and successful song, “Love the Way You Lie”, a song that was played hundreds of times a day on countless radio stations. Millions of young people heard this song on a daily basis and were subconsciously affirmed that this kind of treatment towards women is acceptable.
This kind of tacit acceptance of rape culture in music is harmful to men and women—it promotes rigid gender roles for both sexes that are unrealistic and unnatural, and leads to men think they have to prove their masculinity by mistreating women, whereas women are conditioned to accept sexually aggressive treatment from men as a commonplace occurrence. In the sphere of popular music, women are also commonly sexually objectified by male artists, and female artists are objectified in the media by critics and journalists when they attempt to assert their existence as a sexual being rather than a sexual object. Yes, there is a difference.
By no means do I promote censorship in music—quite the contrary, I find it crucial that we as a culture start actually talking about what these lyrics mean, and the possible repercussions of such language. Similarly, I find it rather preposterous that we live in a society that would sooner censor a woman’s nipple than a line asserting that a man will tie down his girlfriend and set her on fire.
These issues are more complex than I’d like them to be. It would be easy to simply blame the artists that are saying this stuff in their music, but thats not going to cut it. We need to talk about the fact that this song went through hundreds of industry professionals before making it onto the radio. We need to talk about the fact that many of these songs became number one hits, and still not a single mention about the potentially harmful content of the songs. I love hip-hop music, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to ignore the way that artists portray almost all the women in their songs as symbols of their success—no names, just “bitches and hoes”, and this attitude has been slowly but surely making it’s way into very mainstream music.
In a nation where only approximately 3% of convicted sexual offenders face any jail time whatsoever, not even including the sexual offenders who get by without being prosecuted because the victim is too scared to testify, this isn’t just a matter of feeling uncomfortable about song lyrics. It’s a matter of life and death. Yet, too many times when women try to bring these issues up, they’re consistently disregarded and accused of being “feminazis”. Take one quick look at the comments section any single youtube video regarding feminist issues, and you’ll find yourself mired in slew of anti-feminist, sexist sentiments ranging from simple expletives to incredibly long winded explanations of why feminism is stupid and wrong. It’s disheartening, to say the least, but I have hopes that this can change.