Let’s be clear: misogyny in music isn’t new. But 2013 has introduced a new kind of misogyny, a deliberate and task-oriented degradation and objectification of women that’s far more disturbing than the casual, inherent misogyny of generations past. In the last few months alone, men have released songs about raping women (Rick Ross' "U.O.E.N.O"), knowing women “want it” (Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines") and sticking dicks in our mouths to shut us up (Kanye West's "On Sight").
This isn’t satire, post-post irony or freedom of speech. This is war.
Ross thought it was totally fine to rap about drugging and raping a woman: "Put molly all in her champagne/ She ain't even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that/ She ain't even know it."
The outcry and backlash about the verse Ross contributed to Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” was deafening, and rightly so, but a few weeks later when Robin Thicke released the music video for “Blurred Lines,” all anyone seemed focused on was the full frontal nudity, the goat and its kickin’ beat. It’s a catchy song, but that video, which has been described as rape-y by a number of women recently (including me), is a disturbing wonderland of male privilege, with Thicke whispering in a naked woman’s ear, “I know you want it,” over and over and over again. The censored version is actually more disturbing, wherein the women aren’t naked but wrapped tightly in clear plastic wrap like the disposable dolls Thicke thinks they are.
The obvious difference between Ross and Thicke is that while “U.O.E.N.O” outright condones rape, “Blurred Lines” takes its winking, self-satisfied title and runs that euphemism into the ground. Ross apologized, albeit only after he lost a lucrative sponsorship deal, but Thicke took a different approach, telling GQ:
“We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We're the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I'm like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I've never gotten to do that before. I've always respected women.’”
All the problems in the world exist in these few lines. The idea that it’s a “pleasure” to degrade women after a lifetime of respecting them is ridiculous. That it’s somehow funny or something he’s allowed to do because he’s happily married with children is the thinking of someone completely deluded, who has lived his entire life in a bubble of entitlement.
Which brings us to Yeezus. At this point in time, there are few rappers more entitled than Kanye West. Even as his new record has been decried for its misogyny, it’s also been heralded by male and female critics alike as brilliant, moving and bold. Most of the fawning reviews focused on Yeezus’s potential sacrilege and scathing indictments of racism; few called out his abhorrent attitudes toward women.
“Took her to the 'Bleau, she tried to sip the fountain/ That when David Grutman kicked her out/ But I got her back in and put my dick in her mouth.”
That’s a lyric from Yeezus’s first track, “On Sight,” which seems to make direct reference to West’s girlfriend and mother of his newborn child, Kim Kardashian, and her close relationship with Grutman, who’s one of the head people at Miami’s Fontainebleau hotel. That would mean he wrote this lyric about the woman he supposedly loves. West was raised by a single mother, whom he adored. He was raised by a feminist, even if his mother never named it that or identified as that. She was a strong woman who raised an artist who is both genuinely inspired and totally, boringly, willfully sexist.
That’s the worst part of what’s become glaringly obvious the last few months: these are not old men caught up in old ways of thinking; these are younger men who were, more often than not, raised within feminism and to respect women, but who still feel it's their right to degrade and debase them. It’s as if a deeply subconscious panic has set in amongst certain male musicians — and some women, for that matter — that patriarchy is in its last gasps and the only way to stave off equality is to remind women they are merely a collection of body parts, flesh and orifices.
In doing it under the guise of music, there’s a built-in excuse that this is about creative expression. But, calling out misogyny doesn’t take away one’s right to creative expression; rather, critical thinking and discussion is the expected and necessary counterpart to that kind of freedom.
When I say this kind of deliberate, chosen misogyny means war, there’s not a clear-cut gender divide or a battle of the sexes to be waged. There are many men fed up with misogyny in music and have stated so publicly, including rapper Talib Kweli and singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard. There are some amazing and wonderful musicians, like Lupe Fiasco and Joel Plaskett, who are outspoken against sexism and who abhor violence against women.
But “Blurred Lines” sits atop the charts and Yeezus is one of the best-reviewed albums of the year. I sort of understand why. Sonically, they’re strong pieces of music and there are a lot of fans — male, female and otherwise — who genuinely hear nothing wrong with these lyrics, who think these words are funny or sexy or street. But there’s only so long I can keep on separating the music from the words, the song from the intention, appreciating the art and sacrificing my self-worth.
Most women have to learn self-esteem; we’re not born with an ingrained entitlement about our place or space in the world. We fight for it all the time. Ross, Thicke and West are men who should know better, who admit to knowing better, but they choose to see women as less than. What a choice.
Follow Andrea Warner on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner.