Dear Men, Stop Explaining Rap Music to Women
Being a female rap fan is generally joyous and good. I really mean that, because rap is the best kind of music, and listening to the kind of music that you find best is fun and uplifting regardless of your gender. Sure, rap will occasionally blindside its female listeners with a particularly ugly line or cringeworthy video, but generally the sexism in rap remains at a consistent and manageable level; a fact you’ll no doubt have made peace with if you like to enjoy rap while female—of course rap is frequently sexist: all of pop culture is frequently sexist, because sexism permeates our entire society. No, the cloud on the horizon for female rap fans isn’t a rap-shaped one, it’s a dude-shaped one; and one type in particular: dudes who like to explain to women how sexist rap is.
Dudes who like to explain to women how sexist rap is (we’ll term them “Explainers”) are well-meaning white knights who have a passing familiarity with rap music and an urge to ensure that female fans are made aware that the genre is “misogynistic” (a once-powerful buzzword that used to denote hatred of women, but which increasingly means nothing more than “a thing I, a man, find sexist on some level, from a safe distance”). Explainers often identify as “feminist men,” although sometimes they’re just the type of man who likes to stringently test (feminist) women. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with an Explainer if he opens with the following lines: “How can you listen to that stuff? It’s so misogynistic” or “How can you claim to be a feminist when you love rap so much?” or “"HELLO, I AM A MAN, AND I’M HERE TO SAVE YOU FROM THE MUSIC YOU LIKE.” Explainers are motivated by a belief that rap “gets away with” being sexist; they’re selfless protectors of womenfolk who simply can’t stomach the internalised misogyny of a woman jamming Cam’ron.
You may have detected that I’m snarking. That’s because Explainers are off-the-richter annoying and women don’t need them, for two reasons. The first is that they’re almost never discerning identifiers of what constitutes misogyny in the first place, boiling down all of hip hop to “music about strippers and pussy popping” and failing to realise that music about strippers and pussy popping isn’t inherently sexist. A hallmark of Explainers is their tendency to confuse and conflate sexual explicitness and misogyny; they display a queasiness at the idea of songs about celebrating strippers and eating ass. Songs that traffic in sexually explicit content are not axiomatically sexist, and are sometimes quite the opposite; it’s hard to tell that to Explainers, though, who assume that female listeners must be making a terrible mistake to be stanning for music that they find personally distasteful.
Explainers pop up regularly in small, microaggressive ways. I once went on a date with a (white) dude who asked me to reconcile my feminism with my love of rap; I was feeling generous so I did it for him, cogently and patiently. He waited until I was finished, sniffed and said “I’m just not sure you really believe that.” A (white) dude I follow on twitter once tweeted that “Turn On The Lights” was “truly so special” and “very rare” because it contained “not one curse word or reference to sex or misogyny”, as though it Wasn’t Like All That Other Vulgar Stuff, and as though swearing, sex and hatred of women are three equally desirable things to excise from a song. When Yeezus dropped I made the mistake of tweeting about aspects of it that I found antifeminist, along with the parts that I loved. Before I knew it a (white) dude had ripped my anti-Yeezus tweet out of context, storifying it along with some other white-authored tweets bemoaning the Problematic Misogyny of Kanye West (zzzzz). The page dwelt mostly on the fact that Yeezus invokes fisting, ass-eating and ejaculating, and largely ignored the more acute criticisms that can be made of the album’s treatment of women. The dude who storified my tweet told me that “we need to be talking about this.” I already was, just on my own terms, and not with him.
That gets at the second (wider) reason that Explainers need to stop: assuming that women need to be taught that rap is sexist is itself sexist. Lecturing about misogyny to people who live with it every day perpetuates misogyny. No matter how wholesome your intentions, when you dictate to a woman what she should listen to and what she should find offensive, you shit on her autonomy and insult her intelligence. (You also perpetuate the racism inherent in singling rap out for its sexism, but that’s a story for another day, and for an author with more melanin.) It’s indisputable that sexism drenches our cultural products. And you know what, dude? No one’s more aware of that than the woman that you’re hectoring, becauseshe personally experiences it. Rest assured that she will be navigating the tensions of being a female fan of rap in her own way, perhaps because she realizes that you can enjoy rap without condoning its every message; or perhaps because she finds it more uplifting than it is oppressive; or perhaps because she feels like not everything that she does needs to be “empowering” or “for the cause.” Trust me on this one: those are all perfectly valid reasons.
Listen, Explainers: it's laudable to care about sexism. On behalf of The Women, thank you. It's not laudable, though, to care about it only in one over-scrutinised genre in particular; nor is it noble to assume that women are wanting for your male perspective and guidance. Women are alert and autonomous beings who can make their own decisions about the music they consume. When you assume that they aren’t, you perpetuate a form of sexism so malevolent and insidious that it makes rap’s treatment of women seem relatively benign. Think about that the next time you’re about to berate a girl for bumping “Bartender.”
Maddie Holden likes rap music. She's on Twitter - @Moscaddie