Why Are You So Intimidated By Girls Liking Rap Music?
In case you don't painstakingly follow each ever-so-fascinating development in the high school lunchroom that is the Rap Internet, yesterday Complex published "10 Signs Your Girl Listens To Too Much Rap Music," a list of bone-headed jabs at women who apparently care a bit too much about the Boys' Club of rap fandom. Admittedly falling right into the traps of click-through link-bait, I found the list offensive, on behalf not only of myself but of every woman I know who sincerely gives a shit about rap, of which (gasp!) there are many, and most of my female counterparts (as well as many male ones) engaged in Rap Twitter expressed their disgust and exasperation towards it as well, after making sure it wasn't their favorites list that'd been screen-capped for the slideshow. Before I go in, I'd like to clarify that I am friends with several of the writers behind this list, and this is not intended to call them out personally (Additionally in the interest of the whole "full disclosure" thing, I have contributed to Complex previously).
There's been a lot of debate lately with regard to the "Outsider's" place in rap discourse. This has mostly involved race, and it's a really important thing to talk about, because it's 2013 and rap has mutated from fight-the-power underdog to essentially the dominant cultural force. For better or for worse, my 13-year-old white niece from suburban Minnesota probably has thrown an acoustic guitar cover video of "Bandz A Make Her Dance" up somewhere on YouTube. Macklemore is currently long-boarding around the top of the Billboard charts on a song about buying Salvation Army sweaters. A Polish teenager made the beat for one of the best legitimate street raps in recent memory. And as much as fans of "good old days" hip-hop may yearn for like, pillars (I think there's five—breakdancing, molly, Jeremy Scott, 2 Chainz, and cargo shorts), downloading Joey Bada$$ mixtapes doesn't do a whole lot for advancing the industry, but buying Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded: The Re-Up with your Hannukah iTunes gift card does. With this shift, naturally, comes a lot of uncomfortable but necessary issues regarding ownership and belonging. To pretend, as B.Dot would like to in his sputtering crusade against the "hipster media's" knighting of Chief Keef as some form of twisted minstrelsy, that white rap fans are not a legitimate part of this community is rather delusional at this point. But to ignore the undeniable ickiness of trap fetishism by (white) people completely naive to the real life implications of "real trap shit" is irresponsible. (This is another story altogether, though, but these articles here and here pretty much cover it) Not much attention, however, has been paid to the outsider status of women—I'm talking about as consumers of rap, not participants, as that's a whole other can of worms.
Of course, rap in general is and always has been characterized and dominated by masculine ideals, and as with any Boys' Club, being a female rap diehard means being repeatedly affronted as to whether your interest can possibly be serious and, if so, what are the ulterior motives behind your interest (namely, it seems, to get boys to think you're cool). The amount of times I've been challenged by men who can't wrap their feeble minds around the fact that, yes, I actually listen to Gunplay and can probably school their ass on #DeepGunplayMixtapeCuts continues to amaze me. Worse than incredulity, though, is the patronizing pat on the back for somehow overcoming my tragic vaginal handicap that prevents women from hearing music in the same way that men do—"Aw, you like Flocka, that's so cute!" or, "Wow, you're so different from other girls!" Really? How often do you speak to girls?
This recurring assertion of male "ownership" of rap is why this list infuriates me. Axe deodorant is out here in 2013 literally sending motherfuckers into space, and adult men still cannot grapple with the idea that girls might have the Young Scooter tape on their iPods for reasons other than an attempt at becoming "Wifey Material." As the past few weeks in particular have demonstrated, keeping up with the twists and turns (The same. Twists. And turns. Over. And over. And...) of the Rap Internet is by and large a pretty thankless task; that is to say, if you're paying attention, it probably means that you either sincerely care about rap music, or are a weird new type of masochist (A$AP Masochist or MasochiTDE, there's still some debate over the proper nomenclature). I've chosen, autonomously and unironically, to spend the vast majority of my free time seeking out, listening to, reading, writing and talking about rap music. And if that's not enough for you, I essentially make my living creating motherfucking rap fan art. And when someone condescends, even in (not particularly witty) jest, that the time and thought and money and PASSION I've invested into this shit is cute or strategic or psychotic, I take it personally, regardless of whether or not it was malicious in its intent.
To paraphrase Noz's response to B.Dot's accusations of freewheeling cultural tourism as a white rap journalist, protectively fencing in a culture can only lead to stagnation. This doesn't only conveniently apply to your lingering white middle-class childhood guilt; it also means that women's opinions on rap music are actually pretty important, because the crazy thing about circle jerks is that they are circular. It seems too painfully obvious to even type, but widening the breadth of contexts pretty much always helps in furthering discourse. Lupe Fiasco is what can happen when dudes try to talk about the function of the word "bitch" in rap lyrics; dream hampton's 1993 Spin piece "Bitches...Hos and Tricks" is just one possible tail to counter that mansplainy head. And the irony of white men, who are—perhaps for the first time (which may actually explain a lot here)—forced to repeatedly defend their place at the table of contemporary rap discourse, turning to apply a similarly stubborn, protective exclusivity on women's place in rap, is not lost here. (And what is even being protected? The internet is literally infinite; there's a metric fuck-ton of room at this table.)
The situation described in the opening blurb of Complex's list (she knows Lil Wayne songs. Cool! She knows too much. I'm scared!) is a classic set-up for "negging," the totally despicable "Pickup Artist" strategy of undermining a woman's ego in order to make her more vulnerable to your advances. Restricting women's role in rap consumption to "girl who tacitly obliges your personal tastes but doesn't assert her own too much" is pretty much Rap Game Negging—you're cool, but wait, sit down, you're not that cool. And equally toxic is going so far as to call women "groupies" for paying attention to (and, yes, favoriting the tweets of) the same rap internet thought leaders as you do is so un-selfaware it's laughable (and may I inject a hearty #HAUHAUHAU at the very suggestion that you nerds have "groupies"). And it serves only to perpetuate a flattening of a potentially very robust discussion—the critical equivalent of the pallid death that is a RapGenius lyrics page, every stone one could possibly unturn and examine beneath affixed solidly to the ground. Exclude women from meaningful participation in the discourse, and you're left in a virtual Chief Keef video—a barren room full of shirtless bros shaking their dreads back and forth, forever.
The responses I received from dudes who considered my indignation towards this list an "overreaction"—"It's not that sexist!" or, "But it was intended as a joke, relax!"—are, frankly, typical and expected, as many men don't know how to handle being called out on their bullshit. And just as white people do not get to decide what minorities consider to be racist, straight men do not have the privilege of telling women what should and should not offend them. Because they don't get it, and I understand that. But they should try to, and next time, they should do better, because it will make them more aware and decent human beings.
While it's a total fucking bummer to be continually faced with these steaming turds of patriarchal bullshit, ultimately the joke's on the men who take comfort in believing them. Because fondling your own junk while scoffing at the fact that, omg, women might just be able to earnestly appreciate the same music as you because omg, we are fucking human beings, makes you look not just antiquated, but totally intimidated. And honestly, maybe you should be. Or maybe you should just go outside and talk to a real live human girl. Who knows, it could actually be enjoyable.
Meaghan Garvey is an artist and writer living in Chicago. She likes rap music more than you and will prove it to you on Twitter - @moneyworth
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