[CN: misogyny, rape culture, slut-shaming]
Lupe Fiasco just released a new single called “Bitch Bad,” and it’s probably accomplishing what Lupe ultimately wants: a lot of discussion. He wants to be thought-provoking, and he never fails to deliver on that front. But I wanted to add my own voice to the discussion.
Now, I can’t pretend to know exactly every argument that Lupe is trying to get across in his lyrics--I understand that song lyrics are limited by rhyme and meter, so admittedly he can’t be as clear and thorough as he would be able to be in normal prose. So I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt when I inevitably have to read between the lines to flesh out the songs message.
If we break down the lyrics we get a young boy who hears his mom call herself “a bad bitch” as she sings along to a song on the radio and thus starts to relate the word with his mother. Then we have two young girls watch a music video in which an artist describes “bad bitches” in a [sexually] desirable way, so they feel pressured to be like the girl they see in the video (in addition to thinking that being a “bad bitch” is a good thing).
After this story is set up, the song culminates with:
“Sure enough, in this little world
The little boy meets one of those little girls
And he thinks she a bad bitch and she thinks she a bad bitch
He thinks disrespectfully, she thinks of that sexually
She got the wrong idea, he don’t wanna fuck her
He thinks she’s bad at being a bitch like his mother
Momma never dress like that, come out the house, hot mess like that
Ass, titties, dress like that
All out to impress like that
Just like that, you see the fruit of the confusion
He caught in a reality, she caught in an illusion
Bad mean good to her, she really nice and smart
But bad mean bad to him, bitch don’t play your part
But bitch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way
But she think she a bitch, what a double entendre”
You can see what I mean by needing to read between the lines, because it gets a little convoluted at the end. I won’t do too close a reading here, because that’s not the point of this post.*
What I really want to talk about is the discussion this song prompted, because it reveals a lot about language, sexism and misogyny--even outside of the context of hip-hop. I also want to talk about it because as soon as I read the lyrics, I had a sinking feeling that a lot of people would interpret it in a misogynistic way--and that’s exactly what a lot of commenters did:
"Lol I knew wat dis song wuz bout from wen I saw da title. Nd I couldn't agree more. A bad bitch is da hoe dressed da skimpiest wit da colored weave( something I hate 2 see on black women). Females, if u call urself a bad bitch, don't complain wen u get raped or disrespected, u call it on urself."
This comment is probably the worst out of them all--it manages to victim-blame and slut-shame at the same time. I don’t even think I need to waste energy refuting it...right? It’s pretty obvious that just because a person refers to themselves using a derogatory term or they dress a certain way, it doesn't mean they deserve to be abused or disrespected, or that they “can’t complain” if that does happen to them. It also ignores the fact that a lot of women use the word bitch to attempt to subvert it or reclaim it--that when someone like Nicki Minaj raps “I’m a bad bitch” she means it completely differently than a man who hatefully spits it out at a women he looks down on. She means that she’s strong, formidable, powerful--whether or not using the word “bitch” is counterproductive in those instances, whether or not the word can be “reclaimed” is debatable (more on that in another post). But regardless, it’s still important to note that when a woman calls herself "a bad bitch," the context, meaning, and use is vastly different.
Most of the other comments embody the same kind of sexism and misogyny in the above example--even if they attempt to word it less blatantly. I’ll spare you the experience of reading all of them in detail, especially because I perused 70+ pages. To sum it up: their assumptions mainly come down to two different messages, one for women, one for men. For women: they need to stop being “bitches,” despite the fact that that’s what the media (and mainstream hip-hop) told them to be, particularly because guys will [understandably] treat them badly because of it. For men: they need to make sure not to disrespect all women because not all of them are “bitches.”
And here we finally come to my main argument, and what I hope Lupe’s ultimate message is: that it's not that some women are bitches and some are not, but that none of them are--that that there is no such thing as a “bitch.” There is no such thing as this fabricated caricature of a human being--a willfully ignorant, petty, “slutty,” and subservient woman not worthy of respect, who is “just asking” for mistreatment and abuse. This is also an important corollary to There’s No Such Thing as a Slut. Beyond the fact that this kind of caricature doesn’t actually exist in real-life, it’s also important to stress that the presence of these individual traits in a real, living person would also not justify her abuse. Any argument to the contrary, that justifies the abuse of women, is sexist and misogynistic.
And really, this is what mainstream misogyny comes down to, and it's at the core of common misogyny apologia. You can hear, in the same breath "no, of course I don't hate women, I love my girlfriend/mother/sister!" and "well what did she expect? she was asking for it, she's so stupid, dressing like that, acting slutty like that." Misogyny isn't about necessarily feeling hatred for every individual woman you ever meet. It's about conditionally assigning respect, humanity, empathy to only certain women who "deserve" it, and casting the rest off as unworthy of such basic qualities. It's about classifying whole groups of women as "worth less" based on imagined, constructed distinctions and stereotypes. It's the same idea when we talk about racism--someone may not hate all black people ("but I have black friends!") but if they subscribe to stereotypes about "certain kinds of black people" and believe them to be less worthy of regard and empathy, they're still a racist.
These arguments feel really blatant and self-evident. I almost stopped writing this post several times because of that. But then I just kept looking at more comments, and realized that, for at least some people, these arguments were clearly not obvious enough.
*I think interpreting the song really comes down to one simple question: are we supposed to think that the boy is wrong for assuming that the girl is a "bitch" when in fact she isn't? And that's his only mistake? Or that he's wrong because he believes that any woman could ever embody the term? The song is pretty murky on this critical distinction, especially with lines like: "He caught in a reality, she caught in an illusion," the slut-shaming "Momma never dress like that, come out the house, hot mess like that/Ass, titties, dress like that/All out to impress like that" and "Bad mean good to her, she really nice and smart/ But bad mean bad to him, bitch don’t play your part..." I wish there weren't lines like this that all too easily play into the kind of misogynistic thinking displayed in the comments.