Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 5th September, 2012.

Earlier in the year a rumour was circulating around the interwebs that Jay Z had shunned the age-old method of addressing women in rap and hip hop—“bitch”—after the birth of his baby with Beyonce, Blue Ivy, had made him realise the error of his ways. Alas, the poem in which Hova allegedly “curse[s] those that give it [bitch]”, turned out to be a fake, but it did raise some pertinent issues about calling women “bitches” in the rap game.

More recently, Jay Z’s bestie Kanye West revealed he wrote his song “Perfect Bitch” about Kim Kardashian, who took it as a compliment, showing how one person’s misogynistic insult is another’s compliment.

Rapper Lupe Fiasco’s latest track and accompanying video ask is “Bitch Bad”, using children to show the different ways we internalise the term. Again, one person’s put down is another’s feminist manifesto, like Bitch magazine, Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch” and “Queen Bitch” by Lil’ Kim.

Perhaps in response to Fiasco’s request to start a dialogue on the “destructive” and “troubling elements” of bitch, Kanye has taken to Twitter to add to the discourse. He asks, perhaps in relation to “Perfect Bitch”, “is it acceptable for a man to call a woman a bitch even if it’s endearing?” To those who tend to towards “yes”, he asks, “would we refer to our mothers as bitches?”

A similar question comes to mind as the one brought up when the Blue Ivy poem, “Glory”, was released: why did Jay Z only shun the word after the birth of his daughter, as opposed to when he wed one of the most desirable women in the world, Beyonce? Is she not good enough to warrant not being called a “bitch”? I guess in this case, baby trumps baby mama.

But supposing that because women are addressed as “bitches”, “tricks” and “hos” in rap music they must automatically be viewed as such (and, really, what is a bitch or a ho? Someone who speaks their mind? Someone who gets some action between the sheets? If so, sign me up!) IRL is to subscribe to the outdated “hypodermic needle” theory of media studies. Certainly, though, popular culture does infiltrate other aspects of daily life so it’s important that Fiasco and West are contributing to the unpacking of this word that’s so inherent in rap and hip hop.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, though. 2Pac “Wonder[ed] Why They Call[ed] U Bitch” on his 1994 album, All Eyez on Me, concluding that having unprotected sex, getting paid for it, looking and moving a certain way and abusing the welfare system are all reasons why someone might “call you bitch”.

Eighteen years on, “bitch” is still “so prevalent in our culture right now,” says Fiasco. Because, as mentioned above, “bitch” is most certainly a derogatory term for many in the hip hop industry, as evidenced in “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre and Too $hort’s pertinently titled “Call Her a Bitch”, but also in wider society to address a woman who doesn’t conform to femininity norms: mouth shut, “legs closed, eyes open,” from 2Pac’s abovementioned battle cry.

But, alternatively, as Busta Rhymes’ “I Love My Bitch”, Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch” and Kim’s reaction to “Perfect Bitch” will attest, it’s also a term of endearment.

In a rare moment of clarity, Kanye Tweets, “Perhaps the word BITCH and N*GGA are now neither positive or negative. They are just potent and it depends on how they are used and by whom.”

Indeed. So while friends and lovers might use the word in passing affection, those who want to stifle independent women or ones who’ve scorned them, it’s still very much a problematic term.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Rapper Lupe Fiasco Weighs in on the B-Word: “Bitch Bad, Woman Good, Lady Better.”

[The Wire] Discussing Linguistics with Kanye West.

[The Rap Up] The Unified Bitch Theory.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

california love video

I wrote about misogynoir in Tupac Shakur’s music and Straight Outta Compton, and whether we can reconcile that with their contributions to culture. [Spook Magazine]

I’m also over at Cageside Seats asking which World Wrestling Entertainment Superstars would do better on the indies.

Porn’s inherent racism. [Vocativ]

Australia needs revenge porn laws. [Daily Life]

We need to stop talking about sportswomen in relation to their male partners. (This article focuses on WWE Divas, but extends to women in sport in general.) [Diva Dirt]

There is such a thing as racial sexual preferences, but let’s not use it as an excuse to be racist. [Daily Life]

Image source unknown.

In Defence of Pop & Rap’s “Unintelligent” Lyrics.

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Last week I posted a link to a study by Seat Smart about the most unintelligent songs of the past decade in which the genres of pop and R’n’B/rap/hip hop featured heavily.

Word length and the amount of syllables therein were factors in pushing a song over the edge from unintelligence to intelligence. From the study:

“Country music is full of words like Hallelujah, cigarettes, hillbilly, and tacklebox. Add to that long place names like Cincinnati, Louisville, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and [c]ountry has a serious advantage over the competition.”

Country music coming out on top as the most intelligent genre is laughable; this is the inherently sexist genre that brought you such gems as “Thank God I’m a Country Girl” and Taylor Swift before she found feminism. Just because country originated in parts of America with really long names don’t mean jack. (I tried my hand at some country-esque parlance there.)

Though you wouldn’t think it from the flashy and oftentimes nonsensical rap styles of Pit Bull and Snoop Dogg phoning it in on tracks like Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”, rap and hip hop were spawned in some of the poorest and most downtrodden parts of major cities where their primarily black and Hispanic residents were oppressed and discriminated against and where drugs and crime were rampant. In his younger days, Tupac Shakur rapped about police brutality (“Trapped”, “Changes”), slut shaming, sexual assault and STDs (“Brenda’s Got a Baby”, “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Baby Don’t Cry”), and drugs (“Changes”), while N.W.A. produced songs with similar content.

As is evident in the popular music that the study chose to… erm… study, the rap that makes it to the top 40 charts isn’t necessarily an accurate depiction of the genre as a whole. Take, for example, Kendrick Lamar. I’m not super familiar with his work but I do know that the most commercial success he’s seen came with his recent cameo in Taylor Swift’s (of country music origins) video for “Bad Blood”. And while we all have an opinion on Kanye West, he raps intelligently—although this study would seek to disprove that—about fame, money, racism. (His inclusion on Katy Perry’s “E.T”, making it one of the past decade’s smartest songs, while Perry’s “Wide Awake” with no obligatory rap interlude makes it the 10th dumbest song of the decade should be indicative of rap’s—or at least Kanye’s—value.) This is not to mention the copious amounts of underground and unreleased rap out there.

When it comes to women, Mariah Carey (“We Belong Together” is finally getting its due as one of Mariah’s more artful arrangements) and Nicki Minaj (again, her unreleased stuff is far more sophisticated than “Anaconda” and “Starships”) are topping the intelligence scales while Beyonce makes an appearance in both intelligent and unintelligent lists. That the biggest and best artist in the world today could be described using the word “unintelligent” is a crime. It just goes to show that word length alone doesn’t demonstrate the myriad aspects that go into creating music.

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It’s also interesting that many of the artists who rank high in intelligence are appropriating the music of other cultures, ie. Eminem and Macklemore. (My mother recently said she thought Eminem was the best rapper, despite the high rotation of rappers of colour on my and my sister’s CD players in our youth.) On a related note, Iggy Azalea is nowhere to be found in this study.

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Sure, songs like “California Gurls” and “Tik Tok” may indicate our lowering intelligence as a culture (though, having said that, these are two of my favourite songs to get down on the dancefloor to, so do with that what you will), but artists like Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Taylor Swift (despite what the study says!) who are changing the game would suggest otherwise.

What do you think? Do you agree with the study’s assertions or would you counter them like I have?

Related: On the (Rest of the) Net: 29th May 2015.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [Seat Smart] Lyric Intelligence in Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis.

[Jezebel] Country Music Dude: In Radio, Female Performers Are Basically Garnishes.

[The Guardian] Taylor Swift: “Sexy? Not on My Radar.”

Images via Seat Smart.

The Reading Hour.

It’s that time of year again and, in the spirit of tonight’s Reading Hour, I thought I’d tell you what I’ve been reading since last years’ event.

Rookie Yearbooks 1 & 2 by Tavi Gevinson.

I fell in love with Tavi Gevinson at last years’ Melbourne Writers Festival and had to snap up Rookie Yearbook One at the event’s bookstore. The second yearbook I got after visiting the U.S. late last year. They both compile the best of the Rookie website for those who don’t always have the chance to check it out. My favourites were anything by Sady Doyle and Lena Dunham’s interview with Mindy Kaling.

Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.

My former housemate bought this at a secondhand bookstore in Geelong when we went there for an exhibition and surprised me with it for my birthday. I ended up using some of the intel I gleaned from the book for an article on the dark side of Hollywood that I’m shopping around, and it informed me when I went to the Museum of Death in Los Angeles, to which Kenneth Anger is a benefactor.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

I read this around the time the second movie came out and I think I enjoyed the big screen version much more than the print one. I liked how the film streamlined much of the at times unnecessary plot additions.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

Gillian Flynn has fast established herself as one of my favourite writers, and this is not only my favourite book of hers, but also one of my favourites in general. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough. A gritty page-turner that kicks Gone Girl’s ass.

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany.

I was unimpressed by last years’ Stella prize winner.

Inferno by Dan Brown.

I made the mistake of taking this hefty tome on my trip to the U.S., thinking I would get most of it read on the plane but I was still lugging it around for weeks after I returned home. I think because I read it pretty sporadically throughout the trip I didn’t get as into the story as I have with other Brown books. I did like the notions of overpopulation and the need to eradicate part of the population for the greater good of the human race, though.

Well Read Women by Samantha Hahn.

This is more of a picture book than anything with read substance, but I was gifted it in the States for my birthday after having mentioned it months and months before!

Floundering by Romy Ash.

I really enjoyed this debut novel from Ash, which was shortlisted for many a prize upon its release. If you like evocative Australiana in an alternative style, I urge you to pick up Floundering.

The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne.

A sort-of pictorial autobiography of my favourite author that I picked up from New York’s famous Strand bookstore.

Reel Religion: A Century of the Bible on Film by the Museum of Biblical Art.

I couldn’t tell whether this guide to the exhibition of the same name at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art was propaganda or, as it asserts in its title, a history of the Bible on film. Either way, if you ever have some spare time in Central Parker West, check out the free museum.

How Did You Get This Number? by Sloan Crosley.

Crosley seems to have lost her allure since I last read her work in book form, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, a few years ago.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.

What a horror show this was! I primarily read it so I could watch the Lifetime movie of the same name starring Heather Graham and Kiernan Shipka, but I had been wanting to satisfy my curiosity for it for quite a while.

The Family Law by Benjamin Law.

Laugh-out-loud funny as Law always is.

The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle by Mary Lillian Ellison with Larry Platt.

Another one I got in New York at Westsider Rare Books and, as an autobiography of perhaps the most famous—and certainly the longest active—female wrestler, I had to snap it up.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.

This marks the third and final Flynn book I’ve read, and while the colleague I borrowed it from found it boring, I loved it almost as much as Sharp Objects. It features another eleventh-hour plot twist that Flynn has become famous for. Can’t wait to see what her next release will be.

John Belushi is Dead/Hollywood Ending by Kathy Charles.

I’d been wanting to read Hollywood Ending for quite a few years, but little did I know that the book was also published under the title of John Belushi is Dead, so there I was with two copies of the same book and no place to go. It turned out to be a spectacular waste of money as I was sorely disappointed by this narrative.

Tragic Hollywood: Beautiful, Glamorous, Dead by Jackie Ganiy.

This book nicely elaborated on much of what I learned on my visit to the Museum of Death and a Tragical History tour of L.A. but, as a self-published effort, it was riddle with spelling and grammar mistakes and continuity errors.

Audition by Barbara Walters.

While I think Barbara Walters gets kookier and more conservative with age, she was once a pioneer for women in broadcast journalism, and her autobiography was fascinating if, expectedly, long.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

Another one I’d been putting off, but it lived up to the hype. I’m excited to see how the story of the last woman executed in Iceland will play out on the big screen as it has been optioned for film.

2Pac VS. Biggie: An Illustrated History of Rap’s Greatest Battle by Jeff Weiss & Evan McGarvey.

Didn’t tell me what I didn’t already know about Tupac Shakur, but I’d never really been a Biggie fan, so this book did shed some light on one of rap’s biggest stars.

An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne.

I picked this up along with Dunne’s autobiography at The Strand, and it was quite enjoyable.

Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin.

I always enjoy Maupin’s stuff, and this marks the likely second-last installment of his Tales of the City saga, in which he revisits his beloved characters from 1970s and ’80s San Francisco in the modern day.

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates.

You never know what you’re going to get when it comes to Joyce Carol Oates, which can be thrilling and disconcerting. I’d have to go with the latter in this instance.

Changed for Good by Stacy Wolf.

Two of my favourite things: feminism and Broadway musicals. For anyone who’s got an interest in either of these things, this is a fascinating look at both, with a particular focus on Wicked, which I went to see for the seventh time on the weekend!

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss.

Perhaps the Aussie book of the year, Tara Moss can be seen everywhere promoting her latest book—part memoir, part exploration of female tropes and stereotypes—and talking about everything from the Bechdel test to her rape and miscarriage. She writes in accessible terms and makes strong points.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

This book, a present from my housemate, has been languishing on my to-read pile for three years, so I thought it was high time I see what all the fuss was about. I’d watched the series so I was familiar with the premise and its aftermath, but I was quite taken aback by the misogyny and racism of pretty much all of the characters. Whether that was impeccable storytelling by Tsiolkas or the author’s biases I’m not sure; I guess I’ll have to read more of his work to find out. Next of his on my list: Barracuda.

The First Stone by Helen Garner.

Speaking of ingrained misogyny, Garner attempts to unpack the alleged sexual assault of two female students by a male authority figure at Melbourne University in the 1990s. What she actually ends up with is an out-of-touch, victim-blaming, second-wave VS. third-wave piece of misogyny. I would direct all readers away from this and towards Anna Krien’s Night Games: a much more balanced take on similar events.

Animal People by Charlotte Wood.

I’d been wanting to read this since I saw Charlotte Wood as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of years ago, and I devoured it in the space of the day. (I was without electricity so there wasn’t much else to do!) Pretty easy reading with a nice juxtaposition between human idiosyncrasies and animal mannerisms.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

I’ve already read this book, but I’m rereading it currently as research for a piece about the upcoming film adaptation. This is the third Flynn book I’ve read in the past year.

What are you reading for the Reading Hour?

Related: The Reading Hour 2013.

The Reading Hour 2012.

Tavi’s World at Melbourne Writers Festival.

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple: My Guide to New York City.

Cherchez la Femme Fatale, Take 2.

Stella: A Prize of One’s Own at The Wheeler Centre.

The Slap & Men Who Cheat.

Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” in the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

Night Games by Anna Krien Review.

You Animals.

Elsewhere: [Rookie] Sady Doyle.

[Show & Tell] Tara Moss On Ner Latest Novel The Fictional Woman & the Bechdel Test.

[SMH] Under the Skin.

Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Popular Culture as a Feminist.

Recently, a friend questioned why I listen to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast when he’s a known intimate partner abuser. He makes a fair point, as I have shunned Sean Penn and Michael Fassbender movies and R. Kelly and Chris Brown’s music (not that I really had an interest in them to begin with) because of their woman-hating ways. But by the same token, I listen to 2Pac, John Lennon and Prince despite knowing their histories of similar assaults.

I replied that you can’t watch, listen to or read anything these days where the creator and/or their characters haven’t committed a crime or moral transgression. There’s Woody Allen, Game of Thrones, Michael Jackson and, to varying degrees, Bryan Singer, Fassbender and Halle Berry of the current X-Men film.

A lot of the pop cultural morsels I’ve mentioned above I first consumed before I knew about their creators’ wicked ways. I got into professional wrestling and all its problems, rap and hip hop and their misogynist lyrics, and the Beatles and MJ as a teen whose feminist ideals were in their infant stages, but by no means as staunchly militant as they are today. It’s easy to make the conscious effort not to consume products made by artists whose questionable morals you’re already aware of, not so much when you’ve already got a passion for them. (I’ve had conversations with people in recent weeks who did not know about Singer’s rape allegations nor Fassbender’s violent streak; their inner torment about liking something made by someone reprehensible [or at least someone who’s committed reprehensible acts] was evident in their pained, conflicted responses.) When I pointed this out to my abovementioned podcast friend, he asked whether that meant I thought I was exempt from examining the issues with famous men being rewarded for their transgressions just because I happen to like the stuff they produce.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. But by the same token, if we were to avoid problematic pop culture, we’d never leave the house!

I think the most important thing is not to make excuses about the problematic pop culture we choose to consume. I can’t say if I’ll continue to listen to Austin’s podcast but if I do I’ll be sure not to be hypocritical about it. No excuses here.

Related: Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [The Smoking Gun] Stone Cole Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[Lipstick Alley] Flashback: Sean Penn Beat Madonna for 9 Hours in 1987; Charged with Felony Domestic Assault.

[TMZ] Girlfriend Fears Inglorious Basterds Star.

[Village Voice] Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Allegations Against R. Kelly in Full.

[MTV] Chris Brown Police Report Provides Details of Altercation.

[Lipstick Alley] Why Isn’t Tupac Remembered as a Rapist?

[Listverse] Top 10 Unpleasant Facts About John Lennon.

[Daily Mail] Sinead O’Connor Talks About Punch Up With Prince.

[Vanity Fair] Mia’s Story.

[Jezebel] Game of Thrones, Sex & HBO: Where Did TV’s Sexual Pioneer Go Wrong?

[Wikipedia] 1993 Child Sexual Abuse Accusations Against Michael Jackson.

[Slate] What We Know So Far About the Hollywood Sex Ring Allegations.

[People] Collision Course.

[TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Professional Wrestling?

[TheVine] Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

[Social Justice League] How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.