Is it bad to act differently around a boy you like to impress him? Or is that being fake? When do you cross the line? —Charlotte, Portland, OR
Hey there, Charlotte! So, did you like the part of Things Fall Apart that we read for English today? I thought it was so aweso—oh, you hated it? Y-yeah, me too! Actually I barely even read or buttever. *twirls hair, nervously hides lovingly worn library card*
Hi for real this time, my dear Charlotte, and let me tell you the very obvious moral to the above scenario: if by acting “differently” around a boy, you mean dumbing yourself down or pretending to hate the things you like, then yes, that is being fake. It’s also disrespecting and devaluing yourself, plus also, let’s say that in some alternate universe this tactic isn’t totally obvious (which it always is), and it works on a guy—what are you and this lunkhead ever gonna talk about? Things are going to get real boring, real quick. I’m not saying you ALWAYS have to be talking about your passion for Sailor Moon or E=MC-squaring your smarts in dudes’ faces all the time in order to be genuine—just don’t purposely hide these things.
But maybe you’re talking about the other side of this kind of behavior, where you pretend to like or know about things that you really have no interest in, just to impress some superfox with ~interesting interests~. This tactic, like the last one, is totally transparent, believe me, but there’s a good alternative that will allow you to talk to him about the books and music and TV shows and other junk that he likes without faking a thing. Why not just be honest and say, “No, I haven’t heard the new French Montana yet, but I want to! What are your favorite parts?” HEY PRESTO: you’re having a genuine conversation about something you don’t know about, without having to lie! And now he’ll feel comfortable admitting that he’s never watched Doctor Who, and you can invite him over to get caught up. Awesome, right? —Amy Rose
How do you deal with enjoying/loving things that happen to be at least a little bit misogynistic? I’ve been getting really into rap music—it has great energy and makes me happy, and also has deep moments that let me brood and think about the meaning of life. But, as you already know, a lot of rap music is really problematic—it can be sexist and homophobic, and a lot of it endorses violence and crime. How do I reconcile my genuine love for this art form with my feminism and my general everybody-loves-everybody vibe? —K.T., Cape Town, South Africa
Oh, K.T. This is one of the fundamental and defining questions of my entire life. It sucks when you’re on the dance floor, having a good time shaking it to some crazy beat like “Pop That,” and then all of a sudden Lil Wayne comes on and tells you to suck his wiener for pieces from his corny-ass T-shirt line and you’re like…NAH. And your whole dance-floor flow is interrupted by a lyric that isn’t even clever. But! That song is fun to jump around to. What the hell is going on?!
One of the things about misogyny in (American) hip-hop is that like all art, it’s a microcosm of the misogyny that goes on in society. And it’s not just confined to rap music: you can easily find misogynistic undertones (and overtones!) in rock, pop, country, dance, R&B. Even Taylor Swift has some lyrics that I find to be a product of the larger culture of misogyny. (“She’s better known for things she does on the mattress”? Come on, dude!) The fact is, no art form exists that is completely devoid of problematic elements, and there never will be, unless and until we are living in a perfectly harmonious utopia where everyone is treated equally and everyone has access to the same basic necessities and we all high-five one another while walking down the street. So yeah, not to be a downer but: never. So if you refuse to consume any art or culture that isn’t 100 percent perfectly in line with your morals and your politics, you will not get to watch, read, listen to, or dance to anything ever again. Given those choices, I’ll shake my head at Lil Wayne and continue dancing.
However! I’m not saying we have to just accept things the way they are. You will never be able to unhear some of the vilest stuff, and what’s worse is that most of the misogyny in rap songs is directed at women of color, who are already disproportionately oppressed (not just in America). Loving rap music as you do, and I do, doesn’t mean making excuses for misogynistic lyrics or torturing logic and common sense to argue that they’re actually lampooning or subverting misogyny somehow. If you love something, you want it to be better, right? Hold your favorite artists accountable for what they say on their records.
Meanwhile, you don’t have to feel guilty or “wrong” for loving rap music. Just because you enjoy a song that is gross towards women doesn’t make you a bad feminist, or self-hating. You’re just part of a long continuum of complicated art appreciation that feminists (including the entire movement of hip-hop feminism) have been dealing with ever since Roxanne Shanté recorded a diss track in response to UTFO’s misogynist song “Roxanne, Roxanne” in 1984, at the age of 14. Women before us were thinking about this stuff, and those after us will continue to do the tough work and the confrontational twerk. I recommend reading the original bible of hip-hop feminism, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost by Joan Morgan. She wrote it in the 1990s, when she was in her 20s and grappling with these exact same questions, and it’s a really good entry point for sorting out your feelings. (Also, Joan Morgan is the best.) And beyond that there’s a whole world of strong women rappers with feminist attitudes (and lyrics to match) that can help balance out the ick of having just listened to a bunch of strip-club anthems. (I for one will never feel as good listening to the grody yet clever lines of, say, Dipset as I do listening to “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo.”) A good resource is the Female Rappers Tumblr, which not only posts current people like Azealia Banks, Angel Haze, and Dominique Young Unique, but also goes deep into the archives of Trina, Lil; Kim, Eve, and them. Good luck K.T., and stay strong! And remember, a good response to the question “What you twerkin’ with?” is “My fist.” Pop that. —Julianne