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Motherhood, sexism, feminism, rap and the whole damn thing

Last week, as an afterthought, I popped this short statement at the end of Feminism can be frivolous fun:

A parental afterthought – please stop calling each other “bitches”. You are just popularising the images from rap songs which glorify mistreatment of women. Parents battle to teach their sons to respect women and this undermines all our hard work.

Virginia Duke was interested in how the whole situation had played out and read all the articles involved. Thank you, Virginia for your input and your interest! Virginia’s comment on that article included the following:

Your parental afterthought, for me, and please don’t take offense, really highlights the leagues of difference between your generation and mine. I don’t know how old you are, but you write about being old enough to simply roll your eyes at the infantilism, etc. So I’m thinking you’re old enough. Anyway, without going into great detail, suffice it to say I’m a 35 year old educated white woman, I was raised in the military, have traveled the globe and I grew up on rap music. I also spent ten years working in the domestic violence/sexual assault fields. For me, the term ‘bitch,’ denotes a million things, but for whatever reason, images from rap music never even come into my frame of reference. But for someone from older generations or totally different cultural spheres than my own, I can see why it might. (Again, I feel like I have to say I’m not calling you old, just making an observation based on the tone of your post.)

When I wrote the paragraph in question, several aspects of society were running around in my head, most of which I have previously written about. I am going to try to demonstrate the interconnectedness of previous writings to show why I wrote that paragraph, where my brain was going at the time. Many of the readers who read that particular article were either not regular readers of this website and/or not Australians (hence local conditions may not be known to them), so I believe some explanation of my reasoning is in order.

I am an atheist and as such had never really paid an awful lot of attention to the attitudes of the mainstream religions to women. I did after the USA presidential elections late last year and wrote What is it with religion and women? The comments on that article contain some particularly enlightening information, so if you read that article, do read the comments.

I would point out that even the Bible contains some protection for women, believe it or not, given the historical context.

Sex with a married or betrothed woman is adultery and was to be punished by the death of both if consensual, or the death of the man if it was rape (Deuteronomy 22:22-27). http://www.gotquestions.org/Deuteronomy-22-28-29-marry-rapist.html#ixzz2X5sxEmBX

 No such constraints over rap music lyrics, however.

We can safely move forward in this discussion accepting the premise that women have been subjugated by men for centuries. If that wasn’t the case, we’d have no need for feminism!

We then come to sexism TODAY. Not back in the 1950s when women were instructed by the doyens of the day to pop their lippy on at 5pm to look lovely for their tired, overworked husbands coming home to kiss the bathed children goodnight. TODAY. Australia has a female Prime Minister, the FIRST female Prime Minister of this country, who has been subjected to some of the vilest sexism I have ever witnessed. Admittedly, I do originally hail from the first country in the world to grant women the vote, New Zealand. For those unfamiliar with the situation in Australia at this time who want to see some of the detail, please visit Anne Summers’ speech “Her rights at work – The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister”.

There are two versions of that speech. The one I have linked to contains some of the images to which the speech refers: images of a graphic and sexual nature. There is a “vanilla” version of the speech and the link is given at the top of the above article.

Parents have a very special role in society, we shape the values and beliefs of our children. When I was a child, we didn’t even have TV until I was 10 (we lived in a remote area, before you decide I am 100). There was no internet, no iPods, no computers or computer games. My parents had far more control over what I was exposed to than parents have today.

I am not about to spout academic theory: I’m spouting in-the-field experience as a parent. Mothers are the primary female in children’s lives. They start learning how to treat women OR how to expect to be treated as a woman from what they see at their mother’s knee. I am clearly speaking of both sons and daughters here, for just as we influence boys in the treatment of women, we also influence daughters: how is it appropriate to be treated.

Rap may not feature prominently in the world of many of my readers. Frankly, it doesn’t feature prominently in my life either. It DOES feature prominently in the lives of young people today. In my article Sexism roundup I linked to an article by Mandy Nolan (a mother of five), sub-titled “Should rape be legitimised or represented in art?” discussing the lyrics of some rap music. I do encourage you to read Mandy’s article in full.

Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics provided by Mandy. This snippet is from Eminem, in the song Celebrity:

‘See me I’m all up on your bitch means I’mma rape her, All I got for these hoes is dick, duct tape and a stapler, So bitch you better look for the table scraps to scrape up.’

Mandy says:

Desensitisation to graphic images and glorification of rape has put our young men at risk of being indoctrinated into believing misogyny and violence is a legitimate and desirable approach to women.

Rape jokes, rape art, rape videos, rape fantasies and rape lyrics degrade and demoralise every woman on the planet, disempowering us, leaving us bound duct taped to the rapist’s chair.

It should be illegal.

I’m with Mandy. I can ban this sort of music in the house, but I can’t ban it from other kids’ iPods at school. I can’t police every file downloaded onto their computers. I can’t stop our kids being exposed to this, nor other types of media so readily available these days. I think it is a little like subliminal advertising: the kids don’t really analyse the lyrics, but they get the message.

Our sons come home from school saying things like, “The bitches like it” (whatever “it” might be on any given day: the colour of their shoes, the latest joke, whatever). I can tell you the definition of “bitch” they are being tuned into is not a feminist celebrating her freedom, it is the lyrics of the latest rap song. Yet if I say the use of the word is not appropriate, they come back with “but your friends use it on Twitter”. So you tell me how, as a parent, I deal with that with a 13 year-old and a 15 year-old?

That’s the boys. What of the girls? They are hearing the same lyrics, hearing the same words. We are teaching them never to be Nigella Lawson (see related reading links below), yet that behavior is being “normalized” in popular music and senior feminists then use the same word. Which message are schoolgirls getting? How do I tell our girls “bitch” is OK to be used by the feminists, but they don’t mean it like the rap song lyrics? Oh, I can tell them, alright, but what are they really absorbing?

Some time ago I wrote an article about genitals: women requesting plastic surgery to look “neater”. All part of the same influences now so freely available to developing minds.

We see so much violence against women:

Of all physical assaults against women, 74.9 per cent occurred in the home, often repeatedly, by a man they knew. One in four children and young people have witnessed domestic violence against their mother or stepmother. And violence against women and their children cost the Australian economy $13.6 billion in 2009 alone.

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/no-more-of-his-playful-tiffs-nigella-20130621-2oo55.html#ixzz2X5wPpaBN

There are many reasons why sexism, domestic violence and other crimes against women are so prevelent in society, yet times are changing. Society is changing, music is changing. Let us not confuse our children in their formative years by using words in such different contexts. Especially those of us (and there are many such parents in Australia) raising children in a new land, new culture, new social values. Much is confusing enough already.

Let us ensure we do not inadvertently support the very thing we are trying to eradicate. Sexism. The abuse of women and children.  I put the B-word in the same category as the N-word (further reading, below). It seems to me both are being used in similar ways by their respective demographics: attempting to take the word back, change the popular meaning, wear it as a badge of honour. In my view, this approach doesn’t work. Some words, due to their historical or current alternate use, are just best left to die a natural death. They will never be a badge of honour.

There, good readers, are some of the thoughts running through my mind when I wrote that paragraph. I’m a parent of young people, trying to raise them with humanist values in an often inhuman world.

Further reading:

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/no-more-of-his-playful-tiffs-nigella-20130621-2oo55.html

http://m.smh.com.au/national/like-nigella-i-have-no-desire-to-be-the-poster-girl-for-this-horrific-crime-20130622-2op6e.html

https://teamoyeniyi.com/2013/06/20/victim-blaming-or-proactive-precautions-trigger-warning/

https://teamoyeniyi.com/2012/03/23/dealing-with-the-n-word/

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8 comments on “Motherhood, sexism, feminism, rap and the whole damn thing

  1. […] written about language in society more than once.  I’ve looked at the anti-female language of rap music, I’ve looked at […]

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  2. […] On October 2012 I expressed my concerns over the use of language in society. Since then things seem to have worsened. We still have nasty personal attacks being made in the public domain and I am often tempted to unfollow people on social media because they “attack the man not the ball”. I also looked at the use of language in Motherhood, sexism, feminism, rap and the whole damn thing. […]

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  3. Blech! It’s after 1:30 here and I spent all day wrestling with my wireless router and a bunch of technology that I don’t understand, so bear with me if I sound like a dumbass. I might have to come back and do this again in the morning.

    I truly understand your vantage with regard to language, I do. I’ll never forget the time I walked into a classroom in a new school and sat next to a girlfriend I’d made the first few weeks of class. She looked at me and without ceremony she said, “Hey cunt.” We were eighteen, seniors in high school, and she meant it as a term of endearment, but my jaw hit the floor like you wouldn’t believe. Almost twenty years later and I still remember the shock I felt over hearing it said out loud. Language does matter. I agree with you. That said, I use the word “bitch” pretty liberally, and for me, the key is knowing when it’s okay to use. I might throw the word around with my girlfriends, but I don’t throw it around with my children. In my cultural sphere, the misogyny associated with the word is so far diluted, I can’t imagine it being a challenge to educate my children on how to discern whether somebody is using it to insult women or using it just to be an asshole.

    But see, that’s how I communicate. I call people idiots, jackasses and bitches and I say things like, “ohmyfuckinggod,” and I make off-color snarky remarks about any manner of things. I just know not to do it in the board room or during a legislative hearing. Or in front of my kids.

    And I don’t really have any hard and fast answers to the question of how we protect our children from the influence of shitty people, except to say this: We do what my parents did. We help instill self-worth and teach them how to respect themselves and others, how to be critical thinkers, and we teach them how to be kind and compassionate. Kids will always be exposed to terrible things, and it’s our job to protect them as best we can, I get it. But the greater responsibility, for myself as a parent, is to teach them how to think for themselves.

    So, this is a stretch of an analogy, but…

    I was never a promiscuous teenager, I was a virgin until I was nineteen years old and the guy who I lost it to is snoring in the bed next to me now. I wasn’t a virgin because I was a troll or because my girlfriends weren’t having sex, I was a cute girl and my closest friends were all sexually active. I wasn’t raised in a church, we weren’t religious, I didn’t have a whole lot of weird reproductive morality shoved down my throat. In fact, when she thought I was old enough, my mother told me rather matter-of-factly that she didn’t want me to have sex, sex was for adults who cared about one another, but that if I were going to have sex she wouldn’t judge me and I just needed to let her know so she could help get me on the pill. For a fifteen year old girl with a handful of slutty best friends, that’s almost like being given permission… but my parents must have done something right because despite all the social pressure (it was a LOT) and the messages in the media, I never starting having sex just because every other girl my age was doing it.

    The point I was trying to make on your other post was that language is ‘culture-bound.’ What is offensive to one may be empowering to another, and this is true across the board, not just with regard to the word, “bitch.” What right have I to walk into a group full of lesbians and insist that their use of the word, “queer” is offensive? Or to tell a group of professional black women that they should call themselves “African-Americans” instead of “Women of color?” When I first went to work in domestic violence, I was appalled to learn there was a committee for “Women of Color.” I thought, “WOW, what an antiquated throwback to the 1960s, how horrible!” Over time I learned that they’d chosen that phrase themselves and they took great pride in it. I really had to dig deep to get to a place where I understood it, and to understand that I was only as affected by it as I allowed myself to be.

    Sidenote from the ignorant American: What do they call black people in Australia? African-Australians? Black people? People of color?

    Anyway, however inarticulately, I was trying to say that we need to work harder to understand where one another are coming from with regard to ideology, or language, because our experiences are all shaped by so many different variables. And being “culturally competent” is more about understanding and respecting your audience, “meeting them where they’re at,” and trying to see things from their perspective. “Linguistic competence” isn’t about running around saying, “bitch,” if we’re in the company of people who use the term, it’s about understanding that it may mean something else to them than it does to us.

    Lastly, I hated Eminem when he first popped up. He represented everything I hated about sexism and racism and every other ism that offended my young, liberal sensibilities. Then somebody sat me down and played me a few songs that didn’t have a bunch of vulgar, repulsive and terrible lyrics about women. I was ashamed to admit it, but I started paying more attention and I started to understand it. It actually had value for me, giving voice to the rage that a lot of people feel, but that can’t share because society tells us, “You can’t say that.” I’ve read other feminists say similar things in his defense. I mean, I’ve always loved rap music for just that reason. Although I’m too tired at this point to try and defend that in the context of a feminist dialogue. Bottom line is, in an ideal world, being a feminist would mean that I shouldn’t have to defend it, or make any apologies for it. Helter Skelter didn’t make Manson a murderer, and Eminem doesn’t make kids misogynists.

    But as a mother and a feminist, I respect your right to feel differently about it and protect your own children from anything you deem inappropriate or dangerous. And for me, empowering one another to see it differently is what feminism is all about.

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    • For 1:30 am I think you did astoundingly well. But you are a writer, after all! 🙂 Oh, before I forget, I assure you I can probably out-swear even you on a good day.

      I’m not concerned with what people call themselves in their own “environment” for want of a better word. What I am concerned with is the values we instill in developing minds. “Queer” doesn’t imply we run around raping and taping, unless I’ve missed something in the latest developments.

      Song lyrics, the rhyme of popular culture of any given generation, have changed dramatically in recent times. Words that were never acceptable before now find their way onto the radio and digital distribution, as was pointed out to me today, makes censorship redundant. Not just the words, but the actions and activities those words portray.

      With your “WOW, what an antiquated throwback to the 1960s, how horrible!” I think I have a few acquaintances who may tell you to check your white woman privilege. 😛

      I don’t hate all rap music, or Eminem for that matter. I hate the sort of lyrics Mandy highlighted when they are so easily available to young people and parents have little real control over the access.

      Answer to ignorant American: I call black people, people. Our nation’s First People have been here over 40,000 years, the rest of us are, in comparison, new Australians. Alternatively, you may call Native Australians (I use the term to compare to Native Americans) Aboriginal.

      In Australia we don’t have to tick boxes on forms to join the gym to indicate our “race” as I once had to do in the USA. I refused. I said I tick all or none, take your pick. Not sure the lady at the counter was overly impressed, but that was not my concern.

      My husband and step-children are Nigerian. They identify as Yoruba. Most second and later generation people just identify as Australian according to the census.

      Cultural Intelligence is a personal interest of mine, as I discuss in other articles on this website. Mindfulness is critical. However that doesn’t mean we ignore our responsibilities as parents.

      You may feel the words of songs and the computer games etc have no impact on developing minds, however there are many experts out there who have reached different conclusions.

      I’m not really keen on taking the risk for the results 10 years down the track. Are you?

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      • “I think I have a few acquaintances who may tell you to check your white woman privilege.”

        Absolutely. That was exactly my point. I’d never heard of Peggy McIntosh, I was nineteen years old and a know-it-all and lived in this world where I thought we’d moved past racism. I had to learn about the invisible knapsack and people-first language and cultural/linguistic competence before I could understand it.

        “However that doesn’t mean we ignore our responsibilities as parents. You may feel the words of songs and the computer games etc have no impact on developing minds, however there are many experts out there who have reached different conclusions. I’m not really keen on taking the risk for the results 10 years down the track. Are you?”

        Absolutely not. I firmly believe the shape of a child’s mold is influenced by music, art, literature, video games… all of it. We don’t have cable television, my kids don’t have unfiltered access to the internet, actually they don’t have access to the internet at all, and we only introduced a limited amount of educational video games very, very recently. And it’s going to stay that way as long as we can manage. I’d never allow my six year old son to listen to a violent misogynistic Eminem song, not if I could help it.

        But he’s going to see and hear things that I disapprove of at some point, and my priority is trying to teach him to learn to filter those things for himself because I won’t always be able to ‘turn it off.’ Don’t even get me started on the story of Thanksgiving he came home with from our very well funded public school when he started Kindergarten last year. Or Columbus Day. Or the outrageous things that come out of my parents mouths. Oy. My kids are still babies, and I’m already reeling in the damage we’re going to have to undo.

        So maybe you and I don’t see things so differently after all.

        But I’m keeping my boobs on my profile picture and if somebody is acting like a bitch, I’m probably going to tell them so. And neither of those things dilute my value as a feminist.

        This was fun. Now I’m off to write sexy empowering erotica, provoke some bitches on twitter, and make sure my kids don’t get finger paint on my dining table.

        xoxo

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      • You are lucky yours are still young. *sigh* Wish ours were too.

        Another contact on Twitter was saying she dreads the next 10 years! Hers are young too.

        Yes, definitely they see things we disapprove of as time goes on, but I know from my recent experiences the age they hear/see seems to be getting younger and younger! Grade 4 came home with some “What does this mean?” questions that I was not ready to answer, but had to – I think misinformation is worse than the truth! Never told my kids they were found under a damn cabbage or brought by the stork!

        Nothing dilutes anyone’s value as a feminist, which is how this whole darn thing started! 😆

        Enjoy your writing – I’ve been battling the technology of Paypal buttons and isn’t THAT an issue!

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  4. I find these sorts of discussion really hard to participate in. I have only one child, therefore did not have both genders to deal with growing up. More importantly, I was fortunate enough to have a partner where we both co-parented, therefore apart from the first 2 years of my daughters life, we would both have been an equal influence and equal share of ‘teaching’ time.

    I guess also having only one child means we didn’t really bring up a daughter as such, more we raised a ‘human’. Not really until high school was gender discussed at any length, more about being decent ‘human being’, caring about others etc. Though as I say, that is a hell of a lot easier to do when there are two of you raising only one child.

    Asking Caitlin, she thinks her female influence is actually her father, not me. As in growing up seeing the way he treated me, respected me as an individual, way we have worked together (as in small business) and job shared parenting whilst working. So maybe we don’t address men and their role in shaping young girls views on their worth as a female? Hard I know in the case of a single mother, though often a grandfather, family friend etc., who is a ‘decent’ male should be valued a bit more as an inclusion in a young girls life if possible, instead of the terror so many mothers have of men influencing or abusing girls if given chance. The vast majority are not paedophiles regardless of how media like to portray it, maybe in being over-protective we are harming females ‘good’ examples of males respecting females?

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    • I am not sure about being a single parent either Noely. Must be very hard indeed. In our case, I guess I am the resident expert on western culture!

      I can totally see Caitlin’s perspective and that is how it should be. 🙂 Unfortunately I think the music etc is getting worse, pushing the boundaries more and more. Other “stuff” out there is horrific.

      Each of us can only do what we can do. I can only assess the current impact of the media available by what I have to deal with at home: by that I mean correcting what they pick up outside the home. Our kids are great, but it makes me so aware of the influences outside the home.

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