Tomorrow brings another installment of “Oblivious Living” wherein I examine the joie de vivre behind Track 2 of Living in Oblivion: “Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes. But today, some seriousness.
Last night, I was rolling around town and flipping around on the radio in search of a song that would get me psyched up for the evening. I settled on this song that near as I could tell was called “Flirt” and sounded a lot like R. Kelly due to a “Trapped in the Closet”-style flow.
I thought the song toed the line between ridiculous and sublime, like all great pop esongs. The lyrics I heard had a fun, playful tone…
Soon as I see her walk up in the club I’ma flirt
Winkin’ eyes at me when I roll up on dem dubs I’ma flirt
Sometimes when I’m wit my chick on the low I’ma flirt
And when she’s wit her man lookin’ at me damn right I’ma flirt
So homie don’t bring your girl to me to meet cause I’ma flirt
…and the beat was hot. “If this song had come out a month later, it would be a candidate for song of the summer,” I thought. I told my girlfriend this was going to be my jam, and she replied that the song was terrible and if I was going to be adding it to my repertoire of Songs I Start Singing With No Prompting Whatsoever, then I better get used to loneliness. Clearly, she was a hater.
Then this morning I got a look at the full lyrics and realized something that a lot of other people realized this week: if we’re really serious about attacking misogyny in our societal dialogue, we’re going to have to look closer, and realize that we’re all complicit if we don’t.
Turns out it WAS a song called “Flirt” by R. Kelly (with T.I. and T-Pain). I won’t waste space here detailing the lyrics, but you can view them in full here. I will say that I’m pretty sure there ought to be a ban on the use of the phrase “the moral of the story is” if what follows involves the words “cuff” or “bitch.” Because a moral of a particular story is supposed to be, you know, moral.
If I’d heard those lyrics in my first brief listen, I would not have given it “jam” status, nor would I have come home last night and spent 99 cents on the damn thing thanks to iTunes and too many Old Styles. (This act also made me realize that if one were to inadvertently purchase offensive material, you used to be able to let the retailer know your feelings by returning it to the store and voting against such things with your dollar(s). You can’t do that anymore. There’s nothing that keeps track of which songs, books or movies end up as digital bits in someone’s Recycle Bin).
Anyway, whether I heard these lyrics or not (I might not have since it was early enough in the evening that I was probably hearing the clean radio version) isn’t the point. The point is that all of us need to look past the surface, and examine our own usage of words like “bitch,” “ho” and “pimpin’”.
From pimp cups to Pimp My Ride to Snoop Dogg’s appearances in Chrysler commercials and in the movie Old School (where he’s joined by the self-styled Archbishop Don “Magic” Juan), it’s all over. We’ve become so anesthetized to it that we don’t even stop to think, “Hey, a guy who talks about selling a woman on a street corner like she is his property is in a commercial selling automobiles with the head of a Fortune 500 company.”
Clearly, I’ve been complicit in the spread of this kind of casual misogyny. Last night’s “Flirt” purchase aside, I used to have a picture of myself on my MySpace page* in a pimp costume. It was taken at a “Pimps and ‘Hos” party my friends and I threw in college. Last year, after attending a seminar on prostitution and a discussion of the of “pimp culture,” I took it down.
The argument usually given in defense of “Pimp and Ho” parties, or the kind of lyrics in a song like “Flirt” is that it’s “just about having a good time” and that you (or the vocalist) doesn’t really mean it. In Chris Rock’s HBO special Never Scared, he riffs on women who dismiss misogyny in hip-hop by saying “Girl, he ain’t talking about me.”
Well, yes. He is. There’s nothing to suggest you’d be treated any differently. And while there might be a contextual difference between what a bunch of silly, drunk college students do on a Saturday night, and what happens down on the west side of North Avenue on a Saturday night, it’s all an assent to the same type of behavior with similar language and affectations.
So let’s be clear. When you say you’re going to “pimp” your ride, you’re equating what you’re doing to the work of someone who sells women on the street like property. When you say you’re going to “pimp” something, you’re suggesting you’re going to do it with the forcefulness of a person who establishes control of a woman, and decides what she can do with her body. When you call a woman a “ho,” you are saying she sells herself on the street for money to men who will have sex with her.
We as a society need to start looking at things…um, holistically. We are the sum total of the things we say and do. We may say we’re not misogynists, but if we buy things that are, we’re contributing to a misogynist culture. We may say we decry the degradation of women, but if we don pimp clothes and wave around a pimp cup, we assent to the kinds of things that go on far from our eyes. We may say that it’s OK for certain kinds of lyrics, but it’s not OK to describe collegiate women using the words found in those lyrics, because they aren’t “the same thing.”
But they are.
Unfortunately, most of the debate about this kind of misogyny has concerned itself with hip-hop lyrics, which conveniently ignores the other aspects of (white) culture that allow casual misogyny to continue. It’s really easy to sit back and say that it’s not OK to call women ‘hos. But only by stepping back and taking a closer look are we able to see that listening to a political discussion about Iraq means you also give your blessing to someone who describes women as “nappy headed hos.” And by purchasing Girls Gone Wild videos, you give assent to this kind of thing.
I’m not sure. But it’s worth taking a closer look.
* Incidentally, I realize tha
t, for some, there’s a contradiction between what I’m saying here, and keeping a picture of me and Ludacris up on my page in light of lyrics like these. But that’s a whole other post.