Bitch, Bad: When Rap Music Forces Us To Confront Misogyny

I’m a mother of four kids, and a fan of hip hop and rap. I’m also white. I’m also middle-class. I say the above to illustrate where the points I’m about to make stem from in regard to Lupe Fiasco’s new video for Bitch, Bad. A young black man will have a different perspective on things than I do. An African American woman of my age will have a different perspective. I can only speak from my perspective, as a Caucasian, middle-aged woman who has a strong affinity for hip hop music. Yes, every genre of music is for everyone and just because I’m old, white and a chick doesn’t mean that I can’t like what I like, but when discussing the video for Bitch, Bad it can help to shed light on how I interpret it.  A few days ago, Chicago-born hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco released the first video from his upcoming CD release Food and Liquor Part Two. And basically broke the internets.

Brandon Soderberg, a blogger for Spin magazine, takes Lupe to task for ”mansplaining” (A term used to describe men who condescendingly explain about something that mostly concerns women) the word ”bitch”, its cultural, sexual, and historical context in popular culture in Fiasco’s video.

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 Like Todd Akin’s ridiculous and insulting statements regarding women and their magical uteruses and how women can shut down pregnancies that are a product of rape, Fiasco has thrown the word ”bitch” out there and it’s been interesting to see what the internet and media does with it.

A lot of women have reclaimed the word ”bitch.” We use it to describe ourselves, our friends, we read a magazine entitled with the word. And even though it at times has come to mean a woman who is strong and smart and unafraid to speak her mind, it also, at times, is still used as an incredibly derogatory insult directed at women who are strong, smart and unafraid to speak their minds. Bitch can be synonomous with queen or synonomouys with skank. And Lupe Fiasco is challenging us to take a harder look at the word.

In the video, Fiasco illustrates a young boy of about four or five with his mother, a woman singing along with the radio about being a ”bad bitch” and he raps:

 Couple of things that are happenin’ here

First he’s relatin’ the word ”bitch” with his mama, comma

And because she’s relatin’ to herself, his most important source of help,

And mental health, he may skew respect for dishonor

Verse two then goes on to illustrate a group of young girls watching music videos on the internet :

 Yeah, now imagine a group of little girls nine through twelve

On the internet watchin’ videos listenin’ to songs by themselves

It doesn’t really matter if they have parental clearance

They understand the internet better than their parents

Now being the interent, the content’s probably uncensored

They’re young, so they’re maleable and probably unmentored

A complicated combination, maybe with no relevance

Until that intelligence meets their favorite singer’s preference

”Bad bitches, bad bitches, bad bitches

That’s all I want and all I like in life is bad bitches, bad bitches”

Now let’s say that they less concerned with him

And more with the video girl acquiescent to his whims

Ah, the plot thickens

High heels, long hair, fat booty, slim

Reality check, I’m not trippin’

They don’t see a paid actress, just what makes a bad bitch

What I interpret thus far, from the views of a middle aged white woman, is that Fiasco is saying that young boys grow up with their moms, strong, nurturing, caring, who relate to themselves as a ”bitch.” In a positive sense. In the meantime, young girls are watching videos by rap artists spitting the word bitch, and this term is directed at attractive girls who are eager and willing to do anything a young man wants. And the young girls don’t see these women as paid actresses, they view them as sexy high-heeled scantily dressed women having a good time trying to snag a man, please a man,  genuflect to a man.

And then onto verse three, which sort of confuses the issue, but doesn’t really detract from the conversation Fiasco is trying to invoke:

 Disclaimer: This rhymer, Lupe’s not usin’ bitch as a lesson

But as a psychological weapon

To set in your mind and really mess with your conceptions

Discretions, reflections, it’s clever misdirection

Cause, while I was rappin’ they was growin’ up fast

Nobody stepped in to ever slow ”˜em up, gasp

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

This can sort of be summed up as slut-shaming by proxy. Fiasco is juxtaposing his idea of a bad bitch, a strong, smart woman, with that of a young girl raised on a diet of misogynistic music videos and trying to emulate the girls portrayed in the videos. For me, analyzing aspects of the song too much detracts from the brilliant conversation the gist of it raises.

 The hook of the song is:

Bitch bad, woman good

Lady better, they misunderstood

(I’m killin’ these bitches)

Which to me just means that Fiasco is giving us alternatives to the word, by ”killing these bitches” he is stating that the word has so many connotations, both positive and negative, that maybe it isn’t the best word to describe a woman at all.

I like the song. My 16-year-old son, a huge fan of Fiasco’s, purchased the song and is eagerly awaiting the full-cd release. As a mother of a kid who is a fan of Fiasco’s music, I applaud him (loudly) for creating such an interesting dialogue that I can share with my kid. I can’t think of any other mainstream young male rappers who are challenging us to look at the word and what it means to us and our kids when they are exposed to the word on a sometimes continuous basis. It’s a great conversation to have, especially when you are trying to raise boys in this world who will grow up to be men that we want to respect women, and I think any mother, regardless of race, wants this for her son.

So for blog critics like Brandon Soderberg, and his accusations of mansplaining, a lot of women don’t mind men speaking up about misogyny, especially when so many men don’t. Fiasco has challenged us to take a look at the politics of word choice, and even though it’s far too easy to convolute his song and get wrapped up in whether or not he has a right to speak for women and what we want to be referred as, it’s a far more interesting conversation that Fiasco has presented to us. One that I will be discussing with my son when this song comes on the stereo.

(Photo: Entertainment Weekly)

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