Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"Hotline Bling" and the "Soft" Patriarchy

Recently in seminar, we talked about the pervasive sexism that women still face in developed nations. While it seems that the patriarchy has stepped away from blatant and obvious inequality in many ways, the reality of the structure still exists. In thinking about the ways I have encountered this more subversive form of the patriarchy, I almost always think of Drake’s 2015 hit “Hotline Bling.” From the second I heard the lyrics of this song, I was almost the most offended I have ever been by pop culture. There are two things I want to further explore – first, the fact that this, of all rap songs, offended me, and secondly, what is so problematic in Drake’s whiny ballad.
Writing this post and thinking about “Hotline Bling” makes me aware of my privilege, and in many ways, fortunate chance in life that I have never encountered severe abuse. I don’t want to point out “Hotline Bling” as a new form of sexism and misogyny that is replacing more overtly gendered violence, because that’s completely false. There are many women who face those traumas, so I am in no way suggesting that my encounter with patriarchical ideas is prototypical of the American woman. I do, however, think it is pervasive and common. While violence, oppression and overt sexism demand our attention, I believe this “softer” form of the patriarchy does as well – because it reinforces the ideas that lead to blatant abuse and discrimination.

Offensive rap and R&B lyrics are nothing new. Many rap and R&B artists embrace sexist imagery, tone and messages in their music. The genre is known for being unapologetic, and I found many articles outlining “Most Offensive Rap Lyrics” that I don’t want to link here because I don’t want to give them a further forum. However, “Hotline Bling” departs from the expected misogyny to paint the picture of a lonely boyfriend that misses the good girl he used to know. Drake mourns the loss of the girl that used to call him up when she was lonely, even as he takes credit for her sexuality, decides she doesn’t belongin places she wants to go, and takes issue with her making friends he hasn’tmet and traveling without him. In short, he is acting like almost every high school boyfriend I had or observed who wanted his girl to act a particular way to make him feel comfortable – with no parallel response expected on his end. “Hotline Bling” perpetuates gender stereotypes, while at the same time telling girls they should be “good girls” and allowing boys to expect that. Good girls apparently only have friends their men approve, don’t travel alone, don’t make decisions for themselves, and keep their sacred bodies pure and covered for their man’s eyes only.

I guess I expected more outrage about this song, but all I heard was people making fun of Drake’s dorky dance moves in his music video. I am not sure whether this reflects apathy, whether no one finds it as offensive as I do, or whether people just think we have more important problems to focus on. We certainly have many battles to fight – but I think confronting the “soft” patriarchy is one worth considering. 


India Powell said...

The topic of hip hop, misogyny, and art is something that I think about, and grapple with, constantly. It's a big part of the reason why I identified so strongly with Roxane Gay's "Bad Feminist" rhetoric. The fact of the matter is, I love rap music. Even the most offensive and, at times, questionably immoral rap music. But I'm ashamed of it. It's one thing to listen to hip hop from the early 90's and dismiss many of the sexist, homophobic themes as being from 20 years ago, a different time, before this new wave of pop culture feminism truly reared its head. But it's getting harder and harder to explain it away. And it's not just Drake. Think about Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Justin Bieber's "What Do You Mean?" Think about pretty much all of Kanye's music. These are WILDLY popular songs. Arguably some of the most popular songs in recent years. And yet, when you really listen to them, past the catchy beats and contagious rhythms, they're horrifying. I kick myself for supporting male artists that carry on a legacy of blatant, and at times violent, patriarchy. And it kills me a little bit that these are the faces of our generation. These are the people that will be remembered. But then here I am...humming the newest Jay Z beat.

Courtney Hatchett said...

Last year, the White House Council’s Women & Girls summit held a panel called Hip-Hop: Women’s Vulnerability and Voices. The moderator asked MC Lyte whether it’s possible to be a “hip-hop feminist.” He responded yes, and cited the incredibly popular Fetty Wap as a current example of a hip-hop feminist” because of the way he supports his women in songs. Lyte asserted ““He may have a very unique way of presenting his ideas, but he does love women. For what he’s up against in this climate with all of the other emcees, he’s taking a stand. He’s being pretty courageous right now with what it is that he presents in his music, because it’s really not the norm...You win the challenge when you’re able to get your message across without degrading your sister, or your woman or your mother.”

For reference, the hit Fetty Wap song at the time was Trap Queen. The lyrics are as follows: “I hit the strip with my trap queen 'cause all we know is bands, I just might snatch up a 'Rari and buy my boo a 'Lamb, I might just snatch her necklace, drop a couple on a ring, She ain't want it for nothin' because I got her everything.”

It’s interesting to see this summit let this comment fly. Apparently loving a woman or treating her to riches is enough to be a feminist? I’m disappointed that there didn’t seem to be more of a focus on women’s voice, women rappers, and the women who use their voice to advocate for respect and equality in a very male-dominated arena.