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February 6, 2009

Words & Guitar: The misogyny playlist

[img id="77124" align="alignleft"] Lately, I haven’t been a big fan of girls. And in case my hella-ethnic byline leaves it unclear, I am one.

I’m a fan of music though, and as it happens, music has a legendary misogynistic streak. So when I first realized I was coming up short in the sisterly love department, naturally I turned to my tunes for commiseration.

Now there’s plenty of girl-unfriendly sentiment throughout rock history (and, um, all history). But as it turns out, there’s hardly a song, by any artist, in any genre, that reflects my own girl troubles. Hard to believe, I know. Let’s take the tour.

Classic rock

Like most rock music, classic rock is written by straight guys. And, unfortunately for my empathy-starved soul, straight guys’ problems with straight girls rarely have much to do with straight girls’ problems with straight girls.

It’d probably be disingenuous to go much further without telling you how I feel about rock misogyny. To me, dame-disparaging tunes are often some combination of fairly alienating (“Under My Thumb”) and completely disgusting (“The Lemon Song”).

It’s not often that a song strikes me as truly offensive, though. My fist is usually a few thousand miles shy of Mick Jagger’s face anyway, so what’s the point of getting worked up?

Really, what bothers me isn’t the lyrics themselves, but women’s reactions to them. If girls were logical, misogyny would be self-correcting; the sum of all women’s alienated and disgusted reactions to the lyrics would stack up to a massive cold front, forcing musicians to clean up their acts if they ever wanted to get laid again.

Historically, of course, the exact opposite happened—girls lined up around the block to sleep with chumps like Page and Plant.

But that’s just an extreme example. No modern woman puts up with assholes—much less falls for them—out of a complete inability to stand up for herself.

Right?

Hip Hop

Rap is mostly uncharted territory for me. And barring Flavor Flav’s reality TV spots, the group I know best is one I consider a friend to women (“R-E-S-P-E-C-T/ My sister’s not my enemy”).

Of course, heartwarming lines like that are basically a reaction to the steady stream of ho-bashing hip-hop’s generally known for.

But even though rappers bear the brunt of public indignation over musical misogyny, hip-hop’s feminine slurs usually just leave me bemused. After all, what self-respecting woman would be wooed by sweet nothings like, “Ho you gotta go if you ain’t taking off ya clothes”?

I guess that’s what it comes down to: Gangsta rap isn’t about self-respecting women. “Ho” describes a very specific type of female, one I’d have to shed any number of brain cells, pounds, and possibly teeth to approximate.

So the campaign to take the ho out of hip-hop kind of baffles me. As long as there are women with no sense of pride, there’ll be songs about them. With apologies to Ludacris, maybe a better campaign would be to take the ho out of the hotel.

Punk rock

The girl problems of punk rockers aren’t mine, but it doesn’t really matter. I still get plenty out of songs like “Love You ’Til Friday” and “All Women Are Bad.” (Rest in peace, Lux Interior.)

Negative portrayals of women abound in punk rock, but they tend toward being funny and honest rather than disparaging and objectifying.

And even on the disparaging and objectifying side, there’s usually a steady dose of humor to neutralize any threats.

Here’s an example—lyrics like “Look at me that way, bitch/ Your face is gonna get a punch” look pretty bad on paper. But the way Stiv Bators sings it, it’s almost endearing. Maybe it’s because his voice sounds like a brain-damaged version of your kid brother; maybe it’s because he’s in the same weight class as a Yorkshire terrier.

Having just given that defense, punk’s girl-hating vibes can get kind of depressing.

There’s something Steve Albini said: “The greatest thing about punk rock for me, as an outsider, was that the concept that you had to be allowed in was no longer valid.”

He’s right—even the biggest loser who plays or listens to something worthwhile is invited to punk rock, and that’s the great thing about it.

But there’s another thing Steve Albini said, in his diary for the At Action Park tour: “That sweet Catholic dish I’ve been periodically sliding it to called me. She’s pregnant. Great. Thankfully she’s not putting up any resistance to doing the right thing and killing the little monster. Italian Catholic genes, man. We’re fertile as hell.”

I know better than to take anything Steve Albini says to the general public without a shaker of salt. But given how testosterone-driven the genre is, punk misogyny really makes me wonder whether girls are truly invited to rock ’n’ roll—or if we’re merely tolerated…or if we’re kept around for something else entirely.

So, out of the enormous fraction of popular music written about girls, there’s virtually nothing about the herd mentality. There’s nothing about the unwillingness to be forthright, or the clique-ish tendencies that should have been dead and buried after junior high.

I guess it makes sense. Not only is most rock music written by men, but any decent female artist spends way too much energy scaling the gender barrier to bash girls once they take the stage.

For me, it’s kind of a letdown—you’d think after all these years, we’d have a song to go with every feeling. It’s a petty problem, but it’s one that leaves me in silence: There’s nothing on my misogyny playlist.

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