Earlier this month, a feminist in Britain’s GQ magazine asked whether it is possible to “be a feminist” and still “listen to hip-hop.” She’s right to be skeptical — some (though certainly not all) rap songs are cesspits of sexism and vulgarity that glorify rape and sexual assault. For a social movement that has become increasingly creative in the sources of oppression it uses to justify its existence, feminism devotes relatively little time to berating the mainstream artists whose songs include such poetic lyrics as “I beat my b**** up in the street” or “I even make the b*****s I rape c**.”
Rap artists, and some of the more profane elements of broader hip-hop culture, have been partially excused from the Victorian standards of feminism’s third wave. It’s not that feminists haven’t decried the sexism in hip-hop — they have, if only in passing — but the plain, unadulterated misogyny in some rap music seems to evade the broader radar of a movement that has spent the better part of a decade screaming about a handful of lines in an obscure, chivalrous Christmas song from 1949.
The intersectional commitments of campus feminism have precluded the movement from taking aim at the excesses of hip-hop culture. The double standard is clear: if Garth Brooks released a single that included even one sentence with as much sexism as any line in a standard DMX track, he would be forever excised from polite society. Everyone, at base, knows this — even those who make inventive excuses for the pathologies in hip-hop music and the excesses of its attendant culture by blaming conservatives for noticing them.
The dictates of their intersectional alliance require feminists to tell a set of paternalistic and bigoted lies — by commission or, more frequently, omission — about the graphic and abusive language in rap music. Feminists, and the intersectional theory that undergirds their ideology, assume that such language is a proxy for broader African-American culture. To apply scrutiny to rap music, by the rules of intersectionality, is to commit the cardinal sin of “punching down,” rendering the excesses of hip-hop culture beyond the reproach of even the most hardened feminist scolds. It nevertheless seems awfully racist to assume that criticizing the fetishization of rape and assault in some corners of hip-hop culture is simultaneously an indictment of all African-Americans.
There are cultural forces that ensure that this line of criticism remains verboten. A column by Stereo Williams in The Daily Beast earlier this year berated critics of hip-hop, with all of the typical “woke” tropes — claims that the desire for “respectability” is racist, the suggestion that blacks who don’t hold neatly to a set of ideological orthodoxies are traitors to their race, and all of the standard invocations of academic portmanteaus like “blackness.”
Mr. Williams adds in the necessary caveats (“Of course, the music isn’t above justified criticisms”), but by the time he adds those qualifiers, it is clear one best not criticize hip-hop for fear of inciting Mr. Williams’ written wrath: “The criticism levied at hip-hop from the right is a pointed indictment of black culture: Black people lost their way and this crude music was the culprit. It’s understandably popular because it feeds into the ‘pick yourselves up’ rhetoric that downplays the oppression of black people while justifying it.”
No one is assigning blame to anyone, at least in this article — is the observation of pervasive sexism in some corners of rap culture a means of downplaying the “oppression of black people”? Does the fact of historic discrimination absolve some members of society from answering earnest questions about the content of their art? It’s little wonder feminists shy away from asking them such questions — the only thing worse than the patriarchy, for the third-wave feminist, is disrupting the intersectional order.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” however, is a much easier target. Never mind that perhaps the most famous rendition of the romantic duet was done by a pair of African-American singers — Ella Fitzgerald’s version is decidedly “respectable,” so, by the logic of Stereo Williams, it isn’t authentically “black”! After all, respectability was once “Bill Cosby’s raison d’être,” in Williams’ words, so respectability as a value must necessarily go the way of Cosby’s reputation.
The song has been embraced as a classic by Americans of all colors, making it a far easier whipping post for the killjoys in the modern feminist movement than the blatantly misogynistic rhetoric in some rap songs. Apparently, the Christmas classic’s presumption that the sexes are complimentary, its glorification of chivalry, and inclusion of a now-dated cultural reference to alcohol are far more heretical to the sacred dogmas of third wave feminism than lyrics explicitly condoning rape or assault.
Prepare for another winter of trite and tired lectures about the evils of a Christmas classic from campus radicals — but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to disavow Eminem or Jay-Z with such force and conviction.