This is important.
In class this week, a female student of mine insisted that men are always putting women down, that their expectations are too high and that they criticize the way women look and only value them as objects. While this is a generalization, it can feel very true to women.
But the reverse is also true. As women, we often role our eyes and say things like, "Well, men are like that." Both camps tend to build up a sense of righteous anger towards the opposite sex and this can be dangerous.
A great example of this danger personified, is Eminem.
Since his rise to fame in 1999, he's utilized misogyny to tap into society's stereotyping of and anger at women. And he's done it so successfully that today, he is a very wealthy man. Despite the fact that he is the father of a teen girl, he continues to churn out lyrics that describe the graphic abuse of girls and women. His lyrics have included descriptions of raping a young "fetus" with an umbrella, machine gunning a woman down and explicitly murdering his ex-wife (the mother of his daughter.) Recently, he produced a "song" that made light of the domestic abuse horror that Janae Rice experienced at the hands of her husband while simultaneously attacking a female celebrity (this is a tactic that Eminem is notorious for utilizing).
I’ll punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator surveillance/’Til her head is banging on the railing, then celebrate with the Ravens.
This sells records. And it works a little something like this:
1. Eminem uses a famous woman's name in a song and uses her success to promote his own records because he is insulting someone whose name is well known.
2. He describes a violent act against this woman or calls her names in his song. For example, he called Mariah Carey a "cunt," crooned about Lindsay Lohan's "ass" and insisted Britney Spears "sucks." He then sat back to watch his bank account explode as the ensuing controversy improved sales of his merchandise.
3. He taps into society's anger against women, ties it together with a particular celebrity, makes a video about it and reigns in publicity every time. Then, on his website, he makes sure to include a link to where viewers can buy his music.
4. He stays "relevant" by abusing the most popular or controversial female celebrity of the day. If it's Kim Kardashian, then he will write lyrics calling her "ugly." But he's just as happy to sing that he wants to "rape Iggy Azalea and drag her by his Humvee."
5. Critics have argued that the fact that he is a white, male rap artist has been a major factor in his success over black, male rap artists and that black, male rap artists couldn't get away with the same vitriol. I'm not sure that this is true in general. There are plenty of examples of disturbing misogyny in the lyrics that black, male rap artists produce. However, it may be true that Eminem can get away with his particular tact of targeting white, female celebrities in a way that black, male rap artists cannot.
But the real problem, the real threat that lies in the power of a man like Eminem, is that he successfully desensitizes the pain and suffering of girls and women.
Anti-violence expert and activist Jackson Katz writes:
Rapping and joking about sex crimes have the effect of desensitizing people to the real pain and trauma suffered by victims and their loved ones. The process of desensitization to violence through repeated exposure in the media has been studied for decades. Among the effects: young men who have watched/listened to excessive amounts of fictionalized portrayals of men's violence against women in mainstream media and pornography have been shown to be more callous toward victims, less likely to believe their accounts of victimization, more willing to believe they were "asking for it," and less likely to intervene in instances of "real-life" violence.
This isn't funny. It's serious business.