author – activist – faculty – mom
I love soul music and I love hip hop, but I don’t love sexism. Lately, the extreme nature of the misogyny in rap music has many of us longing for the good old days. In today’s era where young men write songs about raping and killing women, it is easy to think that what went before was so much better.
This is not to excuse or minimize the effect of such viciousness being openly expressed toward women in contemporary music. However, the good old days weren’t so great in many ways.
I greet today’s rap music with a vigilant antenna, on the alert for sexist lyrics. But as a young girl, listening to soul music of the 60s and 70s (and 80s) I hadn’t yet developed these filters. I just took it all in: catchy melodies, beautiful male voices and harmonies, tight horn lines. And, sometimes, lyrics of male domination.
I would first notice these when I began singing karaoke. At times, I had misunderstood the words in the original, or had developed some la-la mumble version where I didn’t know what they were saying. At other times, I knew what the words were, but they were stored in a childhood, nostalgic part of my brain. Nothing like looking at the lyrics in black and white on the monitor to realize that some of these songs are straight up misogyny.
Lately, as the mother of a young girl, I am also hypervigilantly tuned in to sexism. Some music that I can tolerate for myself (Al Green), I just had to stop playing in front of my daughter.
So this is my little running tally of sexist lyrics that cross my path or my mind from the not so subtle 60s and 70s soul music vinyl crates.
In the spirit of all that I love about hip hop, I may do responses, (Roxanne Roxanne style), to offending lyrics:
“I spend my money on you–every dime
You even told me you had a good time
The night is through and we’re all alone
You said it’s time that you went home
You’ve been wined and dined in front of me
Just how nice must I be?
I played the tune, you dug the beat
Now come on, girl–be nice to me
If you dance to the music, don’t you know
You’ve got to pay to the piper
Ask your mama!”
-1971 Chairmen of the Board
Don’t you love how “be nice” means “have sex”? Sometimes the past wasn’t actually nicer, it just contained more euphemisms. So unfortunate. Their 1970 hit “Give Me Just a Little More Time” is one of my favorites.
Response: “if you expected to get paid, Piper, why didn’t you state that up front? Instead of passive aggressively acting like you’re generous and then giving me the bill and your entitled attitude. In fact, it makes me so sick that I am vomiting the wine and food up on you right here in the street. I don’t owe you anything. While we’re at it, if you spent every dime on me in your mistaken quest to get me to have sex with you, then you’ve not only been a poor negotiator, but you really need to examine your priorities and perhaps your sex addiction. And finally you really must have lost your mind if you think my mama would be on your side.”
Another repeat offender – Reverend Al Green:
“I don’t want to waste my time,
If you want to be a friend of mine…
You ought to be the kind of girl,
That can brighten this cold world…
You ought to be with me until I die.”
-1972 from the album “Call Me”
Response: I don’t respond to men who tell me “the kind of girl” I “ought” to be. I’m sorry you think friendships with women are a waste of time. I think dating men like you is a waste of my time. I will not be calling you.