YOUTH Radio: Feminist Women Love Eminem

by Amy Karp  
“Feminist women love Eminem” is an excerpt from “The Real Slim Shady,” and at first listen, it is easy to take it as a joke and nothing more. Of course feminists can’t like Eminem. But then it hit me. I adore Eminem and like to call myself a feminist. So, as I began to find myself feeling guilty for liking music that degrades women, I wondered, should I? Are feminists overly sensitive to sexist lyrics in music? Where does the music stop being art and start being misogyny? And why do rappers get so much of the heat for being misogynistic?
The phrase makes me question whether or not feminists or women in general can viably be fans of Eminem. Many would have you believe wholeheartedly that the answer is no, but I say, as someone who understands both Eminem songs and the concept of feminism quite well, that the answer is, indeed, yes. My response isn’t out of ignorance, or apathy, but instead out of the way (and I do believe it is the correct way) that I choose to view the problem of omnipresent misogyny in rap music. Okay, so have an open mind about this theory: Eminem, Tyler, the Creator, and other songwriters of all genres who draw their songs from pain or personal experience are artists just as much as people who use a paintbrush to depict gruesome scenes or an actor who plays an abusive role in a movie, and there is a lot we can learn from the topics they rap about.
It’s easy to note the bad stuff about Eminem--there’s a lot of it. Lyrics like “Slut, you think I won't choke no whore / till the vocal cords don't work in her throat no more?” from “Kill You”; “I got 99 problems and the bitch ain't one / She's all 99 of them I need a machine gun / I take ‘em all out I hope you hear this song," from “So Much Better”; and album covers like the one shown below that depicts Eminem and his daughter getting ready to throw Kim, Eminem’s ex-wife into the ocean (like in the song “’97 Bonnie and Clyde”)
make it easy to assume that Eminem is a misogynistic asshole who has built his empire on hating women. But, while he is definitely really messed up in his brain (coma, drugs, mommy issues), his music has a lot more to offer than senseless violence. He is an incredible artist. I’m not saying to overlook the misogyny, only to consider it in a new light.
Not everything in the world (art especially) has to promote women, men, or some other kind of social or political agenda. Music is art and people can take it and interpret it however they choose. You can see the evil woman-hater who won’t stop until his wife’s head is displayed as a trophy on his mantle, or you can participate in the conversation about what it is like to be a part of an abusive relationship or struggle with a drug addiction. Those examples are Eminem specific, but every song a musician creates is a reflection of themselves in some way. To me, Eminem’s songs don’t reveal that he is a menace to society, hell-bent on ruining women’s lives, but rather that he uses music as both a means and an outlet, respectively, to overcome the struggles in his life and to let go every once in a while.
The other side of my argument is that I do not feel that it is the artist’s responsibility to feel bad when someone is offended by their lyrics or interprets them personally. When we start trying to censor everything, there is no end. If we don’t allow speech that is offensive to one group, and then another group, there is a snowball effect--and soon enough no one is able to say anything. I believe in free speech to its fullest extent. It is a choice to hear an Eminem song as much as it is a choice for him to say things that are really controversial. If you don’t agree--fight it all you want, that too is your right, but at the end of the day, it is just free speech, and you don’t have to listen to it.
Certainly not everyone sees it this way though; this is a quote from Teagan and Sara’s Sara Quin about Tyler, the Creator: “As journalists and colleagues defend, excuse and congratulate 'Tyler, the Creator,' I find it impossible not to comment. In any other industry would I be expected to tolerate, overlook, and find deeper meaning in this kid's sickening rhetoric? Why should I care about this music or its 'brilliance' when the message is so repulsive and irresponsible?... The more I think about it, the more I think people don't actually want to go up against this particular bully because he's popular. Who sticks up for women and gay people now? It seems entirely uncool to do so in the indie rock world, and I'll argue that point with ANYONE.” And it is easy to completely understand what she is talking about. She thinks that his lyrics put women back centuries, and that people just ignore some of the nasty things he says about women because everything else he says is so inspiring. But Tyler fans don’t like him in spite of those lyrics, they like everything about him because the message is not irresponsible and repulsive, it is inspiring, life-changing, and all-inclusive. Tyler cares about everyone, including the losers and the outcasts. He refuses to live in a world where everyone is scared to be themselves. Women included. The point Sara missed, is that when Tyler seems overly aggressive or odd he is almost definitely playing a roll. Characters in his songs like Sam or Wolf were created to help him get over the issues he is facing like a bad break up or criticism from the public and discuss the power dynamic between men and women and gender inequality.
Is it the medium of rap itself that makes people so blind to this aspect of the art? Why do we perceive songs to be real indications of reality more so than we do other forms of art? People seem to find it easier to accept this type of discussion in other art forms much more easily. Whether it be racism, a dislike of rappers in general, or a misunderstanding of the art form, the general public seems to take everything rappers say to be the absolute truth about their lives and how they feel when, in reality, it’s abstract and representational of a certain way of thinking that may be their own but isn’t necessarily.
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp put a urinal on a pedestal and called in art. Audiences around the world were horrified and scandalized, but today we view his actions as brave and innovative. Great artists have always pushed boundaries in art, and even impressionism was considered scandalous at a certain point. It is a common theme in art to want to push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable and what is considered to even be art. That is what makes me believe that Eminem and Tyler, the Creator aren’t ignorant or evil, but rather visionary thinkers who want to rile up their audiences in order to get attention and incite a conversation about gender. Perhaps they are pushing us women to stand up for ourselves like Sara and like the way I have learned to do. It is absolutely revolutionary. He wants us to fight our demons and stand up for ourselves to find self acceptance. Hopefully time and retrospect bring us a better understanding of what these artists are doing and the positve effect they have had on society.
Some examples of art pushing boundaries here:
 Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (top), Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q (2nd), Allen Jones' Chair, Hatstand, & table (3rd), and Allen Jones' Stand In (bottom)

The truth of the matter is that as women we are going to face misogyny in this world and being prepared to talk about these issues is completely essential. And if it is Tyler, the Creator, Eminem and other progressive musicians like Run the Jewels or Kendrick Lamar that are causing us to have this conversation right now, it is only a positive thing. I think they would be glad that they took the criticism and the hate and were able to contribute to that battle for gender equality. It is practically a public service to bring the conversation about gender into the spotlight. I think it is time that we start thanking them and stop criticising. Time to understand that when Eminem says, “Shit, half the shit I say, I just make it up, to make you mad so kiss my white naked ass, and if it’s not a rapper that I make it as, I'mma be a fucking rapist in a Jason mask,” it isn’t him saying that he wants to be Jason. He's saying that he is pushing boundaries to get attention and cause controversy so that people listen to what he has to say, and if you don’t understand what he means, he may as well be the epitome of what you have imagined him to be from the beginning: a disgusting, violent, woman-hating rapist.

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