Letters to the Editor

Letter: Spring Weekend performers trivialize women

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To the Editor:

On Saturday afternoon, Kendrick Lamar stood on the Main Green and sang that he can get past any emotional challenge so long as he has access to expensive alcohol and female sexual partners, while hundreds of Brown students sang along in approval. The night before, Big Freedia impressed the cheering crowd with endless references to female genitalia, alcohol and physical abuse. Meanwhile, two female dancers kept their backs to the audience so that only their “booties” were visible for most of the act. These were just a few examples of the many times the performances at this year’s Spring Weekend advanced the notion that women are primarily valuable as sexual objects. Though music like this is rightfully guarded by First Amendment protections, we question its role on Brown’s campus in the prime communal social event of the year. Normally, we have the choice to shut off the radio or step away from a concert if we find misogynistic lyrics offensive. But what’s particularly troubling about this situation is that our Student Activities Fund — money all undergraduate students are expected to pay alongside tuition bills — helped to subsidize these lyrics, and each one of us was obliged to financially support music that dehumanized and devalued the women around us. In October 2012, the Undergraduate Finance Board released its budget predictions for this year, noting that it would spend $180,000, on Spring Weekend. It seems to us that our Student Activities Fund could be better spent on musical acts or other social events that don’t minimize women or perpetuate a culture that dismisses their contributions as anything besides vehicles for sexual pleasure. Next year, we encourage our student body to think more critically about the type of messages we’d like to broadcast during the only event of the year that brings together so much of our campus and about the ways we spend our community’s money. We’d like to think we could expect more.

Sarah Forman ’13, Chelsea Feuchs ’14 and Nasim Azigolshani ’14

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  1. This is spot on.

  2. How about a female headliner?

  3. YES. THIS.

  4. It would be nice to get a female headliner lead for a change, not to say freedia isnt a woman but that she wasnt a headliner.

  5. Guy Tabachnick '13 says:

    While I completely agree with the thrust of this letter, you guys are somewhat misreading Big Freedia. From a Times piece on her and other sissy bounce artists ( “There’s like a safe-space thing happening,” Fensterstock says. “When Freedia or Nobby’s singing superaggressive, sexual lyrics about bad boyfriends or whatever, there’s something about being able to be the ‘I’ in the sentence. That’s not to say that women can’t like the more misogynistic music too. I like it — some of it’s good music. But it’s tough to sing along about bitches and hos when you’re a girl. When you identify with Freedia, you’re the agent of all this aggressive sexuality instead of its object.”

    Of course, Spring Weekend is not a New Orleans dance hall; this definitely didn’t happen: “The crowd — just about evenly divided between men and women — instantly segregated itself: the men were propelled as if by a centrifuge toward the room’s perimeters, and the dance floor, a platform raised just a step off the ground, was taken over entirely by women surrounding Freedia.”

  6. I’m not in any way an expert on bounce music and the surrounding culture, but from what I’ve read and from what I’ve heard from other students who are more familiar with it, Big Freedia’s music and performance is not intended to trivialize women, but rather to empower them. Whether or not it does so successfully is an important discussion to have, but to make a blanket assertion that it does not feels a bit rash.

    Here is some further relevant reading:

    A quote from Big Freedia from this article: “It’s about being able to express yourself and be who you are. It’s not about anything sexual or degrading women. It’s about letting women feel empowered as well as letting men dance and be free.”

    A quote from the NYT piece: “There’s like a safe-space thing happening,” Fensterstock says. “When Freedia or Nobby’s singing superaggressive, sexual lyrics about bad boyfriends or whatever, there’s something about being able to be the ‘I’ in the sentence. That’s not to say that women can’t like the more misogynistic music too. I like it — some of it’s good music. But it’s tough to sing along about bitches and hos when you’re a girl. When you identify with Freedia, you’re the agent of all this aggressive sexuality instead of its object.”

  7. I loved the concerts but a female headliner would have been so great to see!

  8. it would be nice to get some good musicians for a change too.

    You know people who actually make music for a living and don’t just wear crazy clothes and shake their ass at you for 40 minutes for $15 dollars.

  9. buy a refreshing mountain dew says:

    It’s unfortunate that the letter writer is too obtuse to recognize that kendrick lamar’s music is principally concerned with condemning the objectification of women and the hedonistic nihilism that marks so many members of our generation. As someone who cares a lot about how stigmatized groups are portrayed in the media, I am enormously embarrassed people could fundamentally misinterpret art to such an absurd degree. Although paling in comparison to Huck Finn when it comes to artisitic merit, this situation is not unlike the word “nigger” being whitewashed from Mark Twain’s work a few years ago when the entire point of its usage was to draw attention to and condemn how the remnants of racism fuels the social acceptance of discriminatory language. Get a grip people.

    • I understand that much of Kendrick’s music wishes to
      problematize gender issues within the hip hop community and in a larger sense,
      within underserved communities of color. However, he is still a big rap star
      who, to some extent, has to worry about making hits. His participation in songs
      such as “Fucking Problems,” which he performed during Spring Weekend, is
      unfortunately counterproductive to his goal of portraying a complex gender
      ideology in his music.

      As the song goes: “I love bad bitches that a fucking
      problem/ and yeah I like to fuck, I got a fucking problem.” These lyrics are
      un-ironic and are meant to be read straightforwardly. Again, even though much
      of “good kid” features nuanced expressions of gendered relations, we should
      understand and listen when people tell us when they’re offended by lyrics such
      as the above. It is a person’s right to be offended by the term “bad bitch.” It
      is also their right to be offended at the Brown community for uniformly
      accepting such lyrics without challenging those terms. As big of a rap fan as I
      am, I can understand when anyone is troubled the overuse of terms like “bitch”
      and hypersexualized imagery.

      • buy a refreshing mountain dew says:

        The one caveat to my comment would have been his choice to perform “Fucking Problems” which is problematic for reasons you mentioned and was chosen by Kendrick undoubtedly due to its popularity, as you mentioned. I also think it’s important to distinguish between the nuanced social commentary of Lamar’s work and the incredibly gross response by the crowd, members of whom seemed to lack any semblance of self-awareness as to the messages of the songs they were so raucously cheering.

        If anything, this letter to the editor fails to identify the real problematic elements of spring weekend: students who publicly celebrated the very vices kendrick raps against and perpetuated the casual sexism endemic to rap he’s criticizing.

        Please buy a refreshing mountain dew.

        • swimming pools says:

          I don’t think you can condemn students for dancing and partying while the SW headliner performed. Despite his lyrics, Kendrick’s beats are musically good, and spring weekend is a time to celebrate and let loose and shake off a lot of the semester’s stresses. Combined with the fact that many students were under the influence at the concerts, I don’t feel that it’s very productive to scrutinize them. Perhaps in the future we can choose acts who better reflect our ideals, but in the meantime if the concerts musically tight you can bet I’ll be dancing my ass off that weekend. drank.

  10. As a man, if I could do that with my ass, you bet yours I would have been on that stage. You’re missing the point, Freedia isn’t trivializing women, she’s celebrating them.

    • Fuzzy Dunlop says:

      It’s absolutely the case that Freedia’s music is supposed to empower women, and men, and all people. Did anyone read the BDH interview? Asked about gender expectations in her shows, she said she just wants everyone to have a good time and party. Her concerts are supposed to be a safe space for sexuality, not subvert it.

      Furthermore, Kendrick celebrates women (and condemns excessive alcohol usage). The lack of familiarity of the writers of this article with any of his music performed on the stage this weekend is astounding. Of course I expected such an article as a knee-jerk reaction because we’re at Brown University and cisgender and heteronormativity and empowered sexuality and rainbows, but I would’ve hoped the writers of this article would be able to examine the music and its lyrics in context. Of course I’m disappointed.

      By the way, no one condemns Deerhunter lead singer (or was it Dirty Projectors? I can’t remember), who made some comment in between songs about his bandmates being single and wanting to have sex with all the college girls. I think he called it “fresh pink.” That statement objectified women more than any other performer, but of course the writers are quick to point fingers at the two black rappers. I assume this is because black urban music has had an associated cultural history of subjugating women, and it’s incredibly easy to lump all black rappers into such a category, even if they don’t fit into it. What lazy reporting, BDH.

      What a stupid article.

      • Penthouse and Playboy also “celebrate women” by this logic.

      • I agree with your comment. I don’t think the writers of this letter quite understood these performers in context (though one could argue whether those singing “Drank!” understood this context, either).

        One clarification: the Dirty Projectors lead singer (who himself has identified alternatively as gay/asexual) actually identified his drummer as being gay and liking “twinks” “young and pink.” So if anything, this was an objectification of men…

      • To clarify, this is a letter to The Herald. The Herald did not “report” this. Otherwise, your comment is spot on–though I don’t remember the Deer Hunter singer being that explicit.

      • queenofzeegeeks says:

        It’s the job of writers to do their own research, and that’s the failing of this article. That being said, before I did my research I also misinterpreted Kendrick Lamar’s music… at the concert, I felt extremely uncomfortable when the phrase “pussy and patron” was repeated over and over because I just don’t like the concept of the amorphous resource of “pussy”. But I guess that’s what he was trying to critique.

        I was bothered by Deerhunter’s lead’s comment as well, referring to the drummer. I am surprised that wasn’t mentioned.

        Oh, and the Dirty Projectors would never say something so misogynistic. They just compliment our campus for its blossoming trees. (I totally agreed with that statement too haha)

  11. Dillon O'Carroll says:

    Cause d’jour. People at Brown get offended for any ole reason. Especially after gross misreading of lyrics and performances. They use to bulldoze Pac’s albums in the streets to make a point, but they only fueled the point of his music. These poor women are misled, of all the people and musicians to be upset with, they choose the ones who actually are progressive in their genre. Thanks Brown students for being so damned sensitive all the time. We need to get over ourselves.

  12. For a letter about equality and trivialization, the thoughts therein are incredibly white, unfortunately misinformed, and unnecessarily dangerous.

  13. Simple solution- stop booking rappers.Every.Year.

    • Oh yeah like misogyny is only in rap and somehow absent in other forms of music. -_-

      • Can you name me another music genre where misogyny is as prevalent?

        My point was we’ve seen identical or similar letters to the editor every post-SWE for the last 4-5 years. There’s a common denominator.

    • Oh, please says:

      Simple solutions, don’t go to the concerts if you don’t like the music. Do I complain when I have to sit through some random, obscure band performing/shouting off my ear? No, I accept that that is something that many people here would like to enjoy and I get over it.

  14. Getting a female headliner would certainly be great, but I feel like BCA has done a good job of late balancing their budget with student demands. I think the desire for rap performers and DJs, presumably from members of both genders in the student body and expressed through the UCS surveys, has led to the BCA getting headliners from predominantly male-dominated genres of music (I doubt Nicki Minaj or Kreayshawn would settle this displeasure any better).

    That said, I agree with the comments stressing further reading on bounce music as a genre — it’s much more than simply ass shaking. Also, I’d like to add that this letter leaves out the fact that Dirty Projectors, one of the consensus best acts of the weekend, has two female band members, one of whom (Amber Coffman) delivered a solo that was the highlight of the set.

  15. I dont care if Big Freedia identifies as a man or a woman, or whatever else was going on behind the scenes of that ridiculous performance – I’m just pissed that his/her music sucked and I had to listen to an hour of him/her screaming “pussy pussy pussy pussy pussy” and “ass ass ass ass” over and over to incredibly obnoxious beats. Completely ruined my night.

    I really hope Big Freedia wasn’t hired specifically because of his/her LGBT associations, because someone should have listened to the music first before putting such a travesty on stage.

    • And Deerhunter blasting off my ear was the highlight of my day on Saturday -_- I am sure people did listen to her music; many of us actually enjoy the music, thank you. That is your opinion, please do not speak for all of those at this university.

  16. Leah Douglas says:

    Music has context. Musicians are artists. Spend some time understanding and appreciating the work before critique. You can’t boil down an artist’s whole work to one line, one song, one concert.

    Big Freedia empowers me to celebrate my body, to reclaim words like ‘pussy’ and ‘ass’ that have been violated by true misogyny, and not to be afraid to take up too much space with my dancing. For me, her music is a revolution against how women are told they “should” behave. Kendrick is sharing his commentary of a difficult life in a difficult place. Don’t you think there’s a reason he chooses his words? Don’t you think there’s a logic there, a message? I can’t relate to his experiences, but I want to learn from them.

    Like any art form, good music challenges us to think beyond our immediate experiences and look into someone else’s world. I can’t agree with all of either artist’s lyrics, but both are representing their lives and contexts. And if in the process of spreading a complex and sophisticated message they lose some listeners along the way, that’s the risk they take. At the very least we should give them the benefit of the doubt that their message is a little smarter than “women are primarily valuable as sexual objects.”

    • God Forsaken says:

      Why should one want to “reclaim” such useless words? And, anyway, one never had them to begin with. One can empower oneself, and do it without shouting pointless vulgarities. Whatever happened to introspection and self-reflection? Look inward, not outward.

  17. TheRationale says:

    The people defending these acts have got to be joking. You can slap whatever pseudo-intellectual veneer over it you please, but it doesn’t change the fact that these are crude, lowbrow lyrics that can’t go more than a few lines without “nigga,” “fuck,” or “bitch,” or that these are females who are shaking their asses in the air for sex appeal. Do you think anyone was thinking about “female empowerment” during that? Please. Hillary Clinton empowers women. Aretha Franklin empowers women. Hugh Hefner does not. Can we see anything in them aside from their bodies? I can. Oh, and forget the lyrics. We had Bob Dylan here in ’64 and ’97 and U2 in ’84, so you can all screw off. I won’t even get started on the money. These spring weekend concerts suck – I just leave campus.

    • Many people do not feel comfortable, let alone empowered, in their bodies. Many people criticize certain or all aspects of their bodies, from weight to acne: some every day. Many people succumb to the chatter of fat-shaming, viewing their bodies or specific facets of it as somehow incomplete, imperfect, unappreciable, or ugly. I don’t know; dance has been incredibly empowering for me, which can allow women and men to control their dancing, to sexualize themselves only as they decide, and to an extent be empowered. There’s nothing “wrong” or “lesser” about men and women expressing themselves through dances that can easily be sexualized, just because it involves sex, sexuality, desire, and appearances. Big Freedia asked both men and women to join the stage, and many men and women danced fantastically well. I think this article needs to maintain a more sex-positive stance on these artists and better inform itself with a quick perusal of the histories of bounce music, for Freedia, and rap music and life in Compton, for Kendrick, before making such swift assertions. I understand that the writers may themselves be uncomfortable with the alleged misogyny of both artists’ lyrical content and the dancers, but a more nuanced view is necessary.

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