I was brought up in a house headed by a matriarch. I learned to be a feminist before I could tie my shoes. I have been surrounded by smart, kind, strong women my entire life. This served me to be confident in myself as a young woman; I am assertive in my conversations, I defend myself, I believe in myself. I am a feminist.
And yet, I walk to class every morning bumping along to Kanye West. I watched the Dave Chappelle special (which was uniquely offensive, even for him). Kanye West is not the only rapper who says “bitch” too regularly. A lot of rap culture belittles women. Dave Chappelle is not the first comedian to joke about rape or undermine transwomen. I used to cringe a little when songs would so explicitly objectify women, but I’ve begun to notice that I don’t flinch at all anymore. I’ve just accepted that this is what men sing about.
And so the debate ensues: Do I belong in a club that practices intersectional feminism if I leave listening to Kanye West? What about R. Kelly? Or Chris Brown? Or Tupac? Can we separate the art from the artist? It gets complicated. Maybe there’s a moral boundary that distinguishes listening to the artist that says “bitch” too much from listening to rapists. But what if your favorite artist gets accused of rape?
By listening to that music, by watching that special, we’re directly supporting people who don’t believe in women. And the conclusion seems obvious: stop giving money to people who are abusing women, belittling women, raping women.
But sometimes the music is good. And sometimes it’s really unique. If we found no separation between art and artist then the allegations against Michael Jackson would have made it nearly impossible to listen to “Who’s Lovin’ You.” So much of our musical canon is composed of problematic individuals. If we ruled out every rap song that objectified women, we would have substantially smaller playlists. But by continuing to listen to artists who have been exposed as sexual assault offenders or even just artists whose songs disempower women, we are perpetuating a culture that not only excuses these demeanors but almost encourages them. Not to mention that streaming the music of an abuser is directly profiting them.
Kanye West is a misogynist. And a musical genius. I am a feminist, but his songs are pretty good. What do I do?
Last semester my playwriting professor recommended reading Diana Son’s Stop Kiss. This play has a non-chronological timeline, something I was trying to achieve in the play I was working on at the time. While I did enjoy the structure of the play, I found the discussions of sexuality, sexual harassment, and misogyny to be more compelling. The play begins with the first meeting of Sara and Callie. Sara drops off her cat at Callie’s while she adjusts to her new life in New York City. This seemingly lighthearted narrative is quickly disturbed by the account of Callie and a detective on the night that Sara is brutally assaulted by a man who saw the two women kiss. This juxtaposition of tender and harsh scenes makes Stop Kiss a must-read. So, consider this article my official invitation for you to read Diana Son’s play Stop Kiss.
As an Asian American woman myself, I was excited to read the work of an Asian American female playwright. What I enjoy about Son’s play is her representation and inclusion of people of color in a narrative about sexuality and self-exploration. She does this in a way that is not forced. Instead, Son normalizes these experiences among people of all colors and backgrounds. Not to mention that in the original cast of Stop Kiss, Sandra Oh, best known for Grey’s Anatomy and Killing Eve, starred as Sara. It’s cool to think that someone as famous and influential as Sandra Oh once performed in theater.
One of the most compelling reasons to read or view this play is its continued relevance even twenty-two years after its original production. It was only five years ago that same-sex marriage was legally recognized in all fifty states, and the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination and institutional oppression. Similarly, the play recognizes the importance of intersectionality. The interlocking oppression that is created by being both a member of the LGBTQ+ community as well as identifying as a woman is highlighted through the relationship of Sara and Callie. Unfortunately, misogyny, homophobia, and expectations of passivity are rampant in the world we live in, even decades after Son originally wrote Stop Kiss.
Stop Kiss challenges sexist and homophobic conduct while acknowledging the reality of consequences that comes with fighting for what you want and believe in. Nonetheless, it is important to portray raw and sometimes traumatic experiences so that we can recognize and discuss these issues rather than looking the other way. Son’s Stop Kiss is more than just a tale of modern romance. It’s an account of how relationships can help us grow as individuals and learn to accept the parts of ourselves that we were once ashamed of.