by Cella Schnabel //
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?