Can You Be A Feminist And Enjoy Sexist Music?


In August, I got an iPhone. It was primarily because I now have a job for which I need my email to be accessible as often as possible, as well as my poor sense of direction causing me to constantly get lost. One of most random yet significant benefits, however, is that it has allowed me to listen to the radio. I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and, among other stupid neuroticisms, get extremely stressed out if I have to listen to music where I don’t know the words. Due to Shazam being the best app ever (it allows you to identify songs being played using your phone), I have been able to discover lots of new artists and songs that I would not have otherwise. However, I have also found that I enjoy a lot of artists whose lyrics and lives I find somewhat deplorable. I genuinely enjoy some sexist music, and I’m having a hard time trying to reconcile that.

Via the wonderful world of Shazam, I realized I liked a Justin Bieber song. Actually, this wasn’t sexist or conflicting so much as a little “?!” on my part, but I very quickly accepted it because who cares, right? I also realized I have a huge soft spot for Ke$ha; while I think she is just so bizarre and sometimes her voice makes my stomach feel strange, I admittedly played, “Die Young” on New Year’s Eve like seven times because it’s goddamn catchy. But then…then I realized I liked several Chris Brown songs. And that, for lack of a better expression, confused the shit out of me.

First off, I absolutely consider myself a feminist. I don’t think there needs to be a cool, new, fresh way of calling myself that, nor do I think that we’ve somehow moved past the need for it. The first tattoo I ever got with a feminist symbol because I knew it was an ideal I would not and could not (barring any brain transplant or some sort of serious disassociative disorder) outgrow and leave behind. I want for people of all genders to be treated and seen as equals. Insert peace signs and tie-dye shirts.

So how is it that somebody who identifies as a feminist can enjoy music written by a known woman abuser, misogynist and overall childish douchebag? I have no idea.

For a while, I thought it was because I have always loved dancing and while doing so, it’s rare that you wind up listening to lyrics word-for-word and keeping track of their societal value. Then, of course, I had to ruin this by paying attention to the actual words of some of the songs I was regularly out dancing to. For example, Brown’s “Look At Me Now,” which my old roommates and I used to listen to on repeat regularly:

Better cuff your chick if you with her, I can get her
And she accidentally slip and fall on my dick
Oops, I said on my dick
I ain’t really mean to say on my dick
But since we talking about my dick
All of you haters say hi to it, I’m done.

He’s no William Carlos Williams. I know. There are no tasty plums. Just dicks. SO MANY DICKS. But I know all those words, and that is confusing, and I feel like an asshole because of it.

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    • CMJ

      I’m a total feminist but I also love some very shitty pop music (much to my music snob husband’s chagrin). With a little luck and some pretty strong determination, I have managed to steer clear of Chris Brown (to me, he is the WORST). I think sexist music is one thing but horrible people who write sexist music? I cannot get behind. So, for me, it’s less about the actual music and more about the person behind the music.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        That’s what’s so frustrating to me; I seriously cannot stand him as a person. I’ve written about how much I dislike him numerous times. Even though he is only a portion of the music he creates (as well as the producers and other contributors), I still can’t stand that I like some of his songs. While I would never buy a ticket to one of his shows or pick up some merch, I still feel bizarre even being entertained. Guh.

      • CMJ

        As much as he’s a horrible person – he is still super talented. His music is catchy and poppy. Which makes it even more of a waste because nothing is better than poppy, catchy hip-hop.

      • Winston Blake

        You people listen to crap.

      • Cori

        Musical taste is subjective, there are people out there who think the music you listen to is crap. It’s always a jerk move to trash someone else’s prefered music, especially repeatedly. People like what they like and it’s silly & snobbish to pretend to be superior about it.

      • Winston Blake

        Yes, musical taste is subjective, Springsteen is a boring old geezer…

      • Winston Blake
    • Nikola

      This is an interesting conundrum, one which I have had myself a few times. Personally, even if I like the music (or other form of artistic expression) I don’t want to do anything that supports or shows support of people who are incredibly immoral and promote lifestyles that hurt people.

    • Ikea

      Maybe you just like the music for the music? That’s the way I am, at least. I just think of the vocals as another instrument. I never really pay any attention to lyrical content. Liking Chris Brown is like enjoying death metal or something. The lyrics are a joke. As for not supporting the artist, I guess the Internet takes care of that.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        “Liking Chris Brown is like enjoying death metal.” I like this. I like this quote a lot.

    • L. McGillicuddy

      I have struggled with this same conundrum over the years! I did stop listening to Dr. Dre and other similar types of artists who portray women as “bitches” and “hos”. I just got to the point where I was not okay with singing along to misogynistic messages. Now that I have a daughter I have begun asking my husband to pay attention to the songs he is listening to, especially around her. I do feel like he and I have a ‘moral’ obligation to surround her with body positive and female empowering music and whatnot. Also, I would have a hard time explaining why he or I sing along with these songs, yet disagree with people who have anti-feminist beliefs. I personally would feel like a hypocrite.

      As far as Chris Brown, luckily I have never really listened to him. But if I had and then found out what a violent dirt-bag he is, I probably would stop listening to him — even if his music was not misogynistic. Just like I now will not watch Mel Gibson movies. Even watching him in something from a decade or more ago is tough because I cannot separate what I know of him from the character he is supposed to be portraying. But that is just me. I think and analyze probably a bit too much. ;-)

      • Samantha_Escobar

        I think that when I have kids, I’ll definitely pay a lot closer attention to what’s being played around me. :) When it comes to myself, I know I won’t be negatively affected by those words because my stance on myself is pretty firmly planted at this point; as for children, they’re growing and developing that self image, so I can definitely understand wanting to keep them away from songs wherein people are objectified.

      • Winston Blake

        If you don’t know the first thing about who you are, you will never know about anyone else…

    • Fabel

      I love music like this, & I’m a feminist, but I have to admit that any guilt I might feel is really just an a brief acknowledgment that “hmm, this is inconsistent of me, I guess.”

    • Ashley Cardiff

      Sidenote: I’ve had much better luck with SoundHound.

    • APS

      It depends on what you like about it… the same way some of us “feminists” like erotic novels… if we stopped using labels to describe ourselves, it may give us more freedom to just be human.

      • L. McGillicuddy

        I totally agree. The goal of feminism, as I perceive it, is for all of us to be who we are and to not have to fit into any kind of mold. Humans are complex beings and full of inconsistencies and ambiguities. Lord knows I am.

      • Winston Blake

        All men are born of a woman.

      • APS
      • Winston Blake

        Monogamy is for religious idiots.

        The greatest knot upon the liberty of all European people is the praeterpolitical power of the churches to institute monogamy as an ecclesiastic rule of law, thereby enabling them to determine the legitimacy of the succession of the pagan kings, abrogate the natural rights to property and self-defense, as well as power of ecclesiastic censure for divorce.

        The government of men’s external actions by religion, pretending the change of nature in their consecrations cannot be esteemed a work extraordinary, it is no other than a conjuration or incantation, whereby they would have men to believe an alteration of nature that is contrary to the testimony of sight and of all the rest of the senses…

        The idea “thou shalt marry and be given in marriage” is corrupt and degenerate, which is an impossible immortality of a kind (i.e., eternal love), but not of the persons of men.

        Ecclesiastics would have men believe they will receive condign punishment for their contumacy of monogamy, as opposed to the freedom of the polygamy found in nature, which is inherently pagan.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        This is true. I also watch a lot of porn and sometimes like erotic literature. I’m totally fine with the label feminist, but I think I internalize a lot of expectations that go with that, though those have gradually subsided as I’ve gotten older. This one just seems to have stuck a bit firmer.

      • Winston Blake
      • Winston Blake
    • RM

      This would be an interesting topic for an in-depth discussion. I don’t really feel like you answered your own question, though, except at the end to say, “I dunno, I guess so.” That’s lazy writing.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        I wanted to start a discussion; I don’t want to claim to be an authority on feminism except for my own, and I am still indecisive about that. But you’re entitled to your opinion, of course! =)

    • Sabrina

      I go back and forth about this all the time! Like, every other weekend all the time. In the end, I think that I enjoy the Lil Wayne type hip hop (meaning very sexist and full of shit) when I go out dancing because it’s fun to dance to and everyone seems to enjoy it. But then I also listen to hip hop and other genres that aren’t sexist and full of shit and I feel balanced again. Just don’t take it seriously and don’t be sexist, I think that’s the only right answer.

    • Holden

      Okay, something here just floored me. Did you seriously lump The Manic Street Preachers with Chris Brown? Did I misread the tone or irony or something? Though not without fault, the Manics have probably been one of the most feminist-friendly bands ever, who spent the majority of their career writing songs dealing with prostiution, anorexia, gender roles and the subjugation of women while the rest of Britain was singing about Champagne Supernovas and Beetlebums.

      Furthermore, the cover art you referred to was by Jenny Saville, herself a self-described feminist and women’s rights advocate whose work frequently dealt with taboo subject matter and often featured obese, transgendered, even abused women (ie: the JFPL cover.) They also used one of her paintings for the Holy Bible album, which she gave to them to use free of charge (I think the only instance of her art being licensed in some commercial fashion) after speaking with the guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards (the dude who vanished) after he sat down and explained every song on the album.

      Not to seem oversensitive, but I think there’s a world of difference between “Your beauty and viginity used like toys / your lack of ego offends male mentality / dress your life in loathing with Barbie Doll futility” and “Hey little mama all that ass in them pants / Drop it like you’re single even though you got a man” which, like, doesnt even ryhme for starters.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        No, not exactly. I love Manic Street Preachers, but I also wanted to use an artist in this that wasn’t merely rap or hip hop — which are typically what people think of when they imagine sexism — and include one that many people have interpreted an aspect of as including something sexist or misogynistic. Don’t worry, I know MSP aren’t actually sexist nor promote sexism, I probably should’ve clarified that particular artist’s inclusion. There was quite a bit of critics who felt conflicted regarding that album cover, including the teacher of a feminism class I took once, and it popped up in my head as I wrote this.

      • MM

        Yeah, you should’ve clarified, because I had never heard of them before, and if it weren’t for Holden’s comment above, I would’ve lumped them in with the others. I looked at the picture of that album cover and was just like “Holy Shit.” so it’s good to put that in context for people who are unfamiliar.

      • Winston Blake
    • Alec Barbour

      It’s not just pop music either. Wagner was a virulent anti-Semite, and his views directly contributed to the Nazi platform, but I still love “Ride of the Valkyries.” Or at least “What’s Opera Doc.”

    • Jay

      I love that you have written about this subject, I have always enjoyed hip hop, sometimes don’t give a sh*t about the negative lyrics, sometimes I feel really frustrated and disheartened. BUT… I ultimately think that we enjoy some songs because we love the lyrics and some because we love the music and you shouldn’t feel bad about enjoying something if it’s not hurting anyone. Oh and as for the person being a bad person I don’t think that matters at all, especially if like most people you download all your music anyway! I love R Kelly’s music, I wouldn’t date him I wouldn’t be his friend but hey that was never gonna be an issue for me so who cares!!!

      • Jay

        also i don’t find the Chris Brown lyrics you quoted particularly offensive, he’s just warning some anonymous guy that if he’s not careful his girlfriend will f*ck him. Even though clearly no woman in their right mind should be anywhere near CB and his dick…

    • Luiza Stelitano


    • Serena Johnson

      I’m mainly into hard rock and heavy metal – and, yeah, a lot of the music isn’t exactly women-friendly. The Foo Fighters are probably one of the most women-friendly hard rock bands, although some of the members are problematic in other ways. There’s also the attitude, though, that hard rock and heavy metal is for men – while women should listen to softer music. So, for me, I see listening to hard rock and heavy metal as being a feminist act – since I’m, in a way, rebelling against the gender role that I should like softer music. And, as someone else here already mentioned, I basically see the vocals as being another instrument. I’m not one to really pay attention to lyrics.

    • cheeeseburgers

      A year later… thanks for this! I’m struggling because I also enjoy Chris Brown (particularly his newest song “Loyal,” which is awesomely misogynistic). I am trying to commit to the idea that the art can be separated from the artist. It’s hard to defend, but I will also settle for admitting my hypocrisy.