(because Blogger does't make it clear until the bottom, this was written by NBH)
On a recent trip "down South" I found myself, to absolutely nobody's surprise, in a bar. In an other unsurprising twist the men gathered at the bar early on while the ladies crammed the dance floor.
The music was good, late 90s/ early 00s dance and R&B but I found myself thinking about the language in music when Jay-Z's 99 problems came on. Don't get me wrong, it's a nailer of a track and I definitely wouldn't expect the women present to leave the dancefloor in protest but I did raise an eyebrow watching twenty or thirty twenty to thirty year old women chanting they had "ninety-nine problems but a bitch ain't one".
It would be easy to criticise the language used by rappers, probably too easy. It can often be sexist and demeaning. But for me, worse than the fact that Jay-Z apparently thinks it's acceptable to characterise women as bitches, is the fact that women think it's O.K. for men to talk about them that way. In fact, it's not just acceptable, it's repeatable.
I find it hard to picture men allowing themselves to be stereotyped in such a way. I've got 99 problems but an arsehole isn't one? I've got 99 problems but a macho-man shit with a small prick isn't one? I don't think it would A) be published or B) be accepted by men.
The language men often use about women is problematic. Does a young man thinking it's acceptable to call all women bitches make that young man more likely to rape or otherwise harm women? I'm not sure. Does a young man thinking it's acceptable to call all women bitches lead that young man to objectify women? Certainly and that can certainly lead to far more serious problems.
As an English and journalism major, it's probably not surprising that I believe strongly in the power of words. I try to use words to make people feel good about themselves and others, to quell violence and to avoid sexism, sectarianism and racism but words can hurt; they can incite violence and instigate all of the things that are terrible about society. When people choose to use hurtful, demeaning words you should be free to tell them they are just that, whether it's some arsehole in a bar or whether it's a multi-platinum selling musical genius. If you choose to ignore, or worse condone, this language, then you can't be surprised when they use it again, or when someone else uses the same language, or when the language incites behaviour in them that causes negative action.
So I while I wasn't surprised that people out to have a good night didn't leave the dance floor, I would have preferred they hadn't chosen to join in. I know I didn't.
Objecting to negative language, whether about yourself or others, whether sexist or racist, isn't about being a killjoy or being militant about political correctness, it's about pride and self worth. The language you choose to use about yourself defines you and the way others see you. Don't sell yourself short.