Friday, June 19, 2009

Cultural Decay or Same Song, Different Verse?

A week or so ago, I posted an entry entitled "Shake it Like a Salt Shaker." My amused response to the song offended at least one reader and possibly others. I started to respond in the comments section of the original post, but I soon realized this topic deserved its own entry.

Here is the reader comment:

Uh...look up the misogynist lyrics and you won't be "LOL" or wondering about the antecedent to the rather vaugue pronoun. I'm hoping desperately that you are trying to be ironic here. If so, your blog is a work of genius.

And yes, it's a great song. And yes, this is exactly what's wrong with our culture. And yes, I know that you can't start a sentence with "And". But I did, and apparently it's also OK to say disturbing things if the beat is good.

I could point to "your blog is a work of genius," say, "why thank you," and move on, but that response minimizes the reader's concern. Honestly, it minimizes my reaction to the comment.

My intent in the post was to mock the poor use of figurative language in the song. I think the song's writing is silly, vapid, and uninspiring. I was going for laughs. If my tone in the first paragraph of the original post doesn't come across as mocking, then I have failed as a writer, and I take responsibility for that. However, I suspect it was the rest of the post that offended the reader.

Beyond the poor writing, I just can't get too worked up about the lyrics. Are they misogynistic? I didn't look up the complete lyrics because I just don't care that much, but absolutely. What I did catch was misogynistic. No question about it. The man in the song clearly doesn't see the dancer as anything but a sexual object over which to leer. Do I think this is a good attitude to possess? Nope. I am a woman who values her personhood. I know that I am intelligent and strong and have value far beyond my sexuality.

So why am I not fearful for the culture at large? In his/her second comment (not copied), Anonymous implies that I just don't get it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I get it just fine. There are men out there who only see women as sex objects or who see women as inherently weak or who see women as inherently evil. There are men who don't believe women have the right or the capability to take on leadership roles in their churches, schools, businesses, or even in the military. I get that.

But guess what? This isn't a new attitude among some men. And please note, I say some men. The men in my world, the ones I choose to make part of my life, do not have these attitudes. (What's really frightening is that some women have these same attitudes.) Look at history, religion, and literature going back as far as people have had the written word. Misogynist men have always been around. Works of literature...even the great ones...are filled with misogynist references. Shakespeare himself said "Frailty, thy name is woman."

Weak men will always be threatened by strong women. Always. These men will always look for ways to devalue women. "Shake it Like a Salt Shaker" and other songs like it are simply the modern incarnation of that attitude. They are not signs of the apocalypse. At least that's how I see it. You are welcome to see it differently and tell me so. I'll listen respectfully.

The beauty of a free society is that we each have the right to express our opinions, even the misogynist rapper with poor writing skills, but with each right comes a responsibility. We each have the responsibility to be critical consumers of media. I teach that skill to my students and my own children. To illustrate my point, I didn't delete Anonymous' YouTube link. Anything that smells of censorship is offensive to me. By the same token, I didn't click on it. If it truly is that disgusting, why would I want to see it?

I also don't believe every song about sex is misogynistic, but this post is already long, and that's a topic for another day.

I welcome your comments.


  1. Misogyny, like racist comments and sexism, is largely in how you take it.

    Anyone can give offense, but you have to complete the cycle by being stupid and taking the dropped offense.

    Yes, the lyrics aren't complimentary. And you can get your hackles up, raise a stink, and demand an apology. Or you could laugh at the songwriter, tell them they're full of themselves, and move on with your life without welcoming that stress and vexation.

    The thing is, you don't NEED to be offended just because someone else is broadcasting that negativity.

    It's not lowering to my self-esteem to ignore someone who is being sexist. And it's probably better for my health.

    When you run into someone spewing any level of negativity you can make the choice not to internalize it, not to take it in, and not to react. Choosing to accept their skewed beliefs, or to agree with them, or to react to them only gives them power over you. You're letting their attitude dictate yours.

    That's never worthwhile.

    P.S. I thought your post was amusing and ironic. It sounds like Anon. didn't get their daily dose of yoga :o)

  2. Anon here. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I too will need to take some time to reflect on your comments. As an aside: I'm a guy. I'm not offended by the song per se. And I believe in free speech. But I also believe in causality and my sense is that, as a nation, we fail to connect the dots. More later.