Two weeks ago, Don Imus achieved national notoriety by calling the women of the Rutgers basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” The comment sent the media into a frenzy, lost Imus his job and opened a much-needed national discussion on freedom of speech versus the responsibility that popular entertainers have to the public.
Next week, Yale will welcome a guest who will sing about “a lazy bitch,” “a pussy” and “a dick fiend,” among others. I imagine that the crowd of male and female students alike will be cheering up a storm.
When I’ve asked friends how they feel about T.I.’s coming to Spring Fling, most of them just roll their eyes. They’d rather see someone whose music they listen to more, or someone with a higher profile. A few people enthusiastically start to sing the chorus to his most popular song, “What You Know.” It’s not hard to see why this might have the makings of a decent Spring Fling. After all, “What You Know” has a catchy beat and makes for decent dancing.
So does “What’s Yo Name,” an early T.I. song about the aforementioned “dick fiend.” The song deals with one of T.I.’s favorite themes: a woman who’s after him for his money and his fame. But T.I. can handle it. After all, he raps, “I break a ho and break ’em till they broke and then I ease ’em out.” And in case there’s any question as to where the power in this relationship is, “just watch me rape her f—ing bank account.”
I am at a loss to understand why, once again, Yale students are being asked to be complicit in the degradation of women for the sake of having a good time. I say once again, because this same thing happened when Ludacris took the stage at last year’s Spring Fling. Ludacris did his reputation justice by singing about screwing chicks, running over bitches and calling up all his hos in their various area codes.
Let’s say, for a moment, that this is all within the limits of reason. After all, music is just art, right? Even when hip-hop stars like Luda and T.I. dispose of women as sex objects who must be put in their place through physical violence, it’s only fiction. At the concert last year, I tuned the lyrics out and danced along like a good Yalie, determined to make the most of the thousands of dollars that the school had put into the event.
Then the music stopped, and Luda began to joke with the crowd. “Now, you can tell me,” he said. “How many of you Yale ladies out there have clean pussies? Raise your hands in the air, ladies, if your pussies are clean!”
In that moment, fiction, in all its brutal, demeaning force, crossed into reality. The contrast that Ludacris and other hip-hop artists draw again and again between good girls and bad girls was no longer relegated to an imagined situation in a song. All Yale women were either virginal saints or dirty whores, and they had better identify themselves as such.
As Luda kept up his goading, the crowd cheered. Female students everywhere threw their hands in the air, apparently thrilled to have received a special shout-out from the stage. Then the DJ started up with the intro to “Area Codes,” and everyone went wild.
Spring Fling is our own personal Mardi Gras. We get to abandon our usual roles as students for a day, and spend an afternoon and an evening drinking, relaxing and partying as if finals week didn’t exist. But acts like Ludacris and T.I. ask us to take this role reversal too far. Students who are conscientious and critical in the classroom happily bop along to homophobia and misogyny when a brand-name artist struts onto Old Campus. Last week, the News quoted Spring Fling co-coordinator Diego Iturbe ’09 as saying of T.I., “We were thrilled when he won two Grammys, so we decided to go for it.” Are we really so swayed by this kind of commercial success that we refuse to think for ourselves about the meaning of the words that T.I. will sing come Tuesday?
Anyone who would argue that this kind of woman-bashing is harmless simply because it’s relegated to Spring Fling should have been on Old Campus on Sunday night. At 8:30, a group of male students came barreling through LC, shouting incomprehensibly. When they burst outside, I could make out their words: “Didn’t you get the memo? Girls, get the hell out of here. This place is for dicks, not chicks!” They came up behind two women sitting on a bench outside Dwight Hall. “Didn’t you get the memo? Move!” Were they members of a team? A society? A frat? Does it matter? I wish I could say that sort of behavior is an exception at Yale, but now, I’m not so sure.
Alexandra Schwartz is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.