Songs that Suck: “Steal My Girl”

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This is part one of what will be a multi-part series.  One Direction is on the chopping block today!

Being the “old at heart” curmudgeon I am, I still listen to the radio.  No, I don’t mean the “I ❤ Radio” application you can download, I mean I literal tune-in to a station during my morning and evening commute to/from work 5 days a week.  I know it’s a matter of time before it’s all app-based or satellite radio, but for now I still enjoy the weird feeling of community interaction I get from listening to the radio (even though there are very few disc jockeys I don’t loathe; sorry guys, literally NONE of you are half as funny as you think you are).  Plus, aside from recommendations from friends or Spotify, listening to the radio is how I find new music.

It’s also an exercise in masochism, though, since most new music on the radio is outright terrible, painfully formulaic, or is still pushing sexist/racist/homophobic stereotypes.  For someone who thinks lyrics should be thoughtful and well-written, rather than catchy and in no way grammatical correct, pop music has little to offer.

But, for all my complaining, I still listen.  Because once in a while you hear a great song, and it makes all the ear-bleeding worth it.

Of course, this entry is about a song that really sucks: “Steal my Girl” by One Direction.

In and of itself, I find One Direction to be rather mundane.  All their songs sound the same to me, and not a one contains any sort of powerful or poignant message.  That is, they are the spirit animal of Pop Music: Formulaic, mediocre, and very catchy.   Generally, if a song of theirs comes on the radio, I do not have a strong reaction to it either way (“Ugh, this is awful, change the station!” or “Oh, I love this song, turn it up!”).  It’s just… “meh” until something more interesting comes on.  That is, until I heard “Steal my Girl.”

This song is pretty much the pinnacle of sexist drivel.  The music itself is catchy (and that’s part of the problem) but the lyrics will make you cringe.  The chorus goes:

Everybody wanna steal my girl
Everybody wanna take her heart away
Couple billion in the whole wide world
Find another one ’cause she belongs to me

You can look up the rest of the lyrics, but this is the meat of the song.  Dude has a girlfriend.  Girlfriend is presumably attractive.  Everybody else wants her.  Wow, insightful stuff.

The lyrics are obviously sexist because they completely objectify women– according to the singer, his girl isn’t his partner in life, she’s his possession.  She belongs to him.  She doesn’t have a will of her own, that is, there’s no worry of the girl choosing to leave the guy, the only danger is that she might be “stolen” from him. Gross.

Listen, this concept as been around for a long time when it comes to love, and I think it’s got to stop.  It’s an extremely damaging concept to ALL genders: we are human beings, we are not objects.  We do not “belong” to each other, we choose to be WITH each other.  Why is this idea of being possessed by another human being romanticized? It’s not romantic,  it’s abusive.  Trust me, I’ve been an abusive situation or two in my time.

It’s one thing to say your heart belongs to someone, that’s another way of saying you love someone, but the idea that the entire person is stripped of their autonomy in a relationship and literally belongs to the other person is disturbing, not cute.  It smacks a lot of “traditional marriages” where women were considered the property of either their fathers or their husbands.  Nowadays, the attitude expresses itself in different ways– like your partner insisting you’re not allowed to have friends of the opposite sex (if you’re heterosexual).  That’s some manipulative bullshit!

Folks, it’s 2014.  Women, you are not the property of men and likewise, Men, you are not the property of women!  We’re all human  beings and we all belong to ourselves.  Besides, I think the idea of my partner choosing to be with me, every single day, is much more romantic than that of my partner “belonging” to me, as though she were a prisoner (prisoner of love!).  Really, now.

Anyhow, back to One Direction.  Notice how this girl doesn’t even have a name?  She doesn’t have an identity to speak of except for her relationship to her boyfriend.  She’s his girl, his queen, his dream– basically, her existence is defined as being his girl.  When the boyfriend isn’t there, she just sits down in a chair, plugs herself into int he nearest outlet and recharges her “sexy meter” for when he returns.

Just kidding.  Except, that’s kind of the message.  It’s along the same lines as saying “think of your mother/sister/daughter/aunt/other female loved one” when trying to get someone to stop being a sexist douche.  Women are frequently defined by their relationship to the men around them, and it’s really gotten old.  We’re whole people, dudes, even without you around to validate our existence, call us sluts, solicit us for sex, etc.  We have dreams and desires that have nothing to do with servicing your penis.

Let’s look at one of the verses in this song:

Kisses like cream,
Her walk is so mean
And every jaw drop
When she’s in those jeans,
Alright (alright)

This is the most information we get about the girl in the song.  Again, she has no name, no job, no personality… but we know that she’s attractive and sexually appealing to the boyfriend.  She has nice lips, she looks hot in a pair of tight jeans– I mean, what else could you possibly need to know about this girl? Who cares if she’s intelligent, if she’s contributing to society, if she has aspirations– she’s hot! And really, if you’re a woman, what else matters?

God that message is so stale.  I’ve heard it literally every day of my life for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes it’s subtle, like when I hear a song on the radio singing about a nameless sexy girl who belongs to a dude, and sometimes it’s blatant, like when someone yells “Nice tits!” or “DYKE!” on the street.  The message is all the same: You are your genitalia.  You exist only to gratify (men) sexually, or you’re worthless.  In advertising, in academia, in music and art, in business, we are constantly reminded that men (and therefore the world) views us as sexual objects and little else.

Is this song an egregious assault on women’s rights? Absolutely not.  It’s just sexist; lazy and casual sexism at that.  But I guess that’s why it struck me as so potentially damaging– because it IS casual.  Because I’m sure One Direction does not think there’s anything sexist about this song.  Because the young girls listening to it will like the catchy tune and not think critically about the lyrics that accompany it.  It’s easy to let casual sexism slide, because it is casual and seems nonthreatening on a large scale, but that’s why sexist attitudes are so pervasive.  Because we do let this stuff slide, we say “it’s not that bad” without considering that 100 “not that bad”s a day equals “Actually, that’s pretty bad.”

All in all, I give “Steal My Girl” a D-.  The lyrics are terrible and sexist, the song is uninspired, but the tune is pretty catchy.

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Sexism in Translation

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As a gamer who also happens to be a woman, I pay attention to other women gamers.  Even if you’re not a self-identified “gamer,” you probably heard at least a little bit about kerfuffles like “GamerGate” and the sustained harassment critics like Anita Sarkeesian have received in response to the grave sin of talking about games while possessing a vagina.

Sexism is nothing new in gaming, but I guess I thought with Millennials growing up that it would start to wane at least a little.  Half of the world’s population is women and nearly half of the gaming market is also women.  But you wouldn’t know it by signing on to XBOX Live or even just by looking at the kinds of games that are produced.  Anita does an amazing job talking about the tropes that plague women in her video series, which has garnered her endless rape and death threats, so I’m not going to cover that again.

What I want to talk about is the kind of harassment women are subjected to when they choose to play multi-player games online, like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft.  “Not in the Kitchen Anymore” is a website that documents the harassment Jenny receives for daring to play on XBOX Live while also being a woman.  It’s a small sampling of the kind of crap women get for merely existing in what are considered male-dominated spaces, but it’s shocking nonetheless.  Comments such as these are commonplace:

Shut up, slut.

How sweaty is your vagina?

Yeah, you fuckin’ bitch ass cunt. Suck a dick. Suck a dick bitch.

Can I have sex with you? ‘Cause you got a hot voice.

Show me your butthole, bitch

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “It’s just trash talk!”  Yeah, except it’s not.  Listen, I get that trash talking is a thing, particularly in games where you’re blowing each other to bits for funsies.  I don’t play Call of Duty, but I do love me some Unreal Tournament and the built-in trash-talk in that game is half the fun. I’m not trying to censor “trash talk.”  I am, however, making a distinction between what is simple “trash talk” and what is gender-based harassment.

Comments insulting your mother, insulting your general playing ability or intelligence, etc. are trash talk.  Comments that are made in direct response to the fact that you are a woman are not trash talk.  Propositioning a woman, asking her to show you her tits, calling her a “cum dumpster,” threatening to rape her, etc. are NOT trash talk.  That’s gender-based harassment.  It’s not intended to be banter between competitors, it’s meant to threaten and degrade someone deemed “other” (in this case, women) and has the ultimate goal of ejecting the person from the space, rather than enhancing the gaming experience.  They are not the same.

After pouring over the archives on Jenny’s site, I couldn’t help noticing certain themes.  Or namely, one theme: “All you’re good for is sex.”  This is what we tell women and girls every day of their lives.  From beauty pageants to advertising, catcalling to rape threats, we constantly remind women that they are no more or less than their capacity to sexual gratify men.  It’s a pervasive and damaging message.  And online harassment is no different.  No matter what the insult, ultimately the underlying message is the same: “You exist to serve me sexually.”

As such, here is a list of comments frequently made to women in multi-player games and their translations.

Sexism in Translation 

Comment: “You’re fat”
Translation: “I only find skinny women attractive, so I’m asserting that you must be fat and therefore worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “I bet you’re a lesbian”
Translation: “A lesbian cannot offer anything sexually to a man, so I’m calling you a lesbian as a way of telling you that you’re worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “You’re a dirty cunt”
Translation: “I’m reducing you to your genitalia and if you’re a dirty vagina, that’s not sexually appealing to me as a man and therefore you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “Suck my dick!”
Translation: “Prove your worth by sexually gratifying me.”

Comment: “Whore”
Translation: “I bet you’ve had sex with more than one person, and that is a privilege that belongs to men.  Women exist only to gratify me sexually, and since you’ve been ‘used’ more than I consider acceptable, you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “Dumb bitch”
Translation: “I don’t like women talking in what I consider to be a male-only space, so I’m going to insult your intelligence and use the least creative gender-focused insult I can think of, namely ‘bitch’, in hopes of shutting you up.” 

Comment: “Faggot”
Translation: “I’m an ignorant bigot who thinks all gay men are effeminate and I equate femininity with weakness.”  and/or “I’m a man who’s uncomfortable with my sexuality and I deflect this discomfort by insulting the sexuality of those around me.”

Comment: “Are you hot?”
Translation: “As a woman, you only have value to me if you’re sexually desirable to men.”

Comment: Referring to women as “Females”
Translation: “I think women are literally a different species from men so I refer to them as ‘females’ rather than women.”

Comment: “Get back in the kitchen”/”Make me a sammich”
Translation: “I haven’t updated my sexist rhetoric since the 1950s.”

Comment: “I’m going to rape you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ using sexualized violence.” 

Comment: “I’m going to kill you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ by ending your life.” 

Comment: “All you’re good for is your vagina.”
Translation: “All you’re good for is your vagina.” 

That last one really lays it all out for you, clear as day.  And I wish I were making them up as an example, but I’m not.  That is verbatim something that was said to Jenny while playing XBOX Live.

As you can tell, all these comments are about sex and/or female anatomy, with the exception of the straight up death threats.  Even so, there’s a gendered component because of the assumption that, as a man, you are physically stronger than any woman.  Don’t tell me this is trash talk, because it’s not.  It’s harassment targeted against women specifically and, again, the goal is not to simply banter with your competitors and/or teammates, it’s to make the environment hostile to women in hopes of driving them out of the space.

And of course, it’s all a trap.  While most of the comments focus on telling the woman she is not what a man wants (i.e. “you’re fat,” “you’re butch,” “you’re a lesbian,” “you’re not a virgin,” etc.) even in the cases where the woman IS desirable (“You sound hot,” “show me your tits,” “I want to stick it in your butt”) this does NOT elevate the woman above the role of “sex object.”  In other words, there’s no winning.  Either you’re worthless because you are not a viable sex object, or you ARE a viable sex object, but that’s literally all you are.  You can’t be smart, you can’t be skilled, and you certainly can’t be a good gamer.  You can be a vagina that a man wants to fuck, or you can be one he wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Uh, yeah, I see how feminism is done and… all… Ugh.  Sexism is, unfortunately, alive and well.  And though in the grand scheme of things men harassing women in online games isn’t the most pressing human rights issue we need to tackle, it is unfortunately a symptom of a very sexist society that is why we need to talk about it.

That’s the thing about micro-aggressions: Individually, they seem somewhat harmless, but all together they add up to environment that is not only hostile towards women, but outright damaging to them.  This environment leads to self-objectification, eating disorders, rampant violence against women, rape as an ever present threat, and an average of three women PER DAY dying at the hands of someone they love and trust… So, yeah, in that light, I’d say this stuff matters.

So what’s a girl to do? Or a guy, for that matter, who knows this is bad behavior and should not be tolerated? Speak up! They will try to shut you up, but speak up anyway.  Talk about the harassment, expose it to light, make it clear that it will not be tolerated and it will not work.  I truly believe that the troglodytes who harass women and othered peoples like this are in the minority, but all you need for the trolls to triumph is for everyone who disagrees with them to remain silent.  Don’t get them the satisfaction.

Halloween is not an excuse to act out your Privilege

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Ah, Halloween.  Once thought of as the time when the boundary between the living and the dead was most permeable, in 2014 it’s closer to a chocolate-coated, scantily-clad day of consumer worship.  Really, the only things that distinguishes it from Black Friday are the sugar overload and the painfully executed costumes.

I enjoyed Halloween as much as any other white, American kid back in the day.  The other neighborhood children and I would dress up and trick-or-treat at each other’s houses, being rewarded with candy for the hard work our parents put into our costumes.  Those were the days– getting high on sugar while being blissfully unaware of how offensive my “gypsy” costume might be, completely ignorant of concepts like racial appropriation or sexualization.

As an adult whose only chocolate fix is coming from the remains of the candy bowl once the trick-or-treaters have come and gone (or, more often, failed to have come in the first place), I am not so blissfully ignorant.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy dressing up (I do some killer zombie make-up, complete with oozing wounds), but I wouldn’t be caught dead in a “gypsy” costume these days.  After all, now I do know what cultural appropriation is and I’m crystal clear that costumes like these:

ay ay ay…

"Reservation Royalty" aka ROYALLY RACIST

Blue China Doll costume…right…
are simply NOT okay.

Now, I know what you’re thinking– “Political correctness is ruining everything!” Complaining about having to be “politically correct” seems to be in vogue right now.  After all, why should you have to be thoughtful about your language? It’s other people’s fault for being offended!

Well… yes and no.  Yes, we are all responsible for our own emotions and this includes being offended, but abdicating responsibility for your own words and actions only works if we assume that our words and actions exist in a vacuum.  News Flash: They don’t.

What those of us with privilege so easily forget is that the language we consider “normal,” is biased.  To quote Jarune Uwujaren, “The English language normalizes and validates heterosexuality, whiteness, maleness, and ability so ubiquitously that people forget that it reifies these things.”  In other words, when you live in a culture that constantly reaffirms YOUR personal experience (of being white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, male, etc.) that we don’t see how it simultaneously devalues anything other than this standard.

This is occurring every day of the year, but Halloween provides a special opportunity for those who are privileged to exercise their privilege by insensitively turning other cultures into a joke and/or costume.  And when you complain about political correctness because someone informed you that wearing blackface hasn’t been OK since… uh… EVER, what you’re really saying is, “It makes me uncomfortable to examine my own privilege and admit my actions may be offensive, so I’m going to shame you for feeling offended instead.”

CLASSY.  I mean, sincerely, everytime I get called “oversensitive,” I know I’m dealing with someone who is “undersensitive,” perhaps even de-sensitized by a combination of culture and privilege.  Because, let’s be clear, to be able to walk down the street without getting cat-called or profiled by police, is a privilege in modern day America.

That said, tasteless Halloween costumes are nothing new, but this year is offering some particularly abhorrent costumes choices.  First, the “sexy ebola nurse:”

View image on Twitter

Yes, this is a thing.  Nevermind that nearly 5,000 people have died from ebola this year (the vast majority of whom are West Africans) or the fact that globally we’re still dealing with the outbreak, let’s have a laugh and sexualize a haz-mat suit while we’re at it! I just… really?  I mean, I get how ridiculous the hysteria in the United States has been, and I understand the inclination to mock said hysteria… but let’s not forget that thousands of people have died this year from this horrific disease (I mean, do you know what ebola does? You literally start bleeding out of your eyes and ears) and probably more will die before the year is out.  If you just HAVE to have an infectious-disease themed costume, how about pick one that isn’t an imminent danger to much of the world’s population? Also, that we’ve managed to sexualize an infectious disease kind of makes my soul bleed.

As bad as the “sexy ebola nurse” costume is, it doesn’t hold a candle to what it’s clearly the worse idea for a costume since the dawn of time: Ray Rice and his battered wife.

Ray Rice Blackface Halloween Costumes Are The Worst Idea

This is just one of many horrible iterations of this costume, but I think it’s the most hard hitting.  For starters, these idiots are wearing blackface.  I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014, but BLACKFACE IS NEVER OK. DO NOT WEAR BLACKFACE. Sinceriously.  Just DO NOT DO IT.  Blackface was racist in 1830 and it’s still racist in 2014.

Secondly, the fact that this is even a costume completely trivializes domestic violence.  You want to know why murder jokes are sometimes funny, but rape jokes rarely are? Because we take murder seriously, but we mock, shame and degrade rape victims.  Domestic violence is in the same boat– it’s an extremely pervasive problem and one that is not taken seriously at all.  Domestic violence affects people of all genders, but it disproportionately affects women and even more so women of color.

Don’t believe me? How about the fact that a battered black woman is A HALLOWEEN COSTUME this year? If that doesn’t send up a red flag, I don’t know what will.

Listen, I could sit here all day quoting statistics about domestic violence, violence against women, violence against women of color, prevalence of violence committed by professional athletes, etc., but I’m not going to.  You know why?  Because anyone with a sense of decency should be able to see why these costumes are unacceptable without any convincing.

And if you’re one of those folks who’s thinking to themselves that I’m just trying to ruin your fun and I can’t “take a joke,” let me ask you this: Why do others have to be mocked, belittled and degraded for you to have fun?