This post is prompted by the Action Bronson concert situation in Toronto right now. (short summary: artist with violent misogynistic lyrics is set to play a public square, some people started a petition to stop this, organizer responded: NXNE Response to Action Jackson Petition)
This is an interesting case because it combines two things I care very deeply about – freedom of speech and women’s rights. Here’s my (lengthy) thoughts:
Freedom speech/artistic expression is not the same as consequence free speech/artistic expression and only the first thing is actually protected. People have every right to be offended and people have every right to protest against what you’re saying. Those who like to defend artistic expression for people who write this type of song seem to forget that. Yeah, this guy can write a hateful song about women (and please make no mistake, the lyrics to this song are pretty hateful to women) and yeah, he can perform it. But there is nothing anywhere that guarantees his right to be able to do so without comment or protest from those who think he’s wrong. What freedom of speech means is that the government cannot silence you with fines or jail, which brings me to…
By asking for this show to be cancelled, no one is actually removing his ability to perform. For real lack of free speech, see Russia for example, where you get jailed for saying things the government doesn’t like. Try promoting gay rights in Uganda and see what happens. That’s lack of free speech. I would equate situation more to that jackass in the Beaches who tried to claim the Toronto Public Library was squashing his free speech by refusing to display his hate filled propaganda – no, they aren’t. They’re a public institution and their refusal to display your pamphlet isn’t denying you your free speech. You can stand on a street corner and hand it out with no threat of jail or fines. The government isn’t coming for you because you hate women, gays and non-white people. So, no one is taking away this man’s right to perform, just asking for it not to be at this event in this space.
That said, I respect NXNE’s stance on it. If you are a concert/festival booker want to stand behind an artist and what they represent, you have every right to do that. See, that’s the flip side – everyone angry at this rapper has to remember that all the things I said above go both ways (aside: That’s why even though MRAs are complete tools, they have a right to be complete tools. However, what MRAs forget when they cry free speech upon criticism is that the criticism they’re receiving is the same free speech they’re using as a defence. end aside). Which means that really, asking to ban a show is something that, for me, is a pretty murky request. Protest the hell out of it or ignore the hell out of it, sure, those are the consequences of writing songs filled with hateful, violent lyrics. The complicating factor here is that it’s in a public venue where it’s impossible to avoid if you have to go to that area. So, personally, I can see the request to have it moved to an indoor, private venue being reasonable. I may hate what he’s saying with every fibre of my soul, but I also believe he has the right to say it and to perform for any audience who wants to see him. (but again, I – and everyone else – have the right to voice dislike of what he’s saying).
That said, based on this decision, I’m not supporting any NXNE shows. They have every right to have whatever artist they want. And I have every right to decide that an organization that will support this type of hate speech is not one I wish to give my money to. As they point out, they have artists with a feminist viewpoint as well – which is great, but for me, not enough to make me think that supporting this artist is okay. And people who hate feminists have every right to boycott those shows or NXNE as a whole as well – but we’d all be pissed if they wanted a feminist’s show cancelled. And while we can all argue what constitutes hate speech and what doesn’t, on principle, if you can’t cancel one, you can’t cancel the other. (For the record, I understand that there’s a vast difference between a feminist song and a song glorifying rape and to me, only the latter is hate speech. That isn’t the point I’m making here. I’m saying that it’ll be much easier to win the fight against misogyny if we take away their ability to yell Hypocrisy!)
That’s how free speech should theoretically work. See, how you get rid of hate speech isn’t by banning it. Simply banning it doesn’t actually teach anyone anything – it just gives people an excuse to scream “liberal bias!” and “censorship!” and is actually detrimental to the cause. Then, objections to content can be boiled down to “bleeding heart liberals and feminazis” and shit like that. Speaking against it with logical, well though out, unemotional arguments and not supporting it with time or finances will get that point across – if no one will see you or book you to perform, then there goes your job as a rapper. It’s just slower. And means that we all have to put up with these assholes for a while. (and I understand that super ardent MRAs and the like will not understand a logical argument, but the goal isn’t to change their minds… the fringe is the fringe. You want to change the majority, the main stream, the decent people who just don’t quite get it).
Finally, anyone supporting this man, please consider: if his songs were about perpetuating this kind horrific violence against gay people or black people, would you be as quick to defend him? I may believe in his right to free speech, but the point of this post is definitely not to defend him as an artist. What if he wrote a song about how prisoners enjoyed waterboarding or other forms of torture? If you’re thinking those aren’t apt comparisons, you’re a man who doesn’t understand the fear women feel about rape. I’m a firm believer that you can joke about anything in the right context, even rape, even if you’re a man (see: John Mulaney). But this guy isn’t joking, this guy is treating a woman as an object (Sample lyric: Your life is cheap like a hooker in the Philippines. There is no context in which that is acceptable).Men who haven’t grown up being objectified don’t understand what it’s like to be dehumanized that way – both my life and a hookers life have a lot of value, just as much value as this rapper. Men who haven’t grown up with the constant fear of this type of violent, dehumanizing assault perhaps don’t have the ability to understand how truly terrifying it is for women. As a female comedian once said about walking down a dark street: “All I could think was ‘oh, here’s my rape!'” Add to that the fact that people blame you if you get assaulted this way (why were you wearing that, why were you walking there, why were you drunk, were you asking for it) and maybe it’ll make more sense why a song that talks about drugging a woman and gang raping her is causing a problem.
As Mad Max so recently and eloquently pointed out – women are not things. And why this is an issue now is that women are starting to stand up and loudly say that.
Songs like this treat women like objects and the protests, though not always the done in the best way, are a reaction to that. And they’re right, in my opinion, to loudly speak out against this man. That’s how social change occurs. That’s not censorship, that’s a culture growing up and realizing that people who aren’t the same as you – like gays or non-white people or women – have worth.
(I realize that there’s probably issues and holes in my logic… but hey, my blog, my thoughts. Also, I have to go to work and this post is long enough. xoxo)