Yeah, hoe!
Kitana, Kitana, Kitana, Kitana
Mortal Kombat, I’ll see you mañana!
Mortal Kombat, I’ll see you mañana!
Mortal Kombat, I’ll see you mañana!
I step in this bitch and I do what I want
I don’t give a damn and I don’t give a fuck (yeah, hoe!)
I step in this bitch and I do what I want
I don’t give a damn and I don’t give a fuck
Princess Nokia, you can call me on my cellular
I think I’m the shit and I never been a regular
Rhymes I spit are sick, see you bleeding from your jugular
You can suck my dick, all them shady fucks that set me up
Up in the crib, I’m up in the show
I’m doing my thing like never before
I’m rocking and dropping and hitting the floor
I give you the goodies, the goodies, let go
Don’t get me wrong, there are many aspects of Princess Nokia, an emerging rapper from New York, that I appreciate. She presents a mostly tomboy image of a rapper, with a few exceptions (including above, the only Shutterstock photo available), eschewing the over-sexualization into which many female performing artists fall. She created Smart Girl Club, a vehicle through which to provide support and collaboration with other female performance artists. She is an excellent rapper and she has created her own unique style. But the above lyrics from her single “Kintana” illustrate the more problematic aspects of her self-proclaimed feminism.
So, the question becomes, how really feminist can an artist be if the language she uses mirrors language specifically created to denigrate females and glorify male sexuality?
Now, I understand that this language is everywhere, and I am guilty of listening to songs with the word “bitch” myself. Mainly because all the really good exercise songs, for instance by Eve or Brittney Spears, utilize this phrase. To me, however, this says more about the normalization of the word “bitch” and its spread within mainstream music than about my own hypocrisy. And I admit, listening to “Work Bitch” as I exercise did entail some hypocrisy – but was great to sprint and lift weights to (it since been removed). Yet with Princess Nokia there is the inconvient fact that she has declared herself an ardent feminist.
I want to explore this topic because language means something. Although Princess Nokia may not be directing these words at women, or in the case of “this bitch,” at a person, she is still participating in the normalization of language that degrades women. “Bitch” was introduced by misogynistic rappers and has been re-appropriated by feminism and black female artists to represent a strong, powerful, and assertive black woman.
But has this really worked? Truthfully, “bitch” is still hurled as an INSULT to women to label them misbehaving, treacherous, and all-around bad news. I always had mixed feelings about the appropriation of “bitch” and I have never felt it has worked. Instead, it has been mainstreamed with its misogynistic roots fully intact.
Then there is the phrase Princess Nokia uses, “suck my dick!” At this one I am flummoxed, given that she doesn’t have a dick – and this phrase is another product of misogyny in using the threat of male sexual violence to make an assertive point. Why, as feminists and women, would we want to regurgitate the violent language of machismo?
When you put “bitch” and “suck my dick” in a song together, a very specific dynamic becomes clear, one that is rampant within mainstream pop culture. When referring to an individual, place, or thing to be degraded, owned, or conquered, you go with “bitch” or any other slang for “female” – and can include a male subordinate. When you want to describe yourself as the conqueror, threaten people, let them know you are more powerful – you go with terms and phrases related to masculinity such as “suck my dick.”
It is clear that the structure of patriarchy is being reflected and maintained in such lyrics – the subordinate, degraded female, and the powerful male, often denoted through male sexuality.
I personally believe Princess Nokia is still a feminist, but problematic, which is why I do believe it is important to have these discussions. Of course I understand nobody is a perfect feminist – but Feminism should have standards, and one of those standards are not copying the structure of patriarchy within one’s art. Princess Nokia wants to create space for women and girls free of men – but if in doing so one still leaves the dynamics of patriarchy intact, how much space can actually be created?
And artists such as Brittney Spears really shouldn’t be left off the hook of course, just because they haven’t declared themselves a feminist. Her video to “Work Bitch” reproduces the degradation of women within bondage porn – and was hailed as artistically beautiful by critics. Nothing was mentioned of the violence against women it depicts. And I listened to it purely because of its beat, which is incredibly energizing at the end of a long workout when I am finishing up my sprint or have one more squat to do. Thus the hesitation I had of taking it off my play list. In the end, I decided not being a hypocrite and sticking to my feminist guns was more important.
Which brings me back to Princess Nokia. She probably didn’t think twice, as a feminist, before using the word “bitch.” And there are no doubt people who would criticize me for critiquing an urban woman of color; however, the music she makes is to be consumed by everyone and thus its impact goes beyond New York and communities of color. And again, I think there are a lot of things Princess Nokia is doing right – her song “Tomboy,” her portrayal of women of color and of women participating in athletics. I also love that she created Smart Girls Club.
But does that mean we ignore the lyrics? Especially since the song opens with “Yeah Hoe!” I absolutely hate the word “hoe,” because there is no re-appropriation possible with this word (no matter how you spell it), and there is no ignoring its origins. As I said, language means something, and “hoe” gives me more of a visceral reaction than “bitch.” I get it, these words are considered to be expressions of urban life. But really, they are expressions of MALE urban life, and “hoe” is specifically of pimps – you know, men who prostitute women. I don’t particularly care that is isn’t being aimed at a woman specifically. Like “suck my dick,” it is a reflection of the dynamics of violent male sexuality – something which is the opposite of feminism.
This may seem like it would be obvious to a feminist, but a lot is revealed in the fact that Princess Nokia considers herself “queer.” Queer culture, which of course came out of queer theory, which came out of white academia (gay men and some unfortunately misguided feminists) and thus has no roots in urban culture, has absolutely nothing to offer in terms of structural critique and is purely about identity. Queer and the resulting gender studies steamrolled over women’s studies, replacing the language of feminism and lesbian culture with the language of “queer” – and spread to every part of society. In fact, it is so widespread and normalized that I believe people think queer identities came out of urban, at-risk populations attempting to empower themselves. I was once told that my blog was “academic” and that I was not understanding queerness as an identity. I was a bit confused, because queer theory and the resulting queer identity is indeed academic, too. And truthfully, I wouldn’t have as much as a problem with queer identity if it wasn’t also being touted as a vehicle to social change (it’s not) and didn’t completely replace – and even ridicule – feminist theory.
So imagine instead if feminism, as it existed before the advent of post-structuralism and neo-liberal individualism, had been the force to influence society. Perhaps we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Because in the world of queer politics, anything one says to express themselves goes – regardless of origins or possible impact on society. Look at the term “queer” itself. I still read comments online of often older lesbian and gay individuals asking “isn’t that a slur? Why are we using that word?”
So what to do with feminists such as Princess Nokia, who are indeed making valuable contributions to women and girls in society but write very problematic lyrics and attach themselves to a movement – in this case, the queer movement – which is currently suppressing women’s voices unless they capitulate completely to queer/ trans ideology.
Do such lyrics and allegiances negate these contributions?
Should we even be holding artists to any kind of standard at this point?
Should I even care?