Remember “making love?” Yeah, me neither.
These days, our vernacular is saturated with many different ways to talk about getting it on. But between “beat it up,” “smash,” “bang” and “cut,” the most common references are overwhelmingly laced with violence, confusing our perception of the dynamics of sex.
The first issue is that many of these phrases encompass only the feelings and desires of the male, or the one who is named as the initiator of the aggressive action. The language has been conditioned to very clearly delineate who — or rather, what body part — is responsible for the “beating up” as well as what object is being “beat” or “cut,” and such discourse condemns women and our genitalia to an inferior and subservient space, ready for conquest.
The language problematically connotes sex with a one-sided act of violence rather than a shared, symbiotic experience between two people. Sex is described in terms that are illustrative of a takeover and hardly indicate that the experience is consensual. Promises to “beat the [expletive] up” or “cut you up” sound much more like threats than seduction.
One of the most common perpetuators — or more aptly, perpetrators — of this language is rap music. But rap cannot be discussed as if it exists within some cultural vacuum with a limited scope of effects. Rap music is Billboard 100 music is radio music is Grammy-winning music is “music.” While rap was once confined to a subculture, it is now a fixture of the mainstream, with ubiquitous influence. Consequently, rap’s references often inspire common parlance, at least among a young demographic.
The first time I was introduced to this discourse was with the 2006 “Wait (The Whisper Song)” by the Ying Yang Twins, which sounded like a date rapist’s anthem. And ever since the artists of this Grammy-nominated song promised to “beat that [expletive] up like bam, bam …,” the similes for beating it up or “hitting it” have continued: baseball bat, Derek Jeter, punching bag and Klitschko, just to name a few. Pounding, drilling, pop her, smack that — sexual violence is normalized behavior.
Rap music has historically involved braggadocio and egotism, which inevitably includes flaunting one’s ability to get girls. But unlike past rappers who asserted a superior ability to give women sensual pleasure (here’s looking at you, LL Cool J), today’s artists declare sexual prowess with what amounts to assault, bragging about this “skill” as if that should appeal to women.
People have lamented rap’s misogynistic tendencies for years. But the strange twist in today’s discourse is that the same words that have historically been correlated with punishing women are now used under the guise of wanting to provide pleasure. The language is identically aggressive and denigrating, but because of its placement in songs discussing allegedly consensual, ultra-satisfying sex, women are sent the message that we should be impressed, intrigued and turned on by these messages.
My interest is not in classifying what sex should look like between consenting adults. Many people enjoy rough sex, to which I say, “Kink on, kinky people.” But while exchanged expressions of dominance are entirely healthy among a couple with mutual respect and compatible interests in mixing pleasure with pain, the fact that our overarching cultural understanding of sex is inherently conjoined with violence is not. This breeds the expectation that men should be not lovers, but forceful dominators while women should only want sex that is synonymous with taking a beating. Gone is the idea of sex as a mutually satisfying act of negotiation and compromise. It has become socially acceptable to think of women’s sexual organs as something to be “destroyed,” resulting in great delusions of grandeur among the understanding of what women want.
Men asserting that they will “beat it up” or “bust it open” as though this is some sort of favor creates a strong mood of unease. The analogies make the proposals even more crass and disrespectful. So, you would like to “beat it up like Tyson?” You want to control and abuse me to the point of inflicting pain in order to garner victory in what I thought was an act of reciprocity? Oh. Neat.
Finally, one simile went far enough that people spoke out. Recently, a remix of Future’s song “Karate Chop” leaked online, in which Lil Wayne raps, “Beat that [expletive] up like Emmett Till.” Till was a 14-year-old black teenager in 1955, when a group of white men beat him to a pulp, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head and then tossed his body into a river. Many people, including the Till family, expressed shock and outrage at the lyric, so Epic Records apologized and removed the reference from the song. Here, the line was drawn — but lyrics have been going too far for years.
Music is art, which many argue cannot be taken literally. Indeed, my main concern is not that men are performing the acts mentioned in these songs verbatim and, say, approaching our lady parts with a baseball bat. But even metaphorically, the mood connoted by these lyrics socializes intense aggression in sex. If a beating has been conditioned to not only be acceptable but desirable in a sexual sense, this undoubtedly influences the perceived tolerability of disrespect for women and physical abuse. We must ask: What role do these lyrics — and the ways in which they inevitably ooze into our own understanding of sex — have in the epidemic of violence against women?