My friend Gene Demby, the managing editor of Huffington Post’s Black Voices channel, tweeted yesterday, “Is it just me, or does the misogyny in Childish Gambino’s music seem especially pronounced?” I’d stayed away from the music by Donald Glover mostly because my friends who had seen him live hadn’t loved him. And I’d be curious to know whether Glover really believes the things he says about women as Childish Gambino, a persona he seems to use to displace the rage inspired by his treatment by other men onto women, who show up in his songs as hipster groupies, gold diggers, and almost nothing else in between.
Here’s “Freaks and Geeks,” in which, in a seeming show of contradicting the song’s title, Glover declares, among other things that he’ll “Fuck a bitch to pass the time,” describes a friend “
He’se.e.’s coming on her face / now that’s poetry and motion,” and notes that “Green in your wallet is that pussy Open Sesame”:
Apparently, the point of recounting this narrative is to demonstrate his heterosexuality in the face of opposition: “They just call me ‘faggot’ ’cause they closeted,” Glover declares at one point. It’s a theme that reoccurs in “Be Alone” when Glover bitterly ruminates on “Like when these niggers call me faggot and we homies now / We are not homies, I just keep you around”
Then, there’s the charming “Bitch, Look at Me Now,” which includes the line “That female dog is blind / Bitch look at me now”:
In that same song, Glover enumerates another grievance against his rivals, and potential past tormenters, saying, “You started rapping when you wasn’t good at basketball / I started rapping because I needed Adderall.” It’s not enough to know you’re smarter or to enjoy the fruits of that success: past inequalities have to be rectified, insult for insult.
And the idea that women are objects (“See all this pussy, Imma fuck it all.”), solely interested in the contents of a man’s wallet (“I used to like these bitches, but couldn’t afford to get them.”), or to blame for Glover’s simmering anger (“I used to be a sweet dude / Now I’m so angry / Look at what these girls and these fake niggers made me.”) is all over “Fuck It All”:
This weird, toxic outlook on women struck me as reminiscent of the news that Odd Future has decided, either as a result of their celebrity, or as a way to up their notoriety, that they’re cool with physically attacking photographers, throwing water at and kicking the cameras of male photographers, and slapping a female freelancer so hard she was knocked down. And it also reminded me a bit of our conversation about pop culture geeks who feel a combination of resentment and entitlement towards women. I don’t really think that most geeky guys think this way, but it’s frustrating when someone like Glover comes along and projects that cocktail of emotions so strongly — especially when Glover’s someone who’s won all sorts of sweet-guy geek cred for his work on Community.
There’s a real incoherence to this kind of behavior and thinking. No woman owes any man anything. There is not a system of romantic reparations where a man is entitled to a certain amount of sex and (not to mention) romantic attachment. Insisting that women consist solely of their genitals and that women are powered solely by an attraction to money is both incoherent, and the kind of thinking that, if you project it, is unlikely to make you seem like someone women would actually want to date. Ditto for demeaning or physically assaulting women, behavior that may, in the imaginary value system Childish Gambino is laying out, prove something to your boys, but is unlikely to help you hold on to a steady girlfriend. And Odd Future, which is more extreme, but frankly, not that far away on the continuum from Childish Gambino’s nonsense appears to have missed the point: acting wildly antisocially is generally only effective and charming long-term if you’re demonstrating a genuine injustice or ridiculous in societal norms. Assaulting the people who help you make a living by hyping your legend only demonstrates your privilege. Hating women doesn’t make you brave.
A lot of people seem to think that I’m saying that misogynistic lyrics are equivalent to actual assault on women. Obviously, I don’t believe that. I do believe that casual misogyny in art and culture lowers the barrier to assault on women by removing the social stigma against treating women like objects, or as people who others have the right to put in their places.