Questlove’s Michele Mistake And The Invisibility Of Sexism

It’s pretty unfortunate that Questlove’s getting bombarded with racist insults after making the equally unfortunate decision to choose “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” as Michele Bachmann’s intro music when she appeared on Jimmy Fallon. But I think his explanation of his reaction to the uproar is sort of revealing:

The musician revealed that the decision to play the 1985 track wasn’t mulled over for very long. “It wasn’t like a chess move where you have to think 12 steps ahead; you’re just, like, ‘Fuck, all right, I’m gonna do it,’ in a kamikaze-type way,” he admitted. “And I really didn’t think about how it could be perceived as a misogynist swipe — it didn’t hit me until my [Twitter] timeline started showing up that it was seen that way. I was like, Fuck, I forgot ‘Bitch’ is actually in the title.”

I mean, first there’s the fact that “bitch” isn’t just in the title. The song lyrics refer to the titular woman as a “little slut,” in addition to a “little lyin’ ass bitch.” It’s a song about a really horrible-sounding woman, and it doesn’t exactly go easy on her, whether accusing her of emotional manipulation or sexual infidelity (I tend to think Bachmann’s career is built around the former, but I don’t think she’s guilty of the latter). You have to try pretty hard to miss the language if you’re already choosing the song to be a stinging rebuke to the person who’s entering to it.

Second, I think there’s something really strange about the insistence that “bitch” is a neutral term, something you can just miss when picking out a song, that of the more serious profanities, it’s the one that networks can use without bleeping out. I don’t think the fact that the insult has sexist origins means that no one should use it ever. But I think denying those sexist origins (as some folks did when we last discussed profanity and entertainment here — I’m not saying Questlove did this) doesn’t makes a lot of sense. And there’s something decisively strange about the fact that a gendered insult that’s meant to degrade women by comparing them to animals or to degrade men by comparing them to women is considered less obscene than other profanities.