By Robert Stephens
Lupe Fiasco just released the video for his song “Bitch Bad”. In it, Lupe deconstructs the impact of the word bitch as well as the roles women play in perpetuating the language and image of the hip-hop bitch. The final chorus goes, “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better, greatest motherhood”. In creating such a hierarchy, Lupe Fiasco is reinforcing patriarchy in the midst of his attempt to liberate women’s consciousness.
In Lupe’s words, he didn’t create the song to offer answers; but rather, to spark a conversation.
I just wanted to have a conversation. It was more to just put it out in the world and see what happens… I think it’s something that’s very subtle — the idea of it, the ‘bad bitch’ — it’s very subtle but it definitely has some destructive elements to it… It has some troubling elements to it. Especially when you look at who it’s being marketed towards. That’s why we put the children in the video – Rob Markman, MTV
Unfortunately I think the song is reminiscent of a Rebecca Solnit article, “Men Explain Things to Me“.
None was more astonishing than the one from the Indianapolis man who wrote in to tell me that he had “never personally or professionally shortchanged a woman” and went on to berate me for not hanging out with “more regular guys or at least do a little homework first,” gave me some advice about how to run my life, and then commented on my “feelings of inferiority.” He thought that being patronized was an experience a woman chooses to, or could choose not to have–and so the fault was all mine.
While I think the song’s focus on women and their roles within patriarchy is a good idea, I don’t think that Lupe does it gracefully. In the first verse, the mother refers to herself as a “bad bitch” and plants the seeds of bitchness in the mind of her vulnerable son. In the second verse, young girls helplessly watch a music video that promotes the “bad bitch” mentality. They begin to mimic the behavior of the female model in the video, offering themselves up as sexual objects. In the final verse, once that son is grown up, he meets one of the girls from the second verse and rejects her for wearing revealing clothes.
This scene bothered me. Where is the woman’s agency? Moreover, whether it was the female dancer’s objectification by the fictitious rapper or the boy’s rejection, the woman’s sexuality and identity are still being defined and controlled by male standards of appropriateness. The women described in the narrative have little decision-making power over their own bodies, and the man at the end is supposed to serve as a redirecting force to get her on the right track towards ladyhood, and eventually, motherhood. Again, the song concludes with the following hierarchy: “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better, greatest motherhood”. By reinscribing this traditional hierarchy of bitches on the bottom and mothers on the top, we see the song’s core message: patriarchy. Even though Lupe attempts to challenge and liberate women’s thinking, he is merely substituting one form of male-dominance for another.
Sexism isn’t rooted in women’s compliance or submission, it’s anchored by male supremacy. By granting the women in the narrative no agency, and having the boy at the end dictate the standards of female appropriateness, Lupe Fiasco’s song “Bitch Bad” perpetuates male supremacy. Despite the song’s shortcomings, I think that it is a meaningful contribution to the discourse on sexism. I applaud him for his efforts, and I generally like “Bitch Bad”. Unfortunately, a more appropriate title for Lupe’s song would be “Bitch Bad, Patriarchy Good”.