There comes a time in every girl's life when she learns that her role in society is marked by her bodily expression of femininity. Around age 12 or 13, we all learn that we’re trapped by our own sexuality, and we get judo-kicked to the face by the societal implications of that entrapment. Every woman deals with this differently. But at some point, most of us discover Capital F Feminism, and face a simultaneous wall of confusion and warm fuzzy feeling now that someone is finally telling our story after approximately two millennia.
But then there’s that slimy element of Feminism that makes you want to burn all your Bikini Kill records, or at least feel guilty and confused for liking anything remotely connected with “girl power.” The high-horse attitude towards men is revolting, mostly because men are awesome. It’s machismo that’s a problem, and no genre of music has come under attack for machismo more than hip-hop, and though much of this criticism may be warranted, sometimes it’s just outrageously missing the point.
For the sake of Feminism itself then, I give you a Feminist critique of Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle.” I’m not an expert on feminism, merely a woman who’s lingered at the fringes of their camps for several years now. I’m not an expert on hip-hop either, merely a self-proclaimed n00b to the immense history and rich culture of the genre. But when I heard a guy rapping about how he wishes his dick was as big as the Eiffel Tower, all I could think about was how much a woman needed to say something about it. So, here you go:
An Academic Celebration of Kendrick Lamar’s Song About His Dick, With Feminist Sidenotes
Martin had a dream, Martin had a dream/ Kendrick have a dream.
First, let's address the issue that Mr. Lamar commences his freestyle with an allusion to the late great Martin Luther King Jr. Feminism is renowned for its stake in claims made by other marginalized groups and as far as America fuckups go, slavery/racism/reconstruction is probably the biggest clusterfuck of them all, so feminists are obviously pissed about it and totally in to win it with the MLK reference.
In case you’ve forgotten, King basically wanted a country in which no one race was subjected to a certain doomed and disillusioned existence based on past fucked-up racist ideals and economic systems. There are probably few things that would please MLK more than the idea that a kid from Compton could rise to prominence through the use of the spoken word, superior elocution and artistic skills, to tell his story. History shows that MLK would be totally down, not only with Kendrick’s freedom to rap about something as seemingly trivial as his dick, but furthermore, his use of it. MLK was certainly a card carrying member of the Philanderers Club, so if anyone wants to get offended right now they can just think about how many times Martin probably fucked some girl right after one of his elegant speeches. Sorry to ruin your bright shiny MLK dream but it’s true. Feminists should be all good at this point too because if there's anything that feminism fucks with, it's equality for all repressed groups and subversion of strait- laced, antiquated moral rules governing society that disallow discussion of sexuality.
All my life I want money and power/ Respect my mind or die from lead showers.
Umm so this actually sounds kind of like it could've come from a feminist manual maybe? “Money and power" sounds a bit blasé but if there's anything that a woman who is fighting against the concept that she's stuck in a society that will ultimately try to exclude her, it is getting money and power—financial stability and position. Establishing a voice gains these for her and ensures people will have to listen to what she says. It’s traveling from the margins where said culture tries to keep her, so far into the heart and spotlight that she achieves wealth, both fiscal and physical, and power. Power means people listen to you, power means the opposite of enslavement or imprisonment. Power means freedom and a platform to speak. Kendrick wanted power and through his art, he begins to get some.
Not only this, but Lamar demands we respect his mind. Or die. He isn't here asking us to respect his current money and power, because—especially in the context of the song where he’s literally freestyling in his friend’s backseat—he hasn't earned those yet. Instead, he wants us to respect the mind he possesses, the vehicle that will eventually lead to his success. Respect for minds over the objectification of bodies or possessions or appearance is so completely a feminist principle that I don't think I even have to go into it for you. Though he does address body parts later (read: his dick), let's keep in mind that when he does it's within the context of a hyperbole-laden metaphor, whereas this demand for respect of his mind is couched in a much simpler and almost embarrassingly transparent statement of his desires.
I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower/ So I can fuck the world for 72 hours.
So yeah, this is the big one. There will be at least two schools of thought within feminist ideas on this section. First, there's what we call “Actually-Still-Pissed-Off-Feminists” who are convinced that anything having to do with a penis is certain to hinder their ability to fully express their femininity and any lyric propagating the use of the word “penis,” or even worse “dick,” somehow engenders a doomsday-like state upon said work of art and anyone who enjoys it. Then, we have other kinds of feminists who will still probably split into smaller and smaller branches of hyper-local-hyper-aware schools of thought into infinity, but the vast majority of which feel pretty okay about dudes, their dicks, art that maybe includes them and possible combinations of ladies with these three things.
The way he communicates this line though, with what might be a backhanded nod to ‘Ye and Jay's "Niggas in Paris," and in prayer form as if to mock the misguided dreams of adolescent boys unwaveringly focused on the size of their penis as the answer to everything, is nothing short of monumental. I first took up this thread of argument because I loved listening to this song but felt uncomfortable about how badly I wanted to sing this hook. It certainly isn’t an unrelatable thought though, like there isn’t a girl-equivalent to wanting to be really good at sex and/or really sexy. Really, we’re discussing sex as metaphor—here, sexual prowess stands for the larger dream of succeeding at life so majorly and subverting the impossible odds stacked against people who grew up in Compton (Kendrick), or women who are still borderline commanded by culture to be sex symbols or moms. While on the subject of subversion, what could possibly be more ironic juxtaposition for Kendrick to use than the European-power-symbol of the most haughty culture and the taboo topic of his Compton bred boner? How could anyone, man or woman, who purports to believe in the equality of all races and genders not support a statement so blatantly designed to rebel against the bourgeois, meaningless display of cultural dominance that the Eiffel Tower is?
As far as the desire to have a big dick, I think feminists would divide back into two major camps on this one. The former being all up in men’s face about this as a stand-in for insecurity etc. and the latter having some mixed feelings that go in the order of (a) there are more important things/men are silly, (b) I can get pretty down with the idea of a big dick and (c) offshoots of thought about the female equivalency to this desire, possibly concerning boobs or thinness. Is it actually offensive for women to hear a guy rapping about wanting to have a dick as large as a French monument though? I don’t think so really, in fact, I’m pretty sure I heard a girl use that comparison at a brunch in 2011 before Kendrick even thought of it.
This by no means proves that the rest of the song doesn’t contain some sexist stuff, I think, since I’ve listened to it approximately 208 times, that it probably does. “And the rest of the genre of rap for sure does shouldn’t we get mad and boycott it?” ask a lot of (hypothetical) feminists. I can’t answer for everyone, but I think it kind of gives us more power if we can find ways to take it back for ourselves maybe? Kind of like this essay tried to do? Can a woman take a song about a dick and turn it into her own personal jam? I think I just did.