Those who know me, know I’m a reggaetonera de corazon <3
I’ve seen four reggaetón performers live, Daddy Yankee, Arcangel and Baby Rasta y Gringo, in Milan, which was the closest venue they played. That’s three trips there and back to where I live – altogether 3000 kilometres (around 1800 miles) by car. A smooth ride compared with the fights I’ve had with so-called anarcho-feminists over reggaetón… but that’s not my point.
My point is that anything could have found itself in the middle of the clash between feminism, sex and liberty. I’ll be focusing on reggaetón for reasons aforementioned.
Reggaeton is a musical genre that deals with a wide range of subjects – there’s romantic reggaetón, reggaetón for children, Christian reggaeton...), but the kind which attracts the most attention is, obviously, sexually explicit reggaetón.
Music critics tend to be turned off by the themes prevalent in reggaetón lyrics – usually dealing with combinations of sex, dancing and monologues on the performer himself, filled to the brim with superlatives. Common objections are also raised regarding oversimplification and a depiction of a “grab them by the whatever’s handy” lifestyle, as well as a lack of a deeper meaning, subtle poetics and general “awareness”.
It is exceedingly common for reggaetón to be described as vulgar, aggressive and “one of those genres that celebrate machismo and treat women like objects”, both because of its’ lyrics which leave very little room for double entendre and the dance style associated with it, called perreo. For example, there is a campaign in Columbia, called „Be reasonable, don’t let music degrade you“, which specifically targets women who have no problem with reggaetón’s audio-visual explicitness. A series of shocking photos invite them to “use their reasoning skills” and ruminate on the literal meaning of certain song’s lyrics in order to recognize the “insults that women are subjected to because of reggaetón”: CAN YOU FEEL WHAT YOU HEAR?
Here, I’ll use my reasoning skills and comment on this campaign, in an effort to use it as an example of similar tendencies in our neck of the woods.
Reggaetón’s commercial success speaks volumes about its widespread acceptance and popularity. Women love reggaetón and they love perreo. Not all women, but many. Campaigns against reggaetón take a moralistic stance toward these women’s personal preferences; they are in no way aimed at actual problems nor do they offer effective solutions. This judgemental stance toward a woman’s personal preference serves ultimately to negate her right to self-determination.
How paradoxical, that a campaign which claims to be against degrading depictions of women, degrades them in such a way. By patronizing women and bringing their personal choices into question, the campaigns imply that these women are not fit to make their own decisions about their personal lives or deal with the consequences of those decisions. Surely that is a far more degrading message than any that could be sent by (depersonalized) lyrics of any (reggaetón) song.
I feel almost certain that the lady who initiated the campaign would not question other women’s decisions to, for example, support her project financially, nor would she suggest that they use their reasoning skills to deliberate on more clever things they could put their money towards so as not to “degrade” the sums in their bank accounts.
Harmful effect on society
Campaigns whose goal it is to end or limit something usually employ the strategy of implying that the thing in question is harmful to society. But, in order for the campaign to be justified, these harmful effects cannot simply be implied – they must be proven. Without an objective criterion, one person’s subjective interpretation of what is harmful is no more valid than the subjective interpretation of a second person who disagrees with the first. If emotions are the criteria, everyone is right; and that is a very slippery slope.
Campaigns which cannot prove the harmfulness of whatever they are taking a stand against, be it musical genres, advertisements, festivals etc, very often turn out to be so-called “red herring” campaigns. That is, campaigns designed to distract attention from an “actual issue” hidden under the placards and uniformed T-shirts and yelled-out slogans. The thing that really drives these campaigns is the moral subjectivism of their protagonists, i.e. their unwillingness to face certain aspects of their own personalities which *they* find unacceptable. Imposing one’s own subjective interpretation as an objective standard is simply an attempt to avoid a necessary confrontation with reality. Simultaneously, it attempts to remove phenomena which cause anxiety and are perceived as a threat to the ego, without taking into consideration the autonomy of the other and the integrity of their value systems.
Facts before fiction
The claim that reggaetón lyrics are offensive to women is not true. Women are not a homogenous group, therefore there can be no universal consensus of all women (and those who see themselves as such) on what is offensive. If some women find themselves offended by a set of lyrics, and others don’t – how justified is the claim that the lyrics were offensive to women in general? And how justified are demands for measures to be taken which would practically implement that stance as mandatory for those who do not share it?
Offence as a criterion
Offence is a subjective feeling caused by a personal interpretation based on personal experience. It is perfectly valid to consider something offensive, but the “offendee” should at the very least be aware that the lyrics didn’t offend HER – she FOUND herself offended upon hearing the lyrics. We are not simply passive receivers of content, we actively interpret it and make decisions about it. To demand that everyone find the same things offensive as we do means to negate other’s value systems and their right to self-determination. Offence is not an objective criterion. A person can be equally offended by lyrics as they can be by anything else. All it takes is for the person to decide that the lyrics refer to him or her. Isn’t that a bit pretentious?
Songs are not real, tangible things. They take place in the sphere of imagination and practically do not exist outside the mental image of the listener, i.e. person who is focusing on the song in a given moment, and interpreting it in their own unique way. Every listener at any given moment can chose whether they will focus on this lyric or that, and how they will interpret that lyric. Getting offended is how the mediocre empower themselves.
In the case of the anti-reggaetón campaign, the people behind it made a conscious choice to put certain songs under the limelight and to visually interpret them in a malicious way, purposefully removing any and all figurativeness from the text proper. The lyric “I’d like to nail you” was printed alongside a picture of a woman being nailed to a wall, “she likes it rough, she likes to be eaten out” was depicted as cannibalism.
Imposing a personal, “official” interpretation of sexual allusions through a literal depiction of them can only signify one of two things – either a surplus of maliciousness or a disturbing lack of imagination.
Sexism as such says nothing about the women and men it is directed at or about women and men in general.
It does say something about the people who use it to categorize others, and it says a lot about people who see it in every little thing around them. Especially those who are paid, usually by the government, to see sexism in everything and to categorize internet and media content according to the intensity of butthurt and with no objective criterion whatsoever.
A good example of that would be the Poreč Centre for Civil Initiatives. One of their activists tried to justify and explain the reasoning behind their campaign of harassment against a local entrepreneur, using a predictably low level of critical thinking and logical reasoning. She even used a screenshot of my comment in her text, where I asked whether the advertisement they had objected to could be proven to have had a negative effect on anyone. One which could not be attributed to any other factors. She could not. Instead, she gave numbers of women throughout the world who become victims of rape, harassment or murder, suggesting that the advertisement contributed to that since it -in her view – promoted the idea that the scantily clad lady pictured next to food was also on offer.
There are serious issues in regard to sexism. You know what happens when you do irresponsible things like call everything sexism? You degrade the term and do serious harm to your cause and any meaningful discussion. You can’t say damn near every word of criticism is sexism and expect to be taken seriously when there might actually be a case of someone being sexist.
– Marianne Copenhaver
Freedom of (artistic) expression
Reggaetón is realistic. It addresses everyday events, interpersonal relationships, emotional dynamics. It is both a hideout for one’s emotional life and a stage for emotional drama. Reggaetón habla de la vida real.
One of the most popular reggaetón artists, Daddy Yankee, often gets accused of objectifying and insulting women. Although he describes different types of women in his songs (women who betrayed and hurt him, women he respects and admires, etc.), feminists would have him either describe women in a positive light (i.e. in a way they approve of) in his songs, or not sing at all. When they insist on their moral subjectivism being blindly followed, they attempt to deprive him of his artistic freedom of expression, they interfere grossly with his emotional dynamic and try to prevent him from using his own experiences as an inspiration in whichever way he chooses.
It does not really matter if you don’t know who Daddy Yankee is. It’s a Latin thing, and I suppose the misunderstandings come from some women identifying so strongly with his songs that they start thinking he is speaking directly to or about them. 😊
State oppression of reggaetón, bans on sexually explicit music
In case you were wondering where the feminists find their inspiration to keep tilting at windmills, one of the answers might be – Cuba. Viva la retardación!
In 2011 the Cuban state denounced reggaeton as degenerate, directed reduced “low-profile” airplay of the genre (but did not ban it entirely) and banned the megahit Chupi Chupi by Osmani García, characterizing its description of sex as “the sort which a prostitute would carry out”. In December 2012, the Cuban government officially banned sexually explicit reggaeton songs and music videos from radio and television. (Wikipedia)
The banned video “Chupi Chupi” can be seen here [WARNING (+18)]
Warning from the ombudsman: Take your children out of the room before watching! 😀
Quite obviously, this type of music is here to entertain, but there is a less obvious use for it. It serves to set both a sexual and aggressive dynamic in motion in the safe environment of a dance floor. If someone asked you what turns you on, you wouldn’t have to think too hard about your answer. But, if you were asked why those things turn you on, and others don’t, you could think for days and not be perfectly sure of your answer. There is no one, unambiguous interpretation of emotional dynamics – therefore, no unambiguous principles can be based upon it. Or, to keep it short – Stay the fuck out of other people’s emotional dynamics!
It’s equally pointless to talk about men objectifying women. Humans don’t directly perceive one another, we do that through forming images in our minds about the objects around us. To point out that women in particular get objectified makes little sense if technically everything around us, including ourselves, are objects.
Let me just add another slice of hotness at the very end – Carolina Mestrovic, one of our own!
I also wrote a short essay about the critique levelled at Jelena Rozga’s song “Nirvana”, under the title “Why there’s no point attacking the lowbrow lyrics of Vjekoslava Huljić”, where I discuss the futility of interpretations of what the poet was trying to get across when it comes to art and showbusiness. The link to that text (in Croatian) is here.