Lupe Fiasco has just released the video for the ‘Bitch Bad’ track off the ‘Food & Liquor 2 ‘ album. The video (embedded below) examines the impact of the word ‘bitch’ in hip hop and how it negatively affects children and society at large. The chorus line is “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better, they misunderstood”.
Like many videos by black male artists that aim to explain the prevalence of female exploitation in pop culture, it fails to 1) be nuanced – a woman is not either a bitch or a lady, and 2) address the root problem – patriarchy.
Due to this, the video demonstrates an element of the feminist backlash with the message that a ‘lady’ may sit on a pedestal while a bitch is a non-worthy lesser being.
She is not. This tactic is divisive. As black women we should stand in solidarity with all women who are oppressed by patriarchy and the unrealistic pressures it puts on female behaviour.
When used in this type of context, the word ‘lady’ is as loaded as the word ‘bitch’. Both are making a moral judgement. ‘Lady’ originates from the days of the British empire, it has strong ties to the holiness of the virgin Mary, and to race and class supremacy. It depicts a woman who has “lady-like” noble standards of behaviour, who doesn’t laugh loud, who doesn’t cuss, who doesn’t know shit about politics and society, who doesn’t control her sexuality etc.
What I dig about Lupe Fiasco’s video, however, is that it brings up gender and misogyny in black popular culture for unquestionable discussion. Also, the references to black face are culturally significant. It shows that the type of behaviour both the girl and boy display are also results of a racialized commodification of black music.
Let’s end with a message from india Arie:
I’m not the average girl from your video
And I ain’ t built like a supermodel
But I learned to love myself unconditionally
Because I am a queen
I’m not the average girl from your video
My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes
No matter what I’m wearing I will always be
–from “Video” by India.Arie
Just be you and be multi-faceted.
What do you think?
It’s interesting – I love this song and video, but I’ve noticed that the feminine intelligentsia don’t particularly like it – and for a while I was confused as I thought it was quite positive. I spoke briefly with Nicole Black about it and she said something similar to you – about this apparent distinction Lupe makes between bitches and ladies.
And while I agree with you in that he doesn’t really put the patriarchal roots of this notion into clear perspective – I disagree that he tries to make a distinction between bitches and ladies.
From the first time I listened to the track I could clearly hear that he is actually addressing the confusion associated with trying to differentiate between these two ideas via the lens of popular culture (hip hop).
“Bitch bad, woman good, lady better, they misunderstood” – to me, clearly speaks of the limitations of trying to understand women with such terms. I.e. its silly to think of a bitch as bad, and someone who acts like a lady as more worthy – its to simplistic – especially given the context with which we arrive at such conclusion – again, via commodification of mainstream hip hop.
While not putting patriarchy into a clear enough perspective, i guess one has to take into account his audience – and personally I feel he should be commended for introducing that audience to a very complex scene.
Great piece though.
Thanks Umanyano, I appreciate this discussion point. Food for thought!
While I wish I were mistaken and that he were making a comment on the simplistic nature of bitch/lady binaries, I don’t think that’s the case primarily because the video does not reflect that message. However, the beauty of all artform is that it’s up for interpretation and I think your take is great.
I think patriarchy could have been clearly referred to even taking account the audience (which is probably quite varied) For example, a father character rhyming along to degrading lyrics in the presence of his son, or a conscious fella or one in a suit whom we associate with respectability but still calls women bitches etc etc. I know there’s only so many scenarios one video can depict, but since it boiled than to one (for corrupting the yong man’s mind) I hate that it chose the classic blame the mother story. Does that make sense?
Lupe should certainly be credited with bringing to the fore an important topic which not many male rappers have dared to approach.
Art indeed comes down to interpretation.
I didn’t want to give the impression that I felt the song and video is primarily about a binary scenario – I think its a lot more complex than that, and I think both (song and video) reflect that – I don’t think he is trying to have a conversation about them at all – but more about identity formation through the media.
The boy in the car with his mother, who he dotes on, calling herself a bad bitch, the little girls, who grow, and are really quite pleasant, but dress and act in a manner that doesn’t reflect that to the boy, despite his own complex upbringing around such notions. And for her: “bad means good to her, she’s really nice and smart…….bitch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way, but she thinks she’s a bitch what double entendre.”
I think it speaks on identity, how we see ourselves, how others see us, the power of role models, the framing of female identity, and men via the gangster character, the history of the black image, and of course the role of the puppet master in all this, who is shown at the start counting his cash outside the theatre.
I think all these ideas, via the dominant media young people are engaging with (hip hop), show, as Lupe says, the fruit of their confusion – though minus of course, a deeper analyses on patriarchy through one the ideas you mentioned above. And having viewed the video a few times, I agree, while heaping the focus on women, it loses its potential impact through a lack of clear and broader context.
And while that limitation should be noted clearly – the fact that so many of us are having this conversation now is a good step forward.
In respect sister,
I liked the article, and I think you touched on good points. I wrote a similar post earlier today: https://www.orchestratedpulse.com/2012/08/bitch-bad-patriarchy-good-lupe-fiasco-starts-conversation-misses-mark/
Great post. I think Lupe gives it a reasonable try. I have problems with how the same stereotypes are inevitably recycled/reproduced through the images he has used, but more important is that dialogue is now happening. @ RobtheIdealist, the discussíon arround your blog post already shows that putting the thought out there is always a good thing. On a more general note, I’d like to recomment a journal that I found very helpful for my Masters research: https://www.smith.edu/meridians/
Thanks Linda! Excited to read Meridians! (geek moment)
I think Lupe should be commended for starting the dialogue with a fresh view. I do not think Lupe should be commended for dropping a feminist video. I think the two viewpoints easily get muddled up.
I actually dogged the song and agree with the points you brought up. But this is my problem with the idea of the critique of the video. When looking the hegemonic order we have to look at it through the lense of it. What I an saying is we cannot get to your step of claiming the idea of lady until we have the discussion of the word birch first. I think it is a lot to put on the artist who to try in encompass a big conversation such as the idea of a lady and a bitch and IRS Angelican nature in 5 mins. You can cloud the discussion with someone when go from step 1 to 10.
See, if he got the damage that can and has been done with contrasting ladies with bitches, he would not be able to reproduce it that way. So while he raises important points, he also reinforces a view which affects women and the men in their lives negatively.
I agree with your thoughts but I also think that without changing the lyrics of the chorus the “they misunderstood” at the end could have left room for a more nuanced understanding—questioning all of those labels. But in the body of the song his lyrics simplify the issue.
Its a good conversation to have and the fact that the song begins discourse is a great thing, but I did think it strange that the woman was the only one that was “unenlightened.” He could have made more direct similar commentary on her male counterpart who also takes on a certain posture of what it means to be a man thanks to hip-hop stereotypes. He does show the one male character in black face, just like the woman, but doesn’t connect that with the young male we see associated with the young girl who grew up to be a “bad bi**. “
Hey sis. It would have been great to show some element of that indeed. I just don’t know who this video is meant to empower and on whose loss.
Abdul Muhsin says
Think about this way, if you want the men to stop calling you bi*** then you should not see yourself as one. I think that is was Lupe was trying to establish with this song. Maybe that is why he did not look at patriarchal side of it.
Why is he being questioned or the video being questioned…feminist please stop it and yes I am a female… If you are such a feminist you would be happy to see what he is trying to do… Stop referring to yourself as a bitch, stop looking up to jackasses like nicki minus who proudly calls herself bitch, other women stupid hoes and respect yourselves.we should watch what we say and how we identify ourselves around our children because it affects them, they absorb everything we say and do and creates standards and ideologies that affects their very existence and thought process. So bitch is bad? But a lady’s good/? And a women’s better?
It’s thought provoking as a parent it made me look at they way I may speak around my children and how I affect them, so what’s the damn problem? Why does everything good always has to be ripped apart? How many rappers do you know are at least taking a stand against women being seen as sexual objects even worse we are being seen as minstrel shows of 2012, we look like fools…. So please spare me on this this article has upset me greatly….how can you call yourself a bad bitch, but don’t want to be called a bitch, but then say your a bitch! Read deeper n not into what u want to see or hear!!!! Black power
Did you actually read the article? At no point did I refer to myself as a bitch, what I said is that a woman has a right to call herself what she wants without the grade system. That’s what we should be teaching kids. Also if you had actually read the article you would have read that I commend Lupe for raising the issue. Please don’t upset yourself unnecessarily.
A powerful message, wrapped in truth, rapped in art, delivered for effect. I can’t understand why the larger community, with the Hip Hop community cannot sustain support for these messages. I certainly cannot fathom hostility toward these messengers in defense of “bitches” and “Hoes”. I will admit being entertained thoroughly by both. Al Jolson, I’m sure, had his fans amongst the ridiculed. However, this is not about simple choices. Answers to questions of cultural significance are being sought in this video and song; a call for a moment of evolutionary thinking. Who perpetuates the images cloaked in gangsta- pimp-silk, “Us or “They”? Why do “Bitches” and “Hoes” dominate in all measures; revenue, popularity, power…etc. And Why would the Hip Hop community tolerate (and /or support) hostility toward the message in “Bitch Bad”?
With Lupe thinking retirement in the wake of a mindless threat, another reality continues to be sustained. From “Arrested Development” to “Common” to Lupe Fiasco (many others), these voices seem to quickly fade beneath mountains covered in base stereotypes calling generations into the tragic shadows of the valley. Remember, “They” take great pleasure in this cycle and increased enjoyment in the fact that now the shepherds are from the same valley.
To such a wise man, I can offer little wisdom, but hope and understanding. It leads me to ponder one more poignant question though; How will the Hip Hop community respond?
If Lupe Fiasco takes a bow, we lose a vigorous and poetic intellect that gives voice to the tough realities and hope to what is achievable.
You are being rediculous for dismissing this song because it doesn’t show men as the ones at fault. One of the biggest issues in black society is lack of proper male role models.
I love this song. I felt the lyrics. I felt the video and it made me think. Every single video you watch is these women who are half naked and exposing themselves and its easy to dismiss this as an African woman who is comfortable in her own skin and is proud of who she is but for those women filled with self hate and children that look at this and say I want to be this girl. Videos that are out there of the portrayal of the black society are damaging. I wrote this blog post of body image that I felt was in the black community, I hope you can tell me what you think about it https://themodernafrican.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/not-fat-nor-thin-but-just-curvy.html