Put your tits away, I'm trying to watch the show

A couple of weeks ago I went to Pemberton Music Festival — a music fest that takes place in a small village north of Whistler, in B.C. It was amazing and perfect in almost every way. Pemberton is overwhelmingly beautiful, even to someone like me, who grew up in B.C., surrounded by the kind of scenery most people only see on postcards. The lineup was fantastic. Watching Kendrick Lamar perform in front of a backdrop of spectacular mountains was mind-blowing. Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, and Outkast gave monumental performances. I have nary a critique for the whole festival. Except one thing:

I’m tired of the tits.

I am positive that this particular complaint will result in a number of people telling me I’m a prudish boob-hater, but in other breaking news, grass is green and rain is wet.

I have been going to hip hop shows since forever. Almost exclusively. So I’m pointing at hip hop here not because I think it’s any more sexist than any other music genre — because it is most certainly not — but because my music fandom has been dedicated to hip hop for 20 years and these are the shows I’m at. And I am so tired of having to shut down parts of my brain in order to enjoy the music I love.

When you’re at a show, watching your dreams come true in the form of Outkast, live and in the flesh, and your rap-heros complain, as Big Boi did, “I can’t see no titties,” it’s jarring. And kind of hurtful, to be honest. I was up at the very front, pressed up against the railing, so I couldn’t see how many women responded to the encouragement to flash their breasts, but it was impossible to miss it completely, thanks to the screens next to the stage, showing video of the crowd. Looking up to see the camera zoom in on a pair of fake breasts on the big screen takes you out of the moment, making you have to work to get back into it. It also serves as a helpful reminder that hip hop (and again, this could be extended to many other music genres — Hi, rock, punk, metal, reggae) is still for the boys. Women are welcome, of course, so long as they’re shaking it for an audience.

During “She Lives in My Lap” the entire backdrop was filled with a video of a mostly-naked model, dancing, legs spread for much of the time. At the end of the song she takes off her underwear. If you ever needed a quick lesson in feminist film theory and a literal example of the “male gaze,” that was it. Her naked, sexualized body was made into wallpaper.

Like, is it completely impossible for male performers to imagine that 1) their entire audience is not just dudes, and 2) YOUR SET WILL STILL BE DOPE EVEN WITHOUT NAKED LADIES?

There were many more moments of objectification throughout the show and preceding André’s performance of “Hey Ya,” he invited some women on stage to “shake it,” specifically requesting those “not wearing any panties.”

It’s no surprise that naked breasts abounded at renowned (intentional) asshole and misogynist, Tyler the Creator’s set (I did let out a lonely boo from the beer garden after “Bitch Suck Dick”), but no one goes to see Outkast for tits and woman-hating. They go because they love hip hop.

There are some groups that are known and popular because they objectify women. Outkast is not one of those groups. It’s something that’s completely unnecessary and, call me naive, but can’t you just not? Can’t you just choose not to objectify women? Can’t you choose, during a festival where people are drunk and high and where there is a very real risk of sexual assault (because as much fun as these festivals are, women are victimized quite often…), not to contribute to an atmosphere where women are turned into part of the entertainment — for men — instead of equal and respected members of the audience? Can’t we just be fans? Why do we have to perform?

I want to enjoy a show without being reminded that all my favorite rappers are sexist. I’ve spent 20 years trying to reconcile my hip hop fandom with my feminism and it never stops being a challenge. And it hurts! It hurts to constantly be reminded that the music you love so much is made by people who are too lazy and selfish to think about the impact this kind of imagery and attitude might have on you and their other female fans.
I’m not going looking to vilify Outkast and I’m not going to stop loving their music, but I want them to do better — and I want other male artists to do better. Can you do us a favour and let us just watch the show?

(Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is my favorite Outkast track and one of my favorite hip hop songs of all time. And look! No tits! It’s just that easy.)

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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