I used to follow Maura Johnston with more intensity because I do believe she has written some of the most interesting analyses of music in the past ten years or so. I was shocked when she was ousted from the Village Voice, and like a lot of people, I've wanted to see her succeed with what she's doing. I think it's a brave-as-hell move to start your own internet magazine and do things like charge people $3 to read it. I think that a lot of what she's doing with Maura Magazine is ... pretty revolutionary. And I want her to succeed as a woman, because I know what it's like as a woman in this field. It's difficult, to say the least...
I felt that her reflections on Kanye West's Yeezus were pretty balanced and I appreciated the fact that it seemed upon reading it (to me), that she was not doing This Thing That White People Do When It Comes To Rap, which is automatically dismiss it as violent and particularly in the case of white women, to dismiss it all as misogynistic. I thought it was a balanced assessment that was more about the breadth of the album and Kanye's talent/creative scope. I appreciated most of this article and the balance that most of the women brought to the table when discussing it.
So you can imagine my surprise when Maura came out swinging hard for the appropriately-nicknamed Rape Anthem of 2013, Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines. This is the sentence that made my blood boil, from her Tumblr:
So the whole “Blurred Lines” debate is driving me crazy, being as it is based on half-listens and no-context parachuting into the work of an artist who I have enjoyed for quite some time now.
Hmm. I didn't know that detailed analysis of the lyrics and the actual, literal, REAL words and experiences of sexual assault survivors qualified as "no-context parachuting" into Robin Thicke's discography. I didn't know that people who were so triggered by the lyrics that they had to shut the radio off should have ignored those feelings of terror and panic to just "give the song another try."
And then the second part of that sentence! Everyone gets that you've enjoyed his work for a long time. No one was asking you, or any other feminist, or woman music reviewer, or anyone, really - to come out and publicly renounce his entire discography and say you would never, ever listen to another Robin Thicke song again. To be honest, there are a few Robin Thicke songs that I've enjoyed before and will probably enjoy again. Am I going to give him my money anytime soon? No. But most people have the critical thinking ability to recognize that one song/one action does not necessarily warrant a burning at the stake. And while you could argue (if you were, for example, a huge asshole who didn't give a fuck about sexual assault victims) that a lot of the feminist discourse around Blurred Lines could amount to a virtual burning at the stake, you can't ignore the fact that the controversy (manufactured and real) behind the whole thing is part of what kept this song at #1 for the longest time, and the fact remains that Robin Thicke and company got a lot of $$$$$$ out of this.
I'm so sorry that this "controversy" (and by "controversy," I mean, "The Audacity of Sexual Assault Victims to Speak Up About Things That Hurt Them and/or Make Them Uncomfortable") was "driving you crazy," but I'm also guessing that it wasn't triggering you in the way that the lyrics triggered a lot of sexual assault survivors.
Here's another interesting June 17 excerpt from the Daily Beast: (I swear we're going to get more into the present day, really soon)
Oddly, though, top feminist sites like Jezebel, The Hairpin, and XO Jane haven’t yet weighed in.
Hmm... I wonder why they didn't weigh in so quickly? Hmm... Let me think about it.
Perhaps, like music critic Maura Johnston, the editor and founder of Maura Magazine, and Frannie Kelley, an editor at NPR Music, they don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Certainly, the video is less offensive than another recently banned-from-YouTube video, “Pussy” by the Dream, which is not about little kittens, and features closeups of a woman’s nether regions being covered in oil. And Thicke’s video would barely register on the outrage meter when compared to most garden-variety hip-hop videos featuring bling and babes.
This is pretty crucial racism right here. I cannot think of a single hip-hop video I have seen where the women were actually naked. Now - I will say - I am a white girl from rural West Virginia, so it is entirely possible that there are hip-hop videos out there like this, but I have not seen a single one. I have seen a lot of hip-hop videos with lots of hot babes in them, and they are all WEARING CLOTHES. They might be wearing short shorts and bikini tops, but THEIR BREASTS ARE NOT FULLY EXPOSED TO THE CAMERA. Furthermore, the "garden-variety hip-hop video" which you speak of often takes place at a pool or some other "party" setting. You know what a pool party makes me think of? GOOD CONSENSUAL FUN. You get the choice to show up to a pool party. The women in Blurred Lines are literally being treated like animals. Now - once again - my hip-hop music video knowledge is not A+, so if I'm wrong here, let me know. But when I think of hip-hop and rap videos, I think of sexy ladies in sexy clothes, and yes, we can definitely talk about the feminist/womanist viewpoints on those, but I really don't think it's the same as the naked ladies in the Blurred Lines video. (Also let it be said that I think ALL MEN have the same fantasy of being desired by many women and that's nothing special)
“Lyrically, it’s problematic, but I feel like so many pop songs right now are problematic,” said Johnston of the song itself.
Hmm. I'm having a hard time coming up with other current pop songs that have literal lyric-by-lyric, line-by-line comparisons to things that actual sexual assault victims have been told by their assaulters WHILE THEY ARE BEING ASSAULTED. Again. My music knowledge isn't the best, so if I need to be corrected, correct me.
So I stopped following her really, after this, because I felt really let down. I know that white feminists looooooooooooooove almost nothing more than to defend their white male heroes to the point of no return (see also: The Saga Of Hugo Schwyzer) but to have a female music journalist just completely drop the ball on this felt so much more personal. As a female musician, there are so many times on the road, at shows, in my life, where I've felt threatened, unsafe, and just in general, on edge about being a woman in a man's playing field. And you want to think and believe that the women who are writing about music have your back, and it cuts to the bone to realize that they don't, necessarily.
I had just written off Maura Johnston as yet another white lady who does This Thing That White Ladies Do So Well, which is: we jump through a lot of ideological and semantic hoops to defend our viewpoints, even when we're clearly wrong. (See also: the white lady who defended the Onion's right to call 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis a sexual slur) I'm not distancing myself from this; I too, have been trained to do this, and I am working on unlearning this every day. From following a lot of feminist and womanist discourse, I know for a fact that white women are very skilled at using words and ... how do I say it... flexible logic to our benefit. I've done it, we've all done it. Nothing new. But it's like: how far are you willing to go to step on your sisters/brothers/all-gendered fellow HUMAN BEINGS who are sexual assault victims? How much hoop-jumping are you willing to do to further silence, discredit, and dismiss those who have already been silenced, discredited, and dismissed by society?
It's this famous flexible logic that's the reason I'm writing today. Apparently, I forgot to unfollow Maura Johnston on my Tumblr, because she posted this gem today, from Katherine St. Asaph: (Maura's notes are at the bottom)
Yet Drake’s album is supposed to speak to this un-universal universal experience, somehow, male and female. Which is standard enough; the majority of male writers write about specifically male experiences and the majority of female writers write about specifically female experiences, but only the former tends to be re-classified as universal experience. (For example: The comparisons to The Idler Wheel have already begun, but I don’t remember seeing that album lauded as the universal human experience so much as the universal female experience. Which itself is more charitable than most reviews.) I’ve never felt like I have much in common with millennials (in part a function of never feeling like I have much in common with anybody, but still.) And I don’t have Drake feelings. The very thought is ridiculous. Lately I have Goldfrapp feelings, so many of them (how can you not hear “Thea” and feel ten times more like a tragic heroine?) But I don’t have Drake feelings; to me they’re almost a red flag. If someone tells me he relates to women the way Drake would, I would be rather put off. Why wouldn’t I? Yet it’s a thing I suspect I’m supposed to just get over.
This whole post is crucial but this part especially so. (See also: Chronic use of the first-person plural on way too many sites for and by “default” types.)
So - really? After Maura Johnston digs in her heels and defends Robin Thicke like he's her brother, she's reposting this about... Drake? Like, y'all do realize that Drake used to be on Degrassi... right?
So I read the post. Now I don't know Katherine St. Asaph at all. But the whole post is definitely worth reading, and there are some really interesting points in here. Like the fact that the first death threat this writer received was from a Drake stan. (Also, WTF??) It's some critical thinking, which I really appreciate.
But here's my real question:
Why is Maura Johnston reposting this weird essay about Drake and -- all of a sudden -- she's got all these ~critical thoughts~ about misogyny and Nice Guys and the way that Drake discusses women and these are somehow really necessary thoughts and a necessary piece that needs to be reposted on her blog AFTER she has spent her entire summer defending Robin Thicke and dismissing all the justified criticism not just from music industry insiders, and the precious "real critics" but from ACTUAL SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS?!
OH WAIT - I THINK I KNOW WHY.
Robin Thicke is "unthreatening" and "unassuming" in a way that Drake is not, because Robin Thicke is white. Robin Thicke gets a forgiveness pass that Drake does not, because Robin Thicke is white.
Now, I wouldn't even get into an elevator with Robin Thicke. As is usually the case with people, the truth comes out eventually. I've seen pictures of Robin Thicke grabbing the asses of his female fans and I've read stories from people that I'm not inclined to disbelieve.
Drake, on the other hand?! DRAKE?! I will say - I'm not super familiar with the discography of either artist, but from what I have heard, I think Drake might be the kind of guy who would definitely help you get to your car safely, who'd call you a cab, who would make sure you were OK. I can see Drake hitting on someone and maybe they are like, "Whoa, is Drake hitting on me right now? I can't believe that. That must not be the case. Is he, or isn't he?" Drake reminds me maybe a bit of a certain man I know and love in my own life, who may not be the best or more forward communicator when it comes to expressing interest, and maybe the girl doesn't even know that he was interested, and then he's heartbroken and writes a bunch of songs about it. Is that problematic? Yeah and this is something that needs to be talked about as well; rapists don't just spontaneously start raping, they are trained by society. Do I think that they're necessarily trained by Drake lyrics? NO. Is that problematic in a sense that it's actually triggering in the same way as the lyrics to Blurred Lines blaring over every radio station in the country? I'm not totally sure. I am not dismissing the intelligent commentary and thoughts from Katherine St. Asaph - I might feel differently had I received a death threat from a Drake fan. I'm questioning Maura Johnston's motives in her curation of this post.
I can, and definitely do see, some of the issues with this and they are issues that need to be talked about, for sure. BUT YOU DON'T GET TO SPEND YOUR SUMMER DEFENDING ROBIN THICKE REPEATING VERBATIM THE WORDS OF ACTUAL, LIVE RAPISTS AND THEN GO IN FOR THE KILL WHEN IT COMES TO DRAKE. YOU MISSED YOUR CHANCE TO DO THAT.
As a woman, Maura Johnston has really let me down. As a sexual assault survivor, Maura's stance on / defense of Blurred Lines has disappointed and hurt me. And now I know where she stands. Now I know that I can't trust her and there's no point for me to try to support her anymore, because she clearly doesn't support me or people like me. She feels that because she knows Robin Thicke's work so well, that the rest of us are just "half-listeners" who are jumping onto some sort of bandwagon. If this bandwagon is "supporting and listening to other survivors and empowering them" then yes, count me guilty, I'm on the bandwagon.
Maura Johnston is just another white lady doing This Other Thing That White Ladies Do So Well: using our positions and privileges in society to support our own agendas and promote our own ~special individual viewpoints~ and doing so at the expense of others. (Again: notice the "our," I have to claim this if I'm going to critically work through these issues myself.) Her position as one of the most respected music writers in the country, and also as one of the most respected female music writers in the country isn't a position that's fixed/calibrated for her always using that power to stand up for women. When Maura Johnston wants to flex her "F*eminist" muscles by reposting a pithy critical thinking essay about misogyny in Drake's (???) latest album, she does that; and when Maura Johnston wants to stand up for Maura Johnston's love of Robin Thicke and play devil's advocate at the expense of rape survivors, she does that unapologetically and dismissively.
So I say this with all my heart: you're not my sister, and I'm not on your fucking team.