No one has yet made the obvious connection between the language of hip hop and the latest revelations about how its “king,” Russell Simons, raped three young women working for his company. The language of hip hop has horrified me for years.
This seems surprising. I remember being amazed when my young granddaughters and their friends listened, apparently unperturbed, to verses that demonize or degrade women.
But at the same time they were reading, without much reaction, Nabokov’s Lolita—sometimes a high school assignment—and seeing Hollywood movies that frightened and revolted me.
The debasement of women in our culture, both popular and high brow, has been going on for so long, and with so little questioning—freedom of speech now excuses every excess—that it is only when three brave women (like many others in many fields) came forward with graphic descriptions of Simmons’ sexual violence that there is even a chance, a small one, of the songs that celebrate the predator’s right to prey on women might possibly be questioned—but feebly. The old excuse about artists’ rights to self-expression will make any attempt at correction impossible and even unspeakable.
“I didn’t sing for almost a year,” one of the three women told a New York Times reporter.
Her statement is enormously important. Violence crushes our freedom to create, across all genres, destroying the self-confidence that alone allows the essential spontaneity of imagination.
And this destruction is brought about by many means, rape the most violent and destructive, but the dismissal and downplaying of women’s points of view curbs and extinguishes talent, too.
But it is changing.
There are dozens of stories now about the routine predation, most often exercised, and gotten away with, when the rapist is important, but existing on all levels of this culture where men hate and fear our innate power. I have encountered this attitude over and over in publishing, although I was somewhat protected by my skin color and my unwilling roost in the upper class.
When I began publishing my short stories, those that dealt with depression and rejection were most easily accepted by mainstream publishers, whereas Upstate, my novella of a woman’s rage—she burns down her betraying lover’s house—could only be published with an endnote describing my heroine’s visit to a psychiatrist. The reader could assume that he would strip her rage out and leave her a neutered but acceptable member of society.
I’m very pleased that brave and highly successful Sarabande Books will publish Upstate without the added endnote as the centerpiece of my next collection of short stories.
In the meantime, do whet your teeth on Sarabande’s new collection of stories, Catapult by Emily Friedlund.
You will be horrified, and excited, by her story, “Expecting,” in which a demon baby dominates her incapable family.
The long delay in the publishing of The Silver Swan: Searching for Doris Duke is causing many questions. A wise friend asked me yesterday why I was persisting.
I told her that the way this rich and talented woman was misrepresented and misprized—a woman asked me the other day if she was a murderer and was clearly unconvinced by my answer—is another example of what all the women coming forward with their stores have endured.
Glamor—however you define it—and money tend to draw golden veils over the way a woman like Doris Duke is misrepresented, excoriated, and consigned—if these rumors are never contradicted—to the garbage can of history.
You won’t find a man there, moldering along with the past’s cabbages and carrots.
There is another story. It’s the story of all the MeTwos—and we must expect an extended backlash against them once the media decides that the backlash is a better story.
And it will be vicious.