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Straight Outta Misogyny: From the Big Screen to the Bigger Picture

Woman looking awayOk. I’m going to make a lofty attempt to connect the misogynoir* and misogyny in Straight Outta Compton – Dr. Dre’s violent past and Ice Cube’s women vs. bitches theory – to state sanctioned violence against women/female bodied people (FBP). This violence is in large part due to global socio-political histories that continue to impede women’s progress and autonomy, particularly racialized women.  I’m hoping that the more people who engage the topic of misogynoir/misogyny from this perspective, the more likely we’ll see a change in policy and social norms informed by the state*.

Twenty years ago, Dre assaulted Dee Barnes and other women.

Fast forward to the popular release of Straight Outta Compton and the social media tidal wave that came crashing down on our screens.

Many celebrities and everyday folks weighed in on the film’s omission of Barnes’ and its star’s history of violence. I’ve seen lots of reviews, op-eds, comments and interviews where people have asked “why not leave it in the past?” or said “it was 20 years ago, let it go”. Responses like this are indicative of what Dee Barnes writes in her response to Dre’s “apology”.

“This is bigger than me, and bigger than hip-hop. This is about respect and awareness. As a result of speaking on my personal experience with violence, I have been vilified. Women survivors of violence are expected neither to be seen nor heard, and the pressure increases when it involves celebrities. No one wants to see their heroes criticized. And if they are African American, the community at large becomes suspicious of an underlying motive to tear down a successful black man. Excusing pop culture icons from scrutiny over their history of violence against women because they are elevated to “hero” status is wrong on so many levels. Creating notable, brilliant art does not absolve you of your faults.” – Dee Barnes, “This Is Bigger Than Me & This Is Bigger Than Hip Hop”

Barnes’ response to this “apology” is accurate. This is about perpetrators of violence taking responsibility and being held accountable. It’s about respect for women/FBP and raising awareness of gender-based violence. This is about refusing to be silent.

To leave it in the past, is to excuse violence. We cannot leave it in the past because violence against women/FBP is happening presently on a global scale. Dre’s physical abuse, and Ice Cube’s slut shaming and condoning of violence towards “bitches”, and their homeboys’ complicit response to those actions, takes its cues from the state.

I’m not excusing Dre’s nor Cube’s actions. I think when we look at violence we also need to see it through a bigger perspective – where the state informs the actions of its citizens. How? Keep reading.

When the state informs a social group’s morality on violence against women/FBP through media, policy, and a disproportionate number of men in comparison to women/FBP in positions of power, and uses violence to ensure this continues, then they are forcefully and violently shaping the social consciousness and hierarchal worth of all its citizens. Women are regularly deemed unintelligent and face state-sanctioned restrictions on their bodily autonomy, reproduction, body modification, presentation, etc. So how can we expect citizens to behave differently? Dre and Cube are regurgitating the same behaviors in their work and personal lives.

The state has used economic, political, educational, medical and social policy to treat women as second and third class citizens. It has systematically removed women/FBP contributions to history. Straight Outta Compton does the same. It purposefully left out the contributions of women, and left in scenes of naked and scantily clad women portrayed as property.

The U.S. and Canada are just two examples of many countries where male civilians (rap stars or not), male police & male military members are rewarded for repeating this same behavior with promotions, protection from justice, access to resources, and fame. That’s a lot of privilege gained from violence.

This is bigger than Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and N.W.A. This is bigger than hip hop. If our analysis stops at rap music inciting community or intra-racial violence due to its content, then we are employing a cultural dissonance within a vacuum. We lose the broader socio-historical context. The content and actions of hip hop artists is a reflection of our society as a whole. Violent behavior is taught through the actions the state uses to “defend” itself. Violence was used to colonize and maintain imperialist regimes (violence is still used to maintain neo-imperialist regimes).

Violence is used to systematically quell and disrupt any and all movements that work for the liberation of women/FBP; especially black, indigenous, and women/FBP of color. That in itself is the root of violence against us all. If we are to achieve social progress, we must address this reality.

If we want real apologies, real equality and real access to power then we have to go straight outta misogynoir and misogyny. We need to leave the big screen, adjust our lens and address the bigger picture – the state sanctioned violence against women/FBP.

* Misogynoir is defined as the colonialist and imperialist sexist depictions & treatment of black women that informs the public`s narrative on black women`s identities and bodies.

* Max Weber defines the state as a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain territory. 


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