Did you guys see this story, in the Washington Post yesterday, about the pervasive culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at Sterling Jewelers, parent company of Kay and Jared Galleria? Apparently a class-action lawsuit involving SIXTY-NINE THOUSAND female workers has been going on for years but the documents involved, which had previously been in confidential arbitration, were just released last weekend.
If you thought the corporate culture in Mad Men was television hyperbole, check out this article for depictions of a culture of no-holds-barred sexual predation by upper management of young saleswomen.
Routine sexual “preying” at company events “was done out in the open and appeared to be encouraged, or at least condoned, by the company,” Melissa Corey, a manager of Sterling stores in Massachusetts and Florida between 2002 and 2008, said in her declaration. Continue reading →
On Saturday night I was groped in a club in Chicago. When I whipped my head around to see who had done it, I thought I could identify my assailant by the way he was furiously speeding away, not looking back. A run-by grabbing. By the time I turned around he was well away from me but I thought that was him, anyway, speedwalking through a crowd of people chatting and standing mostly still.
I brought the water I was ordering to my boyfriend on a nearby couch, told him what happened, and then watched as the man emerged from around the corner and stood by the ping pong tables, taking pictures. I told my beau I was going to go yell at him.
We walked over and I said something like hey you just grabbed my ass and what the hell, not even sure it was him, expecting him to deny. But instead he gave us this blank stare, touched his chest, shrugged, said sorry, said, What do you want me to do? It was fucking creepy. I guess in the end he said he’d leave.
We went back to the dance floor and I felt this wave of guilt because what I should have wanted was to take his picture, to drag him to the bouncers and say, This man assaulted me—don’t let him in here ever again. Fuck, call the police! That’s illegal, right? Assault?
As a rape survivor I hate when we call rape sexual assault. Calling rape sexual assault makes both invisible. Sexual assault is this man purposefully molesting me. Sexual assault is my classmate in graduate school following me into my apartment after getting me drunk and unzipping my sweater while I cried hysterically, frozen and in shock. Sexual assault is grabbed breasts, dicks, and asses, a feel-up during a pat-down, any forced or unwanted touching, kissing, or contact. Rape is assault with penetration. Of a vagina, of an anus, of a mouth. We make all the assaults invisible when we forget the word rape, which is another, worser, thing, a thing often done also by the men and women who commit assault.
The whole night my friend kept saying that Soho House, where we were, was “the eating club of Chicago”–and now, after this dude visibly groped me in open well-lit space and no one noticed or seemed to care, I find myself remembering when I was being raped my freshman year of college in an actual eating club and one of my friends stood at the front door of the club begging the bouncers to let her in and get her friend, because someone called her and said I was in trouble. We’ve talked about it since, she and I, the useless irony of security guarding the doors but not protecting the people inside.
And I think also of the seven Syracuse University campus security guards manning the doors at occupied Crouse-Hinds Hall, getting paid the overtime the Administration has complained loudly about to eat potato chips and turn away lawyers and food deliveries at the door. Maybe, maybe, for our safety, we could have used one guard, to walk around the space regularly and make sure everyone inside was actually medically safe.
Now I have been a rape survivor for ten years and I have educated myself on sexual predators and I know, for example, that among men who rape, their average number of victims is 6. I know that not a lot of men are sexual predators but that the ones who are do it repeatedly. And I see the smug sociopathic mug of this dude who grabbed me offering with blank stare to leave and I’m kicking myself for not taking his fucking picture and showing it to the bouncers or the cops or the whole internet because he knew what he was doing well enough to leave quickly so he could do it again, and who knows what else, too. And in the rape culture we live in, the onus is on me, the victim, to make sure sex offenders don’t further offend. But I never heard of the victims of poor people’s drug use being forced to be aggressive and press charges if they wanted those poor drug addicts of color to end up in jail.
What is security? Whom does security make secure?
I have never heard of a security detail in which off-duty policemen are specifically hired and trained to walk around a space making sure sexual predators are not assaulting or raping people. Have you? If the man who groped me had thrown a punch he would’ve been out on the street immediately, but no one is looking for assault and I don’t know who would’ve cared if I’d asked them to. That’s just the price of admission, for being a woman in a bar, these days.
I want a world where security makes women more secure. Where there’s one security force to keep the bar exclusive and cool, sure, but then there are trained people inside the premises looking for vulnerable passed out women and men and going to them and finding their friends and getting them out of there safely and stopping strangers from fucking with them and arresting the people who do. I want a security guard who is scanning the bar scene and noticing when a man purposefully speeds past a woman to molest her unconsenting body as he passes by, who calls the fucking cops on him because that is sexual assault and assault is illegal and, in this imaginary world, it is recognized that sex offenders are repeat offenders and it is a legal priority to get them off the streets, because unlike nonviolent drug users, for example, they actively and inherently are a threat to those around them.
And in this imaginary world women and men who say they are assaulted are believed and not demeaned and not blamed because in this world the fact that 2% of rape accusations are false is as taken for granted as the broken window theory that sends black teenage potheads to jail and gets a man murdered for selling loosies on the street. As Lil Wayne says in “Dontgetit,” the outro to his Carter III, “we don’t have room in the jail for the real motherfuckers, the real criminals,” He describes a sex offender moving into his neighborhood. “They givin me a paper—is that a misunderstanding? ‘Cause I really don’t understand it.” But I really don’t want to know that answer.
Miguel is a stylish new R&B crooner with a new post-Akon/Neyo aesthetic, so I’m sorry that his new single, “How Many Drinks,” is full of predatory one-liners. The music is sultry, true. And whenever it comes on the radio, I admit I groove for a second before I remember what song it is.
I’m not the first listener to be turned off by. At the LA Weekly, Shea Serrano describes “Why This Song Sucks.” (Answer: because it’s rapey). At Madame Noir, Clark Gail Baines asks whether it’s ok to still jam out to a song that, if its lyrics were directed to her at a bar, would have her “two step[ping] in the opposite direction.” And while the video posters at Clutch, Rap-Up, Absolutepunk.net and 2DopeBoyz don’t say anything of the kind, commenters at all four compared the lyrics’ scenario to “date rape.” But the best treatment of the song came in Twitter conversation between @BShariseMoore, @UrbanGrief (Lisa Good), and @sisterprofessor (Dr. Zada Johnson) in a series of tweets, from which Johnson segued into a great discussion of the falsetto in R&B, and BShariseMoore follows up with a blog post that breaks down the song’s questionable lyrics.
It’s a damn shame Miguel’s people didn’t notice a sociopath wrote their new track. This song is filled with really classic predatory logic, from using alcohol as a weapon for committing assault, to distorted thinking that blames the victim for something she didn’t choose. I know you guys think I”m being a total killjoy here. And I’m thinking of the scene in 40-Year-Old Virgin when Steve Carrell is told to go for the drunkest girls in the bar, and he ends up with Leslie Mann, who of course is hilarious and it gets very funny. But the depiction of Mann as the aggressor is disingenuous. In real life, real drunk girls are vulnerable to real predators, not affable adult virgins.
Even if it’s not fun, it’s important to look at lyrics like these to remind ourselves how blurred conceptions of consent are in our popular culture, and in popular depictions of courtship. Miguel’s lyrics describe a seduction that focus entirely on his wants and his needs, which describe a pickup as a process with only one ending, whose only variable is not whether a woman might want to sleep with him or not but only “How many drinks?” it will take to get her there.
The song opens with Miguel’s assumption that because he’s attracted to a woman, he’s entitled to her.
Frustration: watching you dance.
Hesistation: to get in your pants
Come closer, baby, so I can touch
One question: am I moving too fast?
So the song opens with Miguel, presumably at a bar, “watching you dance.” Immediately he feels “frustration,” which I’m reading as both sexual frustration but also anger: you have something he wants. But it’s all about his feelings, not yours. He feels frustrated, so you need to “come closer” so that he “can touch.” (What, is he supposed to come over to you? Ask you to dance? Too lazy.) Miguel has “one question: am I moving too fast?”–but from the lyrics that follow, it doesn’t seem he cares what your answer is. He already knows how the night will end, and your opinion doesn’t matter.
‘Cause I ain’t leavin’ alone, feel like I could be honest, babe,
We both know that we’re grown
That’s why I wanna know
How many drinks would it take you to leave with me?
Yeah, you look good and I got money
But I don’t wanna waste my time
Back of my mind I’m hopin’ you say two or three
You look good, we came to party
But I don’t wanna waste my time
The chorus is where things get aggressive. “I ain’t leaving alone,” said instead of sung, is an almost threatening statement. It suggests to a woman that there’s only one way out of here, and it’s with me. The next two lines sport some faulty logic: Assumption: “we’re grown” (meaning what: we’re both DTF?); ergo (“that’s why”) there’s only one question here (“I wanna know”): “How many drinks would it take you to leave with me?” Miguel knows you’re coming: you’re a grownup, right? And, because he’s grown, and you’re grown, and he looked at you, your desires must be identical to his. Or if they’re not, he doesn’t care. The “one question” he asked you is not, “Do you want to go home with me?” or “Are you attracted to me?” or even “Wanna fuck?” It’s, How drunk do you have to be, or how much money do I have to spend, or even how much do I have to talk to you “to get you to leave with me,” which if you do, I will assume that is consent to sleep with me (though it isn’t).
The next few lines strike me as pathologically narcissistic, as Miguel lays out what he’s comfortable with in this situation (spending money) and what he’s not comfortable with (you spending his money without the payoff). Twice Miguel repeats that “I don’t wanna waste my time.” This line would read hugely different to me if he said “I don’t wanna waste [your] time,” giving some small indication of the woman’s subjectivity, like that she could be disinterested in him. And why is the “back of my mind hopin’ she’ll say two or three”? Because then she’ll be good and drunk? Or because more than that is expensive and who needs four or five, honestly? Miguel, in the “back of your mind” you should be sayin, I hope I’m being respectful of this woman’s boundaries. She seems kind of drunk, maybe I should ask for her number and call her tomorrow.
Kendrick Lamar’s verse on the song is interesting because it shows how rape culture and alcohol culture intersect. On “How Many Drinks,” he raps, “Pool full of liquor then we dive – in it/Knowing if I lick her I might die – in it.” The first part of this couplet is lifted from Lamar’s track “Swimming Pool (Drank),” where the voice of an experienced partier explains to Lamar, “First you get a swimming pool of liquor then you dive in it.” However, as one of my students V. J. demonstrated in a great paper last near, “Swimming Pool (Drank)” is a polyphonic narrative that uses multiple voices to demonstrate a really ambivalent attitude about drinking. Yes, one voice advises “diving in,” but another voice, identified as Lamar’s “conscience,” reminds Lamar that he’s “drown in some poison abusin’ my limit,” and the chorus depicts the anomie of a life of binging, hangovers, and the real boredom of addiction.
But this ambivalence is totally lacking in Lamar’s track on “How Many Drinks.” It’s almost as though he misquotes himself, takes his own words out of context, and distorts the meaning of (and tarnishes the subtlety of) his original song. Lamar’s lyrics don’t have the same narcissism as Miguel’s: his lyrics, which aren’t so brilliant, depict the choice to get together as one he and the woman make together: “Ah, what do we have? Your empty heart and my empty bottle and yellow cab.” That is, it takes two people’s desire, not just one: she’s had a break up, he’s had some drinks, there’s a taxi waiting outside. What’s really striking to me about Lamar’s verse is the effect it has on our reception of the sampled song, “Swimming Pool (Drank).” Because as listeners there’s this impulse to read the values of “How Many Drinks,” which is about getting a girl drunk so you can bang her, onto “Swimming Pool,” to forget that the latter actually questions alcohol culture as self-destructive, and instead remember it as a binge drinking anthem.
At the end of the remix, Miguel tries to spin his sleazy pickup as an exercise in women’s lib with a dash of YOLO:
I ain’t judgin’ if you do decide that you might be f*ing tonight
What? More power to you if you do decide that you might be f*ing tonight
Let’s go, shit, we only live once right?
Whatever action verb is used for sex is mixed out, but it sounds pretty clearly like “fucking” to me. Sorry, guys, but this is what rape scholarship calls “cognitive distortions.” In Miguel’s outro, the cognitive distortion is that while earlier in the song he was the one deciding “I’m not leaving alone,” suddenly the woman is an engaged participant with agency and choice. These lines also function to remove Miguel from responsibility while implicitly shaming the female. Suddenly “I ain’t judgin'” her decision to be promiscuous. Of course, these lines are laden with implicit judgment. In fact, they are nearly victim-blaming. Suddenly the empowered woman “decide[s…] to be fuckin’ tonight.” What happened to the girl you only had one question for? The sarcastic congratulations, “more power to you” only makes the line more offensive. They equate women’s victimization with women’s empowerment. If you wants to be liberated, go ahead, but you’re gonna get fucked. By Miguel. Yucky.