In a blog post for Spin magazine, Brandon Soderberg takes rapper Lupe Fiasco to task for “mansplaining” in his controversial new song and video, “Bitch Bad.” Mansplaining, in case you’re new to the term, generally refers to a man’s condescending explanation about something that mostly concerns women. Lupe’s refrain—“Bitch bad / woman good / lady better”—irked Soderberg, and struck him as typical of a patronizing strand in socially conscious hip-hop. However, Soderberg himself quickly falls into the same condescending tone he accuses Lupe of using—and, what’s more, he ignores the bigger picture behind the evolution of this emotionally charged word.
“Does any female want to be called a lady?” Soderberg incredulously ponders—as if that word is an insult. Stranger still is the rhetorical nature of this question, as though he knows how all women prefer to be addressed, and doesn’t need to ask. In fact, the word “female” probably bothers more women than the word “lady”—not that I’m going to presume to know. Although I can, at least, speak from my own experience, which is more than I can say for Mr. Soderberg. (And I’m not the only one who feels this way.)
Soderberg doesn’t help his case when he points to rapper Azealia Banks’ affinity for “cunt,” a word that, unlike “bitch,” is still censored on television. Just because Banks “blew minds and inspired enthusisasm” with her word choice, that doesn’t mean its usage is no longer up for debate. What the case of Banks suggests is that women are powerful enough to reclaim even the most hateful words, if they so choose. And that, when they do, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about the politics of word choice.
Soderberg does make a few valid points about the song and video, particularly its misguided incorporation of blackface. But he is way off base when he suggests that the controversy that still hovers around the word is irrelevant. Initiating a conversation—the rapper’s stated intention for the song—seems to terrify Soderberg, who cringingly labels it “cynicism.” Mansplaining is typically aimed at shutting a conversation down—and Soderberg’s piece is no exception.
“Bitch Bad” as a work of art is so disorienting that it’s difficult to decide whether Lupe himself is really mansplaining or not. But at the very least we should discuss the coherent shards that are there, and take them seriously. Soderberg’s response to the song is by itself proof enough that the conversation Lupe Fiasco wants to prompt is still very much needed.