Between A Rapper And A Hard Place: Booed Off Stage While Representing Women
Last night I was booed off of a stage in front of 2,000 people.
I had been trying to make an announcement about supporting more female artists but I made the mistake of interrupting an almost all-male concert at USC featuring the latest hip-hop sensation, ass-ass-ass-ass-ass-hole, not-so-Big Sean.
It wasn’t an “I’ma let you finish” moment. It was an “I’m not gonna let you finish” moment, and it came from the crowd.
The only reason I was on stage was due to my position in USC Student Government. I work as the director of a women’s group and my job entails everything from hosting leadership conferences for women to promoting sex education to helping a student through the long administrative process in the aftermath of a rape. Whenever I talk about my job, a lot of people pull away. It seems that saying the word "rape," or talking about gender or saying anything critical on this campus is often taboo.
Maybe I should have remembered that before taking the mic in front of 2,000 angry concertgoers. Maybe I shouldn’t have, though.
A few months ago, the director of the USC Concerts Committee approached me with a dilemma: at this stage in the booking process it had become clear that there would not be a single professional female artist at USC’s annual Spring Fest concert. He was very concerned about the issue but there was nothing he could do, being locked into a tough contract with some administrative difficulties from previous concerts. To make matters worse, the headliner would be Big Sean, notorious for his casual use of misogyny; Big Sean, who couldn’t think of a single other word besides “ass” to describe the ladies featured in his chorus; Big Sean, whose constant, creative references to women as “hoes” and “sluts” go unmatched by his lyrics: “Bitch look down, tell me what’s up/girl you talk too much, shut up.” This "Big" Sean would take tens of thousands of dollars out of the student programming budget for yet another, male-centric concert and I was asked to be O.K. with it.
Before I go on, I should probably concede that my critique of Big Sean is not simple. Not only have I been spotted on a dance floor getting down to the “ass, ass, ass” song, but I often enjoy music with a message that I vehemently disagree with. In discussions about music, I’ve heard people say “the nastier, the better,” and from a visceral place, I feel that. However, like many of the socially mindful people I know, I have a complex, bittersweet relationship with the media I imbibe. We are well trained to enjoy it, but for me it is never that simple.
In reference to my frequent political comments on the topic, people sometimes ask me why I can’t “just turn it off for a minute.” My response: you can’t “just turn off” your eyeballs. Once you begin to see the world for the imbalanced, painful place that it is, you can’t un-see it. You do have to pick your battles, though.
In this case, I wasn’t about to go up against bringing Big Sean to USC, but I did want to create an alternative solution. To remedy the unavoidable imbalance in the SC concerts lineup, the director of the concerts committee suggested that we host a separate, all-female-concert called Fem Fest; an event that would highlight women going in the music industry. It wouldn’t be as flashy, or as well attended as Spring Fest but it would be a good start. We would promote it at the Big Sean concert, so that at the very least, there would be some address of the fact that only one woman, a USC student, had taken the mic all evening.
When the night finally came, we wrote a brief speech and grabbed specialty condoms leftover from Sex Week with promo materials to throw to the crowd. We chose a male student from the concerts committee to make the announcement with us because we knew, as depressing as it is, that the message about supporting women would be better received coming from a man. Unfortunately, our well-laid plans were doomed from the start.
First, the male student who was supposed to bring us up on stage got stuck dealing with the fickle demands of the artists back-stage and wasn't able to call us up between the two first sets.
During the next break between sets, too many people had caught wind of the announcement and piled up behind us to help throw condoms. The fire marshal sent us all back.
Within the next minute, the generator blew out. To the crowd’s disappointment, the stage smoked in silence and all able bodies from back-stage were put to use making a human wall to part the crowd in order to get a truck through with the spare generator. (My thought: I was seriously making myself into a human wall so that Big Sean could go up on stage and call me and my sisters "bitches" and "hoes.")
By that time, no one was happy, least of all Big Sean, as his manager made quite clear. The generator was eventually replaced and the show went on. We were given a thirty-second window to rile the crowd again and make our announcement (myself and two other women from the Women’s Student Assembly).
As soon as I was handed the mic, I knew there was no chance of being heard. In the biggest voice I could muster I yelled: “What’s up Spring Fest! Where are my ladies at?” To this, I was met with mostly boos. I persisted anyway: “I see a lot of ladies out there, but not a lot of lady artists up here.” A fresh onslaught of boos, most forcefully from the group of boys at the front.
I got the message. I told them to have a good, safe night and threw a handful of condoms at the crowd, mumbling something about next Friday.
I ran off the stage and shortly after, Big Sean took his throne. As I twisted my way through the crowd and out of the venue, I wasn’t so much angry as shell-shocked. I recognized that the audience, in spirited anticipation of their sexist celebrity, wasn’t really jeering at the message behind my announcement. I recognized further that they probably would have rejected anyone aside from "Big" Sean at that point. Still, on an important symbolic level, the night was another vicious affront to women.
Not only was the concert under-representative of women, it was an all out celebration of disrespect towards them. I wasn’t angry about getting booed off stage, but I became livid when Big Sean took my place up there and shouted: “All the ladies with the clean pussies make some noise!!!” implying that "unclean pussy," or the "sluts” that he references in his music were not desired attendees. There it was, the classic contradiction of mainstream media that both uses a woman deemed “whore” as a marketing tool (“ass, ass, ass” sells), while simultaneously espousing the oppressive puritanical message that her true value lies between her legs, in her virginal purity—her “clean pussy.”
Stuck, like me, between a rapper and a hard place, a woman can’t win. Without enough public space to speak for ourselves, we lose control of our own representation. Worse than being booed off of a stage, women are, in most places, not invited on stage to begin with. This space of silence that so many reside in leaves women weak and, when we try to break out of it, we get hit hard:
Then we take hits from those who defend the USC Hook-ups page because they don’t see the open celebration of rape culture as a problem. (More to this point here and here and here.) We really take hits from all sides, and so often prefaced by the phrase: “I’m all for equality, but…”
This is where I have to stop people. It’s all I need to hear, because if you are really “all for equality,” then you do what you can for equality. You start by noticing that there are barely any women in a lineup, and then by realizing that this is not an isolated moment. (Check out the history of concerts at USC, or speakers, or tenured professors for that matter.)
You could even follow that by cheering on a woman who does take the stage. You could come to Fem Fest this Friday at USC or make a point to attend any number of the other programs out there created to give women a voice (just some other options for USC students here, here, here and here.) You could do any of these small things and you should, because we need help. We need help fighting the pervasive message that women don’t deserve a voice. Believe it or not, we need help telling women that they are more than “ass, ass, ass, ass…”
You’d expect that getting booed of a stage by that many people would make me feel small but it didn’t. I know that I’m not ass big ass "Big" Sean, but I’m optimistic that together we can be much, much bigger.
Reach Contributor Kaya Masler here.