I suspect that the issue of Tyga at Yardfest is a difficult one, not because anyone can convincingly deny his misogyny, but because misogyny and its myriad manifestations are so pervasive and normalized that we take them for granted. There are students who read that petition, agreed with its contention, and then did not sign it because Tyga’s music and other similarly misogynistic club bangers are what they dance to on the weekends and get hype to during workouts. And still others, unfamiliar with his music, wondered how he in any way differs from other mainstream artists who espouse a comparably anti-woman view. The issue is further compounded by the perverse way that, historically, racism has disproportionately positioned rap and hip-hop as American patriarchy’s scapegoats; take, for example, the 1990 charge, arrest, and eventual acquittal of 2 Live Crew for the obscenity of their lyrics.
But there are important differences between what we listen to privately, at parties, or even at personally-funded concert outings, and what a university provides an expensive forum for. That Harvard, an institution facing allegations of mishandling sexual assault cases, where just last semester a referendum demanding that it “re-examine its sexual assault policies and practices” passed with 85 percent support, would then offer a mic, a stage, and thousands of dollars to an artist whose lyrics actively encourage such behavior is a painful irony. But it is an unsurprising one.
Disrespect and subordination of women and their bodies is a part of everyday life, and it functions in quite insidious ways. Recently, I observed a young man pledge passionate support for the petition two days after jokingly reassuring another man that four more shots would make their female companion more receptive to his desire to sleep over. The petition is not an end in itself; the goal is not just to collect electronic signatures and then declare “victory in Iraq.” Protesting Tyga is an effort to compel reflection on our choices, actions, oversights, social affiliations, jokes, and so on. Some of its harshest critics have celebrated the petition for propelling a difficult, nuanced and very important discussion to a campus-wide and almost immediately national scale.
Unfortunately, the petition’s language has been unfairly twisted to imply that its writer somehow had racist motives. People have conflated her words with those of some supporters who linked their endorsement to their distaste for all of rap and hip-hop and its allegedly inherent misogyny, betraying their lack of knowledge of the genre and conveniently disregarding the bigger picture. Hip-hop is such an easy target of anti-misogynistic sentiment not just because of how little many of its mainstream songs leave to the imagination, but because it is predominantly inhabited by black artists. In the context of a society as implicitly, and often explicitly, racist as ours, cultural production of certain minorities are subjected to undue and tireless scrutiny—when they are even afforded any attention. And some, projecting their prejudice, are content to blame all the micro and macro violence perpetrated against women on the lyrics of black rappers, completely ignoring or being far less critical of other serious contributors, like the media more generally, social allegiances, or Congress. It becomes easy for some to shroud their racism—implicit and explicit—in anti-misogyny. We can accept that people so compelled have deplorable motives, and though we might support the same cause, we do it for importantly different reasons. I cannot account for the motives of every person who has weighed in on this issue, nor do I care to. What I do know is that Tyga’s lyrics are unequivocally problematic and degrading to women. So rather than combat racism shrouded in anti-misogyny by condoning misogyny in the service of anti-racism, I would rather elaborate on the issue, never losing sight of the legitimacy of the initial charge levied.
Many people are wondering, why now? I think a better question is, why not now? And still better, if not now, then when? Sentiments toward Tyga are not occurring in a vacuum; consequences of rape culture and misogyny are evident not only in the presence of sexual assault on campus and the various initiatives aimed at addressing it, but also in the nation with the high-profile Steubenville and Torrington rape cases. The specter of Tyga’s visit has provided a timely and relevant way to contribute to ongoing local and larger efforts.
That a petition was not attached to last year’s Das Racist appearance does not imply inconsistency; there is no formula for predicting when protest will rise above the dining-hall debate level. And precisely because of how insidious misogyny can be, it would have been even harder to see or make the sell with previous Yardfest artists. Tyga, in being so undeniably problematic, can serve as a strong rallying point. There is an element of strategy in activism that such a conception of consistency misses: Rosa Parks was not the first African American to refuse to give up her seat on the bus, but hers was the case the NAACP chose to raise to national consciousness. I could outline some choice excerpts of Tyga’s material, but his body of work is so consistently sexist that entire songs—and major hits and thus presumably what may feature at Yardfest—can serve as evidence: Faded, Make it Nasty, and Rack City. Such a conception of consistency is also fundamentally flawed because it confuses consistency with visibility—and apparently to uninterested eyes, because it ignores the consistent anti-misogyny work that many students do across various realms of school life.
Contracts may very well have been signed and checks issued, but an opportunity still exists. If Tyga does still grace Yardfest, how glorious would it be if we all go, feast on overcooked burgers and hotdogs, slap our knees to the Cantab Cowboys, and then when Tyga is introduced, exit Tercentenary Theatre in one giant anti-misogyny, anti-rape culture mass, committing through our sacrifice to aspire to better, to challenge ourselves to shed bad habits and problematic viewpoints, and to take more seriously each other’s battles.
Ekene I. Agu ’13 is an economics concentrator in Eliot House.