Is Eminem still too controversial to win Grammy?

Is Eminem too controversial to win the Grammy for Album of the Year?

Over the years, Eminem has won 13 Grammys but he’s never been recognized outside of the rap genre. This year he was nominated in ten categories including Song of the Year and Record of the Year, along with 8 other nominations. He walked away with just two wins: Best Solo Rap Performance and Best Rap Album.

Eminem rocketed to fame over ten years ago as a rare successful white rapper, with songs that included controversial lyrics about raping his mom and killing his girlfriend. He disappeared for several years, then staged a comeback in 2010 with his brilliant album “Recovery.”

“Recovery” is nothing less than mesmerizing. For me, it’s like listening to Bob Dylan; every time I put it on, even after listening a million times, I hear something new. It’s pretty fascinating to witness Eminem’s transition from Slim Shady who sang about all kinds of violence against women to his recent hit “Love the Way You Lie” which shows a deeper perspective on the issue. That song also features Rhianna, well known as a victim of violence from boyfriend Chris Brown. Rhianna has been pretty silent on the events that happened to her, making her decision to show up in this song, in some ways, her most significant commentary.

With “Recovery,” as always, Eminem brings issues to the forefront many people would prefer to ignore or pretend don’t exist. Sexual violence against women happens every day. It hasn’t gone away; Eminem’s music, in every stage, forces listeners to recognize this epidemic exists.

Here’s something I wrote about Eminem for the Chronicle in 2000

I Prefer My Misogyny Straight Up.


Wednesday, July 12, 2000

I LIKE hip-hop music. I know I’m not supposed to because so many of the songs have horrifyingly violent, sexist or homophobic lyrics.

Hip-hop is also the most innovative thing to happen to music in a long time.

When you compare hip-hop to its biggest rival for domination of the music charts – the corporate-created Backstreet Boys and N’sync, and pop-pincess clones Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera – rappers/ producers like Dr. Dre and Method Man are infinitely more talented. Hip-hop is captivating precisely because it tells a story, overlaying lyrics on top of familiar backbeats, creating songs that are at once new and familiar.

The story hip-hop tells may be disturbing or degrading, but that’s no reason to shun it. As art has always done, hip-hop describes our times, exposing a sometimes ugly world- of drugs, sexism, poverty and violence- that middle-class America may prefer to hide away.

In the ’60s, Bob Dylan enraged those who upheld the status quo. Today, we have a whole new slew of musical poets.

Just like they did with Dylan, the older generation asks, “How can you listen to this awful music? There’s no melody! And those lyrics!”

Baby boomers protest that THEIR songs were about peace and love, while hip-hop celebrates killing and humiliates women.

But surely rock ‘n’ roll stars have never been known for their kindness to women. The Rolling Stones cranked out hits like “Under My Thumb,” “Brown Sugar” and “Little T & A,” sneered through lyrics like “You make a dead man come” and glorified violence in songs like “Midnight Rambler.”

Sexual violence in lyrics wasn’t limited to bad boy bands either. Old peaceniks Jerry Garcia and Neil Young sang songs like “Down by the River” about murdering a lover. Ever since Elvis shook his pelvis, music has shocked, and the older generation just didn’t get it.

Critics charge that hip-hop crosses a line, most recently fingering rap sensation Eminem, who sings about raping his mother and slicing up his wife in front of their daughter.

Freud (looking like Archie)Freud 

But Freudians would tell you Eminem’s mother rage and sexual fantasies are pure id, the uncensored subconscious struggling for self expression. The views of Sigmund Freud, of course, are infamous for his distorted views on women, though that doesn’t stop us from studying him in our best educational institutions. Nor should it.

Hip-hop may be more shocking and graphic than your run-of-the-mill shapers of Western thought, but I prefer my misogyny straight up. Movies like “Pretty Woman,” in which Julia Roberts plays a prostitute with a heart of gold, may be prettier packaging, but if you think women are “hos,” just tell me so.

Tales of sex and violence aren’t limited to male artists. “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks and Macy Gray’s “I Committed Murder,” two recent hits by women artists, both detail violent killings with unrestrained glee. Angry young women muttering obscenities include Alanis Morissette, Courtney Love and Ani DiFranco.

Nor is disdain for men by women artists a new fad. Sylvia Plath, the late poet and darling of English lit majors, famously compared male genitalia to turkey necks and gizzards. Never one to shy away from sex or violence, she once said she “eats men like air.”

The difference, of course, is when women say these things, it really is just art. Because men are the guys with power, their expressions of domination, violence and sexual exploitation contribute to a culture where women really are forced into limited categories of queens or hos, where masculinity is defined by how many babes you score, and where women often are left powerless and exploited.

But sanitizing music is just shooting the messenger; it can’t transform a sexist culture. Warning stickers on CD covers are no protection from the deeply entrenched social realities that hip-hop pushes right in your face.

Women won’t feel threatened by lyrics when they overcome real inequities and get real power. Women will then be too busy making art and making deals to waste time wondering if they should side with the radical right, clamoring to keep obscenities out of Wal-Mart.

Peggy Orenstein’s Yes List

Cinderella Ate My Daughter author Peggy Orenstein put together her list of  best books and products for girls. And boys! She writes, reminding us boys benefit from hearing stories about girls too. Duh! But as a mom of three daughters, sometimes I forget. Great to have this resource, and I for one, am happy PO clarified about Roald Dahl. I, too, LOVE this man as a writer but something in his story-telling doesn’t quite sit right with girl empowerment.

Why the gender bias in the media?

The grassroots women’s literary group VIDA just released some frightening statistics about gender bias in publishing.

The New York Review of Books has 462 male bylines to 79 female, about a 6-to-1 ratio.

The New Republic has 32 women to 160 men.

The Atlantic published 154 male bylines and 55 female.

The New Yorker reviewed 36 books by men and 9 by women.

Harper’s reviewed more than twice as many books by men as by women.

The New York Times Book Review had 1.5 men to 1 woman (438 compared to 295) and an authors-reviewed ratio of 1.9 to 1 (524 compared to 283).

VIDA’s report has ignited the blogosphere with many commentators wondering, as Patricia Cohen does in the New York Times: Why? “What the numbers don’t explain is whether men write more books (and book proposals) than women or whether they more frequently and aggressively ask magazine editors for assignments.”

But this isn’t an either/ or situation; women face challenges at both ends: publishers and editors are biased to think that men’s stories are the best and most important ones, deserving of publication and reviews; and, women writers, socialized to those same beliefs, agree and don’t try hard or often enough to get published.

This double-challenge doesn’t only affect women writers; it muzzles women’s voices across all media.

For many years, I worked as a talk radio producer, and I had a difficult time getting women to agree to go on air, both as invited guests and as call-ins to the show. At first, I didn’t get it. Talk radio is practically a democracy, anyone can just pick up the phone– so why weren’t women calling?

At the station I worked for, all four of the full time hosts were male. The General Manager, Program Director, and News Director– the top three positions– were also all male. When women hear male voices talking about stories that matter to men, they’re not as likely to call in. So that’s not rocket science.

But here was the deeper mystery to me. Yes, I worked for a male host, but I suggested many of his show topics to him; they were often issues I cared about; I booked most of his guests. I also chose which callers went on the program in what order, and I gave preference to women. Sponsors, themselves, want more women listeners because women are consumers. So why was the show that I produced still so dominated by male voices?

Women are afraid to go on air because they worry that they don’t have the skills to be effective. If one woman did make it on the show, immediately after hearing her, more women would call in. But still, after making a great comment to me when I screened her, she’d often say: “Can you just pass it on? I’m too nervous to go on the show.”

When I invited a woman to come on the show as an expert guest, it was not unusual for her to decline. She’d tell me that she wasn’t really qualified, and then she’d recommend someone ‘better,’ often a male colleague. In the seven years that I worked in talk radio, guess how many men who I called up recommended someone else speak instead of them? Not one. Never happened.

Like a persistent suitor, I refused to take the woman’s first no as an answer, spending a lot of time convincing her to go air. Not only did I repeatedly tell women that their ideas were important, but I coached them on how to deal with the aggressive host who they were afraid to talk to, and I gave them tips on how to respond to other aggressive callers. Talk radio may be democratic in some ways but the verbal sparring can be brutal and you need to know how to play to win. And want to win.

My experience in talk radio showed me that if women had some basic training, at least part of the gender bias in media could be overcome. But it’s not the producer’s job to coach and train women. So I cofounded an organization, the Woodhull Institute, named for Victoria Woodhull who was the first woman to run for president; she also published her own newspaper. Woodhull trains women in professional skills including negotiation, advocacy, and public speaking; Woodhull also trains women in media skills, including the ones Patricia Cohen wondered about in the New York Times, such as how to pitch stories and how to write and submit book proposals.

One training I do at Woodhull is to ask every woman to name three areas where she’s an expert. She can list anything from neurosurgery to breastfeeding to finance; but she has to ‘admit’ publicly, that she knows what she’s talking about. Most women have a hard time with this exercise at first. But after completing the session, they’re much more comfortable owning their expertise.

Another thing I teach Woodhull women is how to link the issues they care about with front page news stories. They need to make their issues sound newsworthy in order to get coverage. It’s a simple skill, but many women don’t have it. When I was a producer and women did call me to pitch, especially progressive women, they often they acted as if I should put them on air because I’m a good person; I should just care about the issue. But, again, male or female, that’s not a producer’s job. Her job is to help to create a timely and entertaining show that will boost ratings and attract sponsors.

You know who is the best of the best at pitching that I ever heard, hands down? The Hoover Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Instead of trying to pull me off into some tangent that had nothing to do with my job, Hoover and Heritage turned it around, making me, the producer, feel as if they were lending a hand: “Did you see the front page article in the New York Times about WMD? We have a Fellow who is extremely qualified to comment on that.” Let’s just say Hoover and Heritage aren’t exactly known for their glut of female Fellows.

Change will continue to be slow for women until they recognize that their stories and their viewpoints are important. All the producers and editors and media magnates in the world can’t help women get their voices out there until they decide to try. And keep trying. Because people will tell them, repeatedly, that they aren’t qualified or have nothing to say or, for whatever reason, don’t deserve to speak.

ReelGirl star of the week: Tina Fey

Tina Fey defines crazy in The New Yorker:

Science show that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty. The baby-versus-work life questions keep the writer up at night. She has observed that women, at least in comedy, are labeled “crazy” after a certain age. The writer has the suspicion that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore. The fastest remedy for this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why the writer feels obligated to stay in the business, and that is why she can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless she does, in which case that is nobody’s business. Does the writer want to have another baby? Or does she just want to turn back time and have her daughter be a baby again?

Thank you Tina Fey for being smart, funny, and beautiful. Who knew a woman could be all 3? And did I mention, she’s a mom?

Fey is also right on about producers. I’m really beginning to feel (partly because of this blog) like there’s little significant difference between fiction and non-fiction. Before I felt like non-fiction writing really mattered. But the fantasy world shapes our reality, what we expect, and what we hope for, which in turn shapes our fantasy world again. If women can find ways to get their stories out there– as producers, writers, publishers, whatever– the world will change.

Ask the questions

Lists are limited because lists are limiting.

Obviously, a major part of the challenge for girls is that there is so little diversity in kids’ media. Even the princess who only wants to find her man wouldn’t be bad if she were one of many role models. I guess this is why we always talk about diversity. It’s important; it’s everything.

So, after each of my reviews, I’ve decided to add a few discussion questions. Hopefully, the addition of questions will highlight the critical thinking aspect to reading, watching, and playing; that it’s interactive, not passive and that’s really the whole point.

The limits of a list

In response to the current national dialogue on media and products for girls, New York Times writer Lisa Belkin generated a list of books with strong female role models.

On her blog, pigtailpals, Melissa Wardy points out that Belkin’s suggestions are dominated by princesses; better strong than weak ones, but what about the radical idea of books about girls with no princesses in them at all? Wardy says, “can we PLEASE not LIMIT femininity to princesses, even the kind that scrape their knees?” Check out Wardy’s book recs here.

I agree with Wardy and have a similar argument about the so-called brave princesses in modern movies. These girls make elaborate shows of independence, refusing to marry the guy they’re supposed to, but marriage is still the basis of entire plotlines– rebellion within the safest possible framework. Yawn! Boys in movies get to go off and have adventures. Why can’t girls do that too? This is a fantasy world, after all. If girls are this limited in dreamland, what does that say about their options in reality?

But here’s the challenge: as I rate books and media, there are many great books, but I often have issues with them, even the best ones! Maybe this is because behavior, once rewarded, is hard to kick. When I wrote critically in school, found and analyzed the ‘flaw,’ I got an A. Or maybe, being cranky and critical is my own personality flaw. Or maybe the problem is just that books are personal. When you start reading one, you enter into a relationship with it. There are few ‘perfect’ books and media for everyone (except maybe Hayao Miyazaki)

For example, I absolutely love C. S. Lewis and the whole Narnia series. I love it so much, I named my first daughter Lucy after the protagonist in the books. But the Jesus stuff in Lewis can be distracting. Also, Susan, the older sister, stops believing in Narnia when she hits puberty, starting to only to care about boys. This transition does not happen to the males in the book.

I named my second daughter Alice after you know who. I love this book, but Lewis Carroll, as we all know, had his issues with girls. As far as I can tell, his pathology doesn’t seep into the book or does it?

I love Harriet the Spy, but Harriet treats her friends so badly that parts of the book were difficult to read to my kid. She’s never experienced that level of negative social interaction; Harriet called her friends names my daughter didn’t even know (and now does) and there are also a bunch of class issues in the book. Harriet is super rich, she has a cook who she treats badly and a nanny who she treats badly, though at least the nanny can stick up herself.

Right after Harriet, we read Danny the Champion of the World who is so poor in contrast to Harriet. He lives in a one room house with his dad. No mom in this book.  The author, Roald Dahl is probably my favorite kids writer, his writing is so good, but he has very few girl characters in his books. When he does have them, like The Witches, a funny and brilliant book, the story can be outright misogynistic.  Still, I’d rather read Roald Dahl than a badly written fairy series that’s all about girls.

The point is: books are personal and that lists, by nature, are limited. The most important thing is that our kids are reading and to have an open dialogue with them about whatever that book is. Remember, the goal is to teach her to think critically so she can get straight As and then grow up to complain about everything just like her mom.

ReelGirl gives good headlines

This is a new feature at ReelGirl. It’s basically what I would put on the front page if I were the news editor of the world. Please share your links. (My husband came up with the title.)

From the New York Times: Disney is marketing to your womb. I’m not even going to give some snarky commentary here. This article speaks for itself. Read it and freak out.

From The New Republic on the literary glass ceiling: Why are most book reviews written about works by men? Depressing statistics here, both on women writers and literary gatekeepers such as editors of lit mags; when discrimination starts this early, women can’t catch up. Gatekeepers reply, they’re just looking for the best and most important works, gender doesn’t matter to them at all. Hopefully, this bummer of an article will inspire women to write. There is a point! You need to get your own stories out there. No one else is going to do it for you.

Go Arianna! The Huffington Post and AOL make a 315 million dollar deal. What would you rather be: married to a millionaire (make that gay millionaire) or be one yourself?

Just in case moms who work need something else to feel guilty about, CNN is reporting that working moms have fat kids. Who decided to do this study? Why? Was it some group thinking: let’s mess around with all of women’s worst insecurities? By the way, CNN reports no similar study on dads who work.

And speaking of studies, funded one done by two women, Helen Fisher and Stephanie Coontz. And guess what these women researchers found? is announcing that women aren’t the ones who want to get married, men are. Hmmm…I wonder if who funds and creates studies has anything to do with what gets studied and what the ‘results’ are?

In the Huffington Post, Tara Sophia Mohr writes about sexism at “Top Chef.” As with the women writers, judges are just looking for the best and most important chefs who just happen to turn out male. Mohr has a brilliant idea for the show: blind judging. This would counteract gender bias and be a great ratings hook too, by the way. Bravo bigwigs– are you listening?

Did you notice something missing from the Superbowl entertainment besides Axl Rose? No Cheerleaders! First superbowl ever! This made it more watchable for women around around the world. Cheerleaders are bad for women; this fact has nothing to do with athletic prowess and everything to do with being a sideshow. Cheerleaders tell women their role is to support the real stars, men.

Every mom and daughter? Really?

This week’s People Magazine has a story about Julie Schenecker who shot her two kids in the head for being mouthy:

Not long ago, Calyx Schenecker, 16, returned  from a shopping expedition near her home in Tampa with a new pair of shorts. “They were the shortest things ever, like you could see her butt sticking out,” says Cathy Vann, a friend of Calyx’s mom, Julie. “Julie was like ‘I hope you saved your receipt because those are going right back.'” Calyx’s response? “She was stomping around the house screaming, “You’re jealous that you can’t wear these,” says Vann who witnessed the fight at the Schenecker’s  3,300 ft upscale Ashington Reserve gated community. And Julie? She gave as good as she got, saying things like, ‘People are going to call you a slut.’ ” Yet Vann was hardly shocked. “Every mom of a teenage daughter has these fights.”

I’m not saying that this kind of dialogue is so rare and unusual that Vann should’ve suspected that Schenecker was about to murder her children. But arguing over who looks better in short shorts and slut-shaming is normal mother-daughter behavior? I don’t have teenagers yet, but if that’s true, it’s sad.

This argument between Calyx and her mom is not about sex but about power. A power struggle is a totally normal part of adolescent rites of passage. Unfortunately, because males are still mostly the ones with the power, females are allowed to acquire their own power– in an extremely limited way– through their sexuality. If you decipher the code here, Calyx is telling her mom that she is powerful and her mom is telling her that she is not.

Women of all ages would be so much healthier, as would America by the way, if we weren’t all so mired in these twisted perceptions of female sexuality and power. But tragically, we are. So mired, in fact, as feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray argues, we have no clue what female sexuality actually is.

Can you imagine a father angrily warning his son that, if he wears a certain outfit, he’s going to get called a slut? Any neighbor overhearing that would be on the phone with 911 in two seconds, claiming dangerous insanity next door.

NYT writer suggests books with strong girls

Peggy Orenstein’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, has helped to incite a national dialogue on how kids’ media and products influence girls, which ReelGirl loves because that’s supposed to be the whole purpose of this blog.

I write “supposed to be” because, as any one who reads this blog knows, I’ve strayed far from my initial my mission. But once again (I think my last time was New Year’s) I commit to making ReelGirl a resource where parents can go to look up a toy or a product to get some ideas about how and why it could be good for girls (and boys for that matter because gender stereotyping, ultimately, isn’t so fabulous for anyone. )

Lisa Belkin, a writer for the New York Times suggested these books. I hope to read them and let you know my thoughts. Please let me know yours!

One thing parents can do, then, is add examples of femininity without frills. To that end, following up on our conversation here last week about children’s books in general, here’s the start of a list of books for young girls that turn more than a few stereotypes on their heads while remaining fun reads. Of course, as with any children’s book, read it first, because my idea of what is good for your child might not be the same as yours.

“An Undone Fairy Tale”, by Ian Lendler. A slapstick treat. The princess rescues herself.

“The Enchanted Forest Chronicles”, by Patricia C. Wrede.  A four-book series (I have linked to the first one) in which a strong-minded princess saves kind dragons.

“Princess Grace” by Mary Hoffman. A girl who loves princesses learns that real ones in history have done far more than just lie around and look pretty. In the end she chooses to emulate an African princess in a Kente cloth dress.

“Do Princesses Scrape their Knees?” by Carmela LaVigna Coyle. Part of a series (others are “Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots?” and “Do Princesses Kiss Frogs.) The titles tell the story.

“Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella” by Susan Lowell. The ball is a rodeo and Cindy earns her prince’s respect after her fairy godmother gives her “gumption” and a set of diamond studded spurs.

“Cinder Edna” by Ellen Jackson. Edna lives next door to Ella, and while Ella depends on her fairy godmother to change her life, Edna earns money mowing lawns. Guess which one gets the Happier Ever After?

“The Very Fairy Princess” by Julie Andrews and her daughter, author Emma Watson Hamilton. Geraldine believes she is a princess, even though her brother says princesses “don’t have scabby knees.”

“The Secret Lives of Princesses” by Philippe Lechermeier. An illustrated “history” of quirky, independent princesses.

“Zog” by Julia Donaldson. An accident prone dragon and the princess he “captures.” He gets hurt, she helps him, and she becomes a doctor.

‘Forcible’ rape cut from abortion bill

YAY social media, women’s orgs, and John Stewart!

Caving to pressure, today House Republicans announced that they are dropping the word “forcible” from the section of the bill about abortion that addresses rape.

It is kind of sad this is such a victory, but a victory it is. It’s pretty scary how close America just came to redefining rape.

See John Stewart’s hilarious skit here.