say jazz is the only art form invented by Americans, but they're
wrong. Rap is another truly American art form. I'll never forget
the first time I heard Sugarhill Gang's seminal work, "Rapper's
Delight." It took a high-school trip to Paris to discover
this American treasure. I was in a French kid's apartment, and
he put on the new record while someone else rolled a huge, ice-cream-cone
shaped joint. I was transformed by the poetry, the bravado, and
the beat. Okay, and maybe a little by the contact high.
Back home I sought out rap and, later, hip-hop. When my kids
were little I played rap --- old school, mostly --- for them.
We listened for internal and slant rhymes. I pointed out the
themes of boasting, rebellion, and materialism. Feminists and
responsible parents everywhere, fear not: I also condemned
the misogyny and coarse language.
Now they're older, and they hang out in their rooms listening
to the radio. I'm not sure how this unsupervised hip-hop exposure
will affect them as they turn from boys to men. The violence.The
sexism.The violent sexism.
Take a song like "My Humps," by the Black Eyed Peas.
My kids like the Peas because they played the Democratic Convention
--- great musicians and Democrats! The first time I heard "My
Humps" I was with my 9-year-old in the car. The ridiculous
fanny-shaking lyrics delighted me --- I was sure the song was
a delicious, over-the-top spoof of other sexist hip-hop songs.
Then I heard it through my son's ears and snapped the damn
radio right the hell off.
If you're unfamiliar with the song, allow me to sing a bit
The guy asks:
"What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?"
And the chick, in a babyish squeal, sings:
"I'm a get,
get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump,
my lovely little lumps."
First off, ewww. Second of all, it's one thing to tell a young
son that it's not okay for men to treat women like sex toys,
but when women do it themselves, what to say? And when women
do it in the guise of being feminists --- taking control of
their bodies --- as Ariel Levy, author of Raunch Culture points
out, the twisted result is confusing at best and regressive
Someday my kids will view women as sexual beings, potential
partners. Maybe they do already, God help me. That's when they'll
learn that most males have some form of the Peas' question, "What
you gon' do with all that ass, all that ass up in your jeans?" on
their minds pretty much every second of every day. Forget hip-hop
for a moment --- though if you're anything like my husband,
you'd probably like to forget it forever --- and think about
the enigmatic Mona Lisa. Her mysterious gaze has been tormenting
men for 400 years.
Recently, a handful of researchers in Britain, using mood-recognition
software, asked Mona Lisa their polite, British version of
the Peas' question. No, she didn't reply, "I'm a make,
make, make, make you scream/Make you scream, make you scream."
Instead, she revealed, according to the computer's calculations,
that she felt 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent
fearful, and 2 percent angry. About what, we may never know.
It's not just batty scientists who are trying to figure out
women. Bats are, too. The tiny mammals are in an evolutionary
struggle between having large testicles and small brains or
big brains and small balls, a Syracuse professor recently revealed.
He studied ball/brain ratios in more than 300 bats and learned
that in species where female bats are promiscuous, larger balls
--- and the extra sperm in them --- provide an evolutionary
I deduce from this that male bats don't spend a lot of time
asking the female bats what they're gon' do with all that junk,
all that junk inside that trunk. Nor do they construct elaborate
software models to figure out the mood of a 400-year-old painting.
They just blast away with their mighty sperm load and hope
they win the evolution lottery. And more power to them.
The challenge as a parent is to raise children who neither
talk like pimps nor spend hours in dark labs measuring bat
balls. Although I wish I could defuse the bristling hypersexuality
of the media that surrounds them, I can't. And if I really
did wish that, I probably shouldn't have turned them on to
rap in the first place. But what I am trying to do here is
not cloister them from the world. I'm trying to help them sort
through all the messages out there and find the ones that fit
their (read: my) core values.
Plus I know I can still rely on my ability as a parent to
beat the fun out of everything. So I will continue to analyze
lyrics, emphasize musical appropriation and homages, and disparage
misogyny in the hopes of keeping my kids' heads screwed on
My parents were great buzzkills. Once, in Boston Common, when
my brother and I were in the giggling-about-sex stage, we saw
two people having sex in the bushes. Naked people! In the bushes!
This was perhaps the greatest, ickiest, most exciting thing
we'd ever seen. It was a cosmic gift: when I told this story
at school, I'd finally be popular.
My mother, sensing our prurience, stopped us 20 yards away
from the couple writhing under a gray blanket, and launched
into the kind of "making love is a beautiful act when
two people who love and respect each other blah, blah, blah" speech
that only the Sexual Revolution could cook up. By the end,
we were completely creeped out. We never spoke of it again.