Imagine a man who makes the opening line of one of his most significant albums, ‘I just f*cked your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops.’ That’s Future. When your parents didn’t want you to listen to rap music, this is the man they were imagining. The flagrant misogyny, the violence, the cursing, the degradation. When we try and defend rap music, Future is exactly the kind of rapper who makes it so difficult to do.
‘Future’s main character traits are excess and nihilism,’ writes Niki McGloster after a recent interview with Future. Excess and nihilism. These are worldview-informing qualities. For me, there is no other way to move in an unforgiving world but through excess and nihilism. Future has become my ideology, more than feminism: emotionally flatlining and staying focused on my money, commodifying people and finding solace in substances instead. These are legitimate (if reprehensible and risky) ways not to fall off or become soft. For better or worse, these principles have restructured my motivation.
Future’s music has been an outlet for my own mental violence and defeatism while working in a conservative company, not making much money, being told by HR that my dress should not be shorter than four fingers above my knee, and that I should smell nice in case the white, male Afrikaans CEO hugs me for doing good work. When I most wanted to shove an M16 in someone’s bek, Future’s music was helpful.
Future’s not looking to walk a conscious rap path like Kendrick; he’s not even a low-key f*ckboi like J Cole. His music is outwardly and often violently misogynistic. I know this and I have no intention of recalling my Future-love, and I don’t think this ‘bad feminist’ practice is uncommon. Many feminists fight gender-based violence and dismantle the patriarchy in the way they live and the entities they choose to support – and still live for Mask Off. A thousand raised-fist emojis. The unspoken rationale, I would imagine, goes something like this: I can love Future’s music (and rap in general) and be a feminist, as individuals are multi-faceted and the act of consuming culture is a complex and mysterious process. We can do both. But can we really?
‘I just f*cked your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops’ changed my life. As someone who chised numerous kinnes after a tumultuous break-up, this became an anthem to me. If all gender is performative, then I chose a misogynistic performance. I’m not entirely sure this has changed: I’ll spell womxn with an x and still f*ck your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops. Enacting the typically masculine and misogynistic behaviour may hold a twisted sense of empowerment when I unpack it, but this was never a reasoned thing for me.
We are a generation who’ve been called hoes and bitches since we started hearing music. Over and over, for an entire childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we’ve had abuse hurled at us. Systemic violence on our bodies promoted through music we love, throughout our upbringing – that sticks. Of course it’s marked us. What did we think was going to happen? We sung and rapped those anthems right back, revelling in the lyrics, growing up listening to them. It’s ingrained. We love these songs the way our parents loved Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson.
This involves both internalisation and reclamation – more often than not, a combination of the two. A balance, and not always a healthy one. Because that is the world we live in. We internalise and we reclaim all the time, hoping that the reclamation wins. Hoping that the precarious balance we’ve struck, at the very least, tilts towards reclamation. That’s all I hope for right now: a tilt.
Can't turn a hoe to a house wife so get u BOSS bitch.
— FUTURE/FREEBANDZ (@1future) March 2, 2017
The other day, I realised how far I’ve taken subversion in my own life. I said to a burk once: ‘I am the patriarchy’, shortly after calling him ‘wyfie’. Gotta keep him in check. I read the term ‘patriarchy envy’ recently and wondered if this is what I have. I pride myself in owning what I call ‘uncle status’ in my family. My relatives seldom question my behaviours of swearing and drinking with the men at family gatherings, not prioritising finding a husband or having kids, objectifying womxn with them and discussing whether to glorify or lament the legacy of gangster kingpins from our neck of the woods. I’m light-skinned, coloured with white-passing privilege and largely fetishised as exotic. Can the kind of subversion I practise be resistance? When does it simply become endorsement? What kind of subversion is constructive, and what kind comes at too great a cost?
Danielle Bowler writes in her article We are all Bad Feminists and That’s Ok: ‘Ironically, the movement that fights against prescribed roles for women has found itself fraught with internal dissent about prescribed roles and behaviours for feminists… We can’t have a codified list of credentials you need to attain to label yourself a feminist…’ In a responding piece called Feminism is Not for Everybody, Although it Can Be, Sekoetlane Phamodi writes that ‘Feminism is an ideology. Ideologies have ground rules…’ Sekoetlane argues that we should be held accountable in trying to follow these ground rules with integrity so as not derail the movement. We need to be sure we’re up to doing this work before claiming the feminist identity
I didn’t study gender politics, and I know I have gaping blindspots in terms of feminist ideology and practice. I am reluctant to identify as a feminist because of this. I feel I’d have to be more confined and more deliberate to claim this ‘ism’ that, for the most part, I try and live by. I’m not sure I can comply with the rules, but I share Danielle’s sentiment that part of this journey is ‘about identifying what you do not know and how you fall short – and then working on it. It’s a constant and continual commitment that is only as good as your willingness to be open to critique and learn from your blind spots.’
What female should I use for my next video?
— FUTURE/FREEBANDZ (@1future) June 2, 2017
It’s clear to me that we cannot remove feminism from the challenging introspective work that it requires, and that this is not something one should take lightly. Maybe I don’t serve feminism. When I started writing this article, my feeling was: you can’t love Future and be a feminist. Not if you truly love Future. And not if you genuinely respect the feminist movement.
But I don’t think this is entirely true. Future and the Future-esque worldviews I sometimes embrace or embody in my life and person/persona have been critical to my unpacking of some very complex and important issues in my own feminist development. I might not be worthy of the feminist identity yet, or ever, according to the gatekeepers of the movement. But, I believe that I can love Future and be a feminist. My feminism just might not be agreeable to you. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say that, for me (for me), the only way to be feminist is through Future.