Yes, My Feminism Is Ratchet: Reflections on Inclusive Feminism11/08/2014
by Michelle Denise Jackson I still remember the first “ratchet” song I ever heard (long before ratchet was a term in my Black Girl lexic...
by Michelle Denise Jackson
I still remember the first “ratchet” song I ever heard (long before ratchet was a term in my Black Girl lexicon): It was Too $hort’s “Shake that Monkey.” I was a high school freshman, and my best friend at the time played it incessantly. I had always been the “white-washed” Black girl obsessed with pop and alternative rock music, so I first found the song’s sexually explicit lyrics to be shocking. But the more I heard it, the more I fell in love with the song—eventually downloading it onto my own iPod and memorizing the lyrics. Recently, the song came on the radio and I realized I still knew all of the (uncensored) lyrics by heart.
By all standards, I am not the “type” of girl you would think listens to ratchet music (if such a type exists). I am nerd of epic proportions. I wear glasses, my teeth are crooked, and I often don’t know when my hair is messed up or if something is on my face. In high school, I was a diehard theatre geek. In adulthood, I spend a lot of time by myself at home, watching “Game of Thrones” and “The Office.” When I’m not geeking out on Netflix and HBO GO, I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and becoming an expert on random topics via the Internet. I am socially awkward, and at 25, still have not had my first “official” boyfriend.
My close friends often describe me as, “The most conscious person [they’ve] ever met, with the most hood ratchet taste in music.” This is what I consider to be the most accurate, and best, compliment I have ever received. (And I’m almost certain it was not intended to be a compliment.) When my parents and older brother ride in my car, common refrains heard from them are: “What the hell are we listening to?” “Why do you listen to this sh*t?” “There is no more good music.”
I usually ignore them, as I am too busy faux-twerking in the driver’s seat.
I have long given up trying to defend why I love ratchet music. I like what I like, and it’s really no one else’s business. For me, I am a loud-mouthed, opinionated, progressive, liberal feminist committed to social justice… who also loves swinging her ass around to a trap beat. The two are not mutually exclusive. But of course, there will always be those individuals who hear me sing along to Ty Dolla $ign’s “Paranoid” or Tyga’s “Rack City B*tch,” and ask, “But how can you be a feminist and listen to these lyrics?”
Well, because feminism is not a monolith, and no singular interpretation of feminism is perfect. These people fail to understand that (a) there are multiple ways to encounter ratchet music as a woman; and (b) there are also multiple ways to engage with and embody feminist principles. I reject the idea that to be a feminist, my life cannot be messy. I reject the idea that to be a feminist, I cannot engage with—and sometimes enjoy—“un-feminist-y” things. I reject any prescription of feminism that does not allow for a complex intersectionality.
Are some of the lyrics in these songs problematic in how they address and represent women? Absolutely. I will never deny this, nor do I excuse the misogyny/misogynoir in these songs. For this reason alone, there is usually a threshold point of how much ratchet music I can listen to in one sitting. You can only tune out the abundance of “b*tches,” “hoes,” and “p*ssies” for so long, before you need to cleanse your spirit with Sade or Lauryn Hill. There are also songs that I refuse to listen to: either because their lyrics explicitly glorify physical and sexual violence against women; or because their creator is a known abuser of women. (All of my side-eye is looking at you, Chris Brown.)
I also do not pretend that because most of these artists are not known abusers, they magically share my feminist interpretations of their music. Who said they had to? I do not listen to hood music for critical analysis; I’ll read bell hooks for that. I listen to hood music for exactly the opposite reason: the music allows me to shut my ever-present brain off, turn my often-ignored body up, and get positively lost in the entertainment of it all.
I know I am not the only woman who feels this way. Many of my close sistafriends are like me: intelligent, empowered feminists… who enjoy shaking what their (intelligent, empowered) mommas gave them. We all have our reasons for loving the ratchetry, just like we all have our reasons for why we came to be feminists. For me, hood music allows me to be present in my body in a way that I’m often not allowed to be any other time in my life. As a plus-sized woman—whose body type is not celebrated within mainstream beauty standards—I feel like ratchet music was made for me. Guess who can clap their asses the best? Women (and men) with fat booties. Guess who often has a fat booty? Women who have fat lots of other places as well.
I am tired of mainstream (white) feminists policing the way the rest of us practice our own feminism. In some ways, I believe my love of ratchet music has made me a better feminist. Not only has it allowed me to embrace a sexual agency and body autonomy often denied to me due to my weight and size; I have also stopped policing the way other women engage with their own sexualities. I mean, it is really hard to slut-shame another woman, when you walk around singing lyrics like, “I bet she can’t wiggle like that with a d*ck in her / Have a motor the booty contest and pick a winner.”
I know there are a lot of women reading this who agree with me. I also know there are a lot of women reading this who disagree with me (and y’all will surely let me know in the comments). I am OK with this. In the same way that I reserve the right to include the space for a little ratchetness in my feminism from time to time, I celebrate your right not to.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, storyteller, and performer from Southern California. She is also For Harriet’s editorial assistant. When she is not reading or writing, she is co-producing her original web series, “GIRL, GET YO’ LIFE!” and watching a lot of Netflix. For more information, follow her on Twitter (@MichelleJigga) and visit her website: michelledenisejackson.com.