Friday, March 9, 2012

What We Don't Discuss

The relationship between rap music and cultural taboo topics is extremely prevalent in the lyrics and poems of this section (Sexual and Racial Transformations section), creating a medium for discussing the prevalent issues that society often ignores. 

For instance, an excellent example is discussion of the female menstrual cycle. From the ancient concept of a woman's period being considered a disease (which we discussed in class), to the simple ways in which teen girls use their "time of the month"to be excused from things like gym class simply because their male teacher doesn't want to have to talk about it, this concept has been prevalent in society for centuries. Just as it was in ancient societies, our society tends to not to discuss it either. But, for some reason rap and poetry is consistently the exception.

In our society, bringing up these taboo topics -- periods, female sexuality, masturbation-- is rare and uncomfortable, yet these lyrics and poems do it all the time. Examples of this include, Jean Grae's line, "Coming over later smelling of Pussy / On his face, jeans, and sweaters something's fishy,"where she discusses her anger about her boyfriend cheating not through the hackneyed emotional complaints, but instead through language that wouldn't be considered exactly "lady-like" (Love Song). As well, Grae mentions the commonly taboo-ed topic of a woman's period when she says, "When she's flowing," (Love Song). Anne Sexton discusses female masturbation through her line," I beat her like a bell" (Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator).  Lucille Clifton's describes her uterus through phrases that would be typically off limits in an "appropriate" conversation in her Poem to My Uterus, "my bloody print / my estrogen kitchen / my black bag of desire," and Lara Glenum's lines, "My genital crimes / speeding into creamzilla."

So, if these topics are taboo, if they make people uncomfortable, why do these author's and song writers call attention to them? This could be an attempt to shed light on the struggles of woman. It could be their way of trying to make these topics more socially acceptable to talk about. Or, this could simply be an attempt to shock and cause an emotional reaction for the reader.

Likely, authors and artists use this tactic to do many things at once. These topics grab the attention of the audience as well as create a gateway to discussion of these topics. By throwing"gurlesque" images into lyrics and poetry, it brings attention to these topics that would usually never enter the spotlight. And, when taboo topics become commonly discussed, they become significantly less taboo until eventually they are appropriate. While woman's sexual desires and period bleeding will probably never become dinner party conversation, the implementation of these themes in music and poetry may be the first step to shaping our society into incorporating these extremely prevalent discussions into our world today.


  1. I think they add things like this in their lyrics to expose society to it and make them feel more comfortable hearing it. They are embracing the things that society are casting off as negative taboos and they are hopping people would do the same thing after reading or listening to their lyrics. This whole thing reminded me of the Vagina Monologues. The Vagina Monologues was about women embracing their women hood and all that comes with it. The actresses would shout things that seemed like negative things associated with being a women and they did this to get the audience to realized that being a women is great and there is nothing Taboo about it.

  2. I feel that the reason for using these "gurlesque" phrases is to establish a sense of empowerment in the poetry. The poet, for example Lara Glenum, wants the female reader to experience the same feelings she experienced while writing it. Glenum wants her poetry to express the fact that female poetry does not need to be censored in any way, shape, or form. Females have the right to be controversial and gruesome in their writing, just as men do. She writes: "All that grotty jizz, crusting to sugar in my ass crevice". This intense, overtly sexual line might shock the average reader at first glance. However, Glenum wrote this just for that effect. This uncensored exposure indirectly tells the reader, "I do not care if what I write offends any of you". She writes this sexually charged piece because she must be passionate about sex and the effects it has on her life (both negative and positive). Also, she writes this poetry to refute the conventional gender stereotypes we assign to women, those that require them to be clean and elegant. After reading this poem, we visualize Glenum as a beast. This is her intention. She is lashing out against the socially-sanctioned constraints on what women should look like and how they should behave (write poetry).


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