Kate Nash: the self-proclaimed feminist who perpetuates girl hate, slut-shaming, and the angel/whore dichotomyPosted: June 25, 2013
When Kate Nash gets it right, she gets it so, so right. But when she gets it wrong, she is the biggest female chauvinist pig going. I expect slut-shaming from Taylor Swift and Hayley Williams. But coming from a woman who calls herself a feminist and shows an awareness of feminist issues, it’s hard to swallow. Kate clearly knows better, but is incapable of practicing what she preaches.
Kate’s new album Girl Talk is a step forward in mainstream pop music. She writes songs about queer love, about slut-shaming, and being proud of being a feminist where others would use it as a dirty word.
You have a problem with me
‘Cause I’m a girl
I’m a feminist
And if that offends you
Then fuck you
Girl Talk clearly demonstrates that Kate is fully aware of feminist issues and that she is trying to tackle them. So why then is she perpetuating the very things she accuses others of?
In Rap for Rejection, Kate tackles slut-shaming and the angel/whore dichotomy. She says, “I’m a stupid whore / And a frigid bitch. / Now can you make up your mind /And tell me which is which.” She points out that women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, they are either frigid or whores, because patriarchy shames women for their sexuality whether or not they actually have sex.
So why then did she have to round off Girl Talk with a bonus track named “I’m a feminist, you’re still a whore”?! with lyrics such as:
While I stay classy, you stain jeans.
Kate has commented on the criticism she has received for this song. I’m not going to rehash the debate surrounding it. Plenty has been said. I want to point out what others have not yet tackled: the fact that her first two albums are rife with indisputable examples of slut-shaming.
Let’s take two key songs…
Kate is clearly perpetuating the angel/whore dichotomy in this song – even more so than Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me - yet she hasn’t been called out for it. Though Kate herself criticises men for this behaviour in Rap for Rejection, she is guilty of girl hating herself – because hey! she’s a feminist, didn’tchaknow? Being a feminist obviously gives her carte blanche to be outrageously sexist.
Let’s consider the song’s lyrics.
Kate is the nice girl who would rather “read a book instead” and is content to be just friends with the romantic interest. She claims that her love rival is “not so nice”, but we never see any concrete proof of nasty deeds that this woman has done, besides having “every [guy] checking out her thighs”.
The vitriol directed at the woman is shocking considering that we never see anything “not so nice” that she actually does. It seems the only thing she is guilty of is being sexually appealing to men.
So let’s put this woman on trial. Here is what we learn about the woman in question:
- Everyone finds her attractive – “everyone thinks that girl’s so fine”
- Men find her sexually attractive – “every guy’s checking out her thighs”
- “Everyone thinks she’s a lady” but Kate thinks “that girl’s shady”. (Alluding to sexual behaviour?)
- The romantic interest prefers the other woman to Kate (“I know that you think she’s best”), but the woman herself is indifferent to him (“But I don’t even think she cares”)
- There is nothing of substance to the woman, she is vacuous – “I don’t know what you see, / There’s nothing there”
- Kate thinks “she’s a bitch”
The woman is never shown to actually do anything wrong. Her only crime is that men are attracted to her. There is the insinuation that she is sexually prolific; the accusation that she is empty-headed compared to our dear Kate who reads therefore meaning that obviously Kate is much more deep than the woman in question; and, of course, Kate’s assertion “I think she’s a bitch”. Quite why, the woman is a “bitch” still remains a mystery.
This is a clear use of the angel/whore dichotomy, where Kate is the sexually innocent, deep-thinking girl-next-door and the other woman is the whore who steals boyfriends, who is shallow, who is promiscuous. Girl hate this vitriolic from a self-proclaimed feminist is sickening: if we feminists can’t stand by our own values and are misogynistic ourselves, then what hope do we possibly have for smashing patriarchy?
2. We Get On
We Get On tells a familiar story. Innocent Kate has a crush on a guy she’s fancied from a distance – because she’s far too meek and virginal to ever be the sexual aggressor. Then a “tramp” (aka another girl) steals this guy from under Kate’s nose.
And now he’s with that tart
And I heard she done some really nasty stuff
Down in the park with Michael
He said she’s easy
And if your guy’s with someone that’s sleazy
Then he ain’t worth your time
Again, Kate is guilty of girl hate. In We Get On, not only is the angel/whore dichotomy present as in Doo-Wah-Doo, but the element of slut-shaming is no longer subtle but blatant. This girl is “easy”, “sleazy” and “done some really nasty stuff” with a boy. Kate, in comparison, can barely “say hi” to the guy and gets kicks off shaking his hand – “that time you shook my hand, it felt so nice”. She shames another woman’s sexuality whilst protecting her own back by presenting herself as an innocent by-stander who really “deserves” to win the affections of the love interest.
A feminist or a misogynist?
The simple answer is that Kate Nash is a misogynistic feminist. She’s a deep-thinking, creative and apparently enlightened woman who looks down on women she deems to be beneath her. You know, women who are vain, shallow, who aren’t feminist, who aren’t intelligent in Kate’s eyes. She creates categories of women she is willing to defend and women who don’t deserve her respect.
She’ll fight for you! She’ll sing for your rights! As long as you meet her criteria to be defended!
She is a classic example of what Ariel Levy would term a female chauvinist pig. Kate is a woman who puts other women down, believing herself to be superior than them because she is smarter, more enlightened, less vain, less promiscuous. What Kate fails to note is that by participating in girl hate she is only spreading the myth that women are deficit to men. She may be better than all these “easy” women with “nothing there” about them, but by perpetuating sexism she is shooting herself in the foot, because GUESS WHAT? She is a woman herself.
I love Coronation Street. I love Made in Chelsea. Let me make this clear. For years, I’ve applauded Coronation Street for its progressive story lines, from the portrayal of, Hayley the trans woman; tackling domestic abuse; ableism and to a positive and heartwarming portrayal of a cross-dressing man who is shunned by the woman he loves. But I think it’s incredibly important, especially in shows you love, to know what is problematic. If you simply say, “This show is my favourite show, and so I will ignore anything contentious, anything harmful, because I will not criticise something I love,” you’re not doing the show any favours. Calling out the things we love is just as important as calling out the things we hate.
So whilst I love these two programmes, I feel it is important to tackle two recent story lines very close to my heart.
Case study 1: Coronation Street‘s Marcus Dent.
Coronation Street is a fictional soap opera set in Manchester, England – my home town!
Marcus has been in the show for many years now and has always identified as a gay man, having several romantic relationships with men. However, recently, Marcus fell for a woman. Coronation Street is trying to tackle the stigma against gay people who then fall in love with the “opposite” gender, which is commendable, however it’s handling of this story line is troubling.
It’s not for me to say whether Marcus “really” ought to identify as gay, straight or bisexual. That’s for the character himself, so I would never presume to say that he is “really” a bisexual man. As far as Marcus ever explains, he is “a gay man who fell in love with a woman”. But what I do find problematic is that during this whole story line, the word “bisexual” has not been mentioned once. I kid you not! Not once!
The only option, as far as Corrie is concerned, is to be gay or straight. Marcus says he is gay; his girlfriend demands that he says he is straight. Never once is the B-word touched upon. Marcus may not be bisexual, but bi-erasure is not cool, especially in a story line that begs that option to be included.
See the video clip below and note how only “gay” and “straight” are offered at options. A very black and white view of sexuality, with no room for maneuver.
I can’t help but wonder if this is the writers patronising the viewer – that they couldn’t possibly conceive of one person being capable of fancying two genders simultaneously – or whether this is evident of the writers’ pure ignorance to the actual existence of bisexuality.
Whilst I think this story line is tackling some much needed issues in the LGBT*QA community – biphobia and hostility towards people seen as “going back in the closet” – it’s a case of one step forwards and two steps back. The story wasn’t told coherently and didn’t come across overall message of “labels don’t matter” – as I’d hoped it would. Rather the message I gathered was “LABELS MATTER VERY MUCH NOW PLZ PICK ONE”.
Case study 2: Made in Chelsea’s Ollie Locke
Made in Chelsea is a reality show, partially scripted, but following the lives of real people living in the wealthy London borough of Chelsea.
Ollie Locke is a long time cast member, initially identifying as straight but as the seasons went by, he came to identify as bisexual. This has been relatively smooth-sailing for him until the newest season aired this month. (Still available to watch in the UK at http://4od.co.uk)
This season, we saw Ollie enter into a relationship with Ashley (a woman), which was all very well and good… until she “found out” he was bisexual.
(NB: And quite how she apparently didn’t already know this, I am not sure, seeing as his coming out was aired on prime time television. Besides which, the season well documents the fact that Ashley was always fully aware of Ollie’s bisexuality.)
Ashley quickly became jealous and suspicious of Ollie, claiming he lied about his sexuality to trick her into a relationship with him, that he is getting a leg over his straight male mate, and that he is “really” gay. Here, sexuality becomes a black and white issue, with all of Ollie’s friends deciding he is either gay or straight, whilst he stands alone befuddled and probably pouting, exclaiming, “BUT I’M BISEXUAL.”
See the video below. In this scene, we see Ashley on a date with a new man, after having split up with Ollie. She quizzes the date on his sexuality – because this is apparently the top of her priorities now – when Ollie runs into them. An argument ensues. (Ollie is the one with long dark hair and a black jumper.)
As Ashley says, “You say that you like guys now. So that little bit gay that you were, it’s obviously not the case. What was the point in fucking lying to me?”
She can’t seem to grasp that Ollie has always liked boys and has always liked girls. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Again, this is complete bisexual erasure. Apparently, when he was with Ashley, Ollie was straight. Now that they’ve split up, he’s gay. All this despite Ollie being an out bisexual for a good few years and happily dating men and women.
The impact of bi-erasure
Bi-erasure, whether it be at the hands of the LGBT*QA community or heterosexuals, only enforces the idea that sexuality is rigid. Black/white. Gay/straight. This harms all lesbian and gay folk because it sets us in boxes, it doesn’t allow for the fact that sexuality can change with age, that there are always exceptions.
Whilst the LGBT*QA folk will preach that love is love, nothing gets their backs up more than the idea of one of their own “going back in the closet”, but this hurts just as much as homophobia, because it is a fundamental misunderstanding of someone’s sexuality. Bisexuality is just as hard to come to terms with as homosexuality, and is made all the more difficult by support groups denying compassion.
In a gay club, myself and my boyfriend were dancing together. Now, we are both bisexual, both out, both members of the LGBT*QA society. And we both have had our own struggles with our sexualities. Yet when a group of people in this nightclub saw us together, assumed we were straight, and one person hit the back of my head. I understand, to an extent, that LGBT*QA folk may get upset at the idea of their safe spaces being invaded by apparent heterosexuals – but they never stopped to ask either of our sexualities. They never considered bisexuality as an option. It was black/white for them. Sound familiar?
The presence of LGBT*QA folk on television, like Marcus, like Ollie, is very important. But it isn’t enough simply having non-hets on television. Gay friendly =/= bi friendly. There’s a wealth of sexualities and genders, but the mishandling of these characters makes me cringe because I know the impact it can have upon people who are bi, being presented with the idea that you must be gay or straight, and bisexuality is not a valid identity. It is not an identity worth mentioning. It is not a sexuality worth defending.
Well, I disagree.
Within the LGBT*QA community and, of course, within the heterosexual community – because where would we be without cis hets to tell us exactly about sexuality and gender? – there is a growing trend to use the phrase “I think everyone’s a bit bisexual.” And this is troubling.
On the whole, the people who say this are merely trying to acknowledge that sexuality is fluid. There may well be no clear distinctions between straight and gay. I know many people who identify as gay who have had “indiscretions” with the so-called opposite gender, and even more straight people who have had liaisons with the same gender. I would be the last person to argue that sexuality isn’t fluid – but the statement that all people are “a bit bisexual” is harmful. And why? Because fluidity of sexuality and bisexuality are two separate concepts and are not interchangeable.
By saying that all people are bisexual to one degree or another only erases the identity of people who do identify as bisexual.
This creates the culture in which “We’re all told bisexuality is a phase that everyone goes through and grows out of, and no one’s a ‘proper’ bisexual, even though everyone’s bisexual really,” as Marcus Morgan puts it.
I am bisexual. This is what I identify as, and what has taken me many years to finally lay my finger on and decide on a “label”, on an “identify”. So whilst some people may throw the label away willy-nilly or deny its existence at all, that is only undermining my own experience and my own self actualisation, and the experiences of millions of other people. Whilst it may be nice for straight allies to try to help us poor bi folk out by sympathising with us when we come out, it only negates our struggle for recognition in LGBT*QA communities and in life at large.
There seems to be a disdain for bisexuality found in all walks of life, and is even prevalent within our own communities. (Though it is no secret now that LGBT*QA communities by-and-large favour homosexual cis men and women, excluding trans*, intersex, genderqueer, bisexual, asexual and queer people.) The common thinking I tend to find is that all bisexual men are really gay and all bisexual women are really straight. Of course, it comes as no surprise that the accepted sexuality is whenever the person is with a man – androcentrism pervading even LGBT*QA communities.
Whilst this ignorance from heterosexuals is wearily accepted by bisexual people like myself, it always comes as a nasty shock when I encounter it in supposedly LGBT*QA communities. Indeed, the main reason why I have resorted to identifying as bisexual at all is because of the confusion that identifying as queer caused me. It seems that the concept of gender fluidity might be preached, but not actually taken on board by those who preach it, when queer identities other than gay and lesbian are presented to them.
So what can be done?
Language modification. When someone tells you that they are gay, straight, bisexual – bite your tongue, hold back generalisations, hold back identity erasing attitudes.
- “I think sexuality is fluid.”
- “I have experienced same-sex attraction, even though I identify as straight.”
- “I think sexuality is complex and not black and white.”
Or even better, “That’s great, but it’s none of my damn business to comment on unless you ask me otherwise, and even then I will try not to erase or co-opt your identity as that can create psychological scars and undermine your struggle.”