The Voice of Misogyny

by Shaker BrianWS, who may or may not become a full-time contributor someday based on a series of cosmological calculations being made by an intergalactic alien priestess named Zah, who resides in a looking glass on an asteroid called Figg at the far curve of the multiverse.

During its first season, I was a huge fan of The Voice, a singing competition on NBC currently in season two. The talent level on the show last year was just ridiculous and introduced me to one of my favorite artists, Dia Frampton. This year, the competition has been a bit on the underwhelming side, but I continued to watch in hopes that someone would begin to stand out, and thankfully that happened—Juliet Simms, the only woman among the four finalists, is a true star. She's an electric performer with a voice that can tell a story all by itself.

The fact that she's the only woman in the finals on a show where Christina Aguilera is the only woman on the judges' panel is particularly worth noting after a disgusting exchange on Monday night's episode when the finalists performed one more time in an attempt to win the competition.

(For those who don't watch the show, each of the four celebrity judges picks a team of singers which is slowly whittled down to one. The four finalists then compete in a grand finale to see which of the contestants—and judges—wins.)

Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine's finalist, Tony Lucca, who has to date made his way through the competition by way of a shortcut through Gimmick Avenue (and an assist from his coach, who gave him a higher rating than his semi-final female opponent Katrina Parker, because he enjoyed the "bromance" they had, allowing Tony to advance despite the fact that America voted 52-48 for Katrina), performed his last song, and the choice was a country-tinged cover of Jay-Z's "99 Problems," a song in which the hook is the line "If you're havin' girl problems, I feel bad for you son / I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one."

After Tony performed "99 Problems" on last night's episode, the judges were asked for their responses. Christina, who has in the past criticized Tony for being one-dimensional (and also knows him personally, as they were on The Mickey Mouse Club together), told him he had a great voice and then added, "Your beautiful wife and your daughter, and family are here tonight, and I just thought, you know, the lyrical connotation was a little derogatory towards women...but all in all it was good fun."

Let's pause here: Note how restrained that statement is. The song relies heavily on misogynist language, but Christina didn't even spend her entire critique talking about that—she complimented Tony on the performance and gave a barely passing mention of the fact that the lyrics are problematic, yet it still earned her the misogynist wrath of Tony's coach, Adam.

When it came time for his critique, Adam responded with, "First of all, just to clarify so you all know, the intent behind this song, we talked about this for hours, Tony and I, and you know, the ___ ain't one is life getting' at you, things bringing you down, you know, we're not referring to women, we're referring to everything."

Christina said, "It says 'if you're having girl problems,' so it IS a girl."

Adam responded by talking over her and saying in an extremely condescending tone, "It's called a metaphor," a line that was met with nauseating, wild applause from the studio audience, at which point Adam took off his flannel shirt to reveal a "Team Xtina" t-shirt underneath—thus obliging Christina to applaud after he'd insulted her, or risk losing as though she doesn't support her remaining team member, who, of course, is Tony's competitor and had yet to perform his solo number.

There is so much vile shit to unpack in this that it's tough to even know where to start.

First, Christina is the only woman on this four-judge panel, and she was the only one to even make the most passing mention of the problematic and misogynist lyrics—and when she did so, it was in the least aggressive way she possibly could have, yet her comments were still met with MORE misogyny. She was shouted down, talked to like she was clueless and hysterically overreacting, and met with derisive and dismissive words simply for pointing out the misogynist lyrics. Basically, she got treated like shit for ruining the fun misogyny party for all the men! It's so much more fun when there aren't women around to complain, amirite?! (Or men, but men who complain about that kind of shit are either totally gay or basically women anyway, for sure).

Adam, meanwhile, came prepared. Several websites have reported that an even more severe argument broke out between Adam and Christina during rehearsals for Monday night's show, with multiple but unconfirmed reports that Adam called her a "cunt," in the process. I'm somehow inclined to think there's probably quite a bit of truth to that after seeing last night's show—especially since he had that "Team Xtina" tee at the ready, if she challenged him on-air.

Adam's claim that the line "99 problems but a bitch ain't one" is about "life getting at you," is a total non-starter, metaphor or not (spoiler alert: not!). Let's say it really is just a metaphor—which is an awfully generous interpretation—it is still a problem. If you're applauding a song that uses misogynist language to talk about life being tough, using the word "bitch" as a placeholder for various woes is STILL misogynist! "Life's a bitch" still relies on anti-woman sentiment.

(See also: Using the feminine as a symbol for "mayhem.")

And rather than perhaps admit that Christina might have had a point worth hearing, Adam responded aggressively with more misogyny toward her, as misogynists are apt to do when challenged—so challenged by even the slightest, most non-aggressive hint that they might be contributing to a serious problem.

He was ready for this exact confrontation (again: "Team Xtina" shirt at the ready), and was prepared to ensure that, in a space where defending a misogynist song would receive huge applause, he would also be able to deflect any meaningful criticism. Christina found herself in that spot that has been oft discussed here—she could continue to defend acknowledging the problematic aspects of the song and reject Adam's dismissive response to her and get accused of being a "bitch" and ruining the show (and even without continuing on, she was still accused of those things in recaps this morning), or she could let it go, stay silent on it for the remainder of the night, and allow the show to continue as if nothing had happened. That's the untenable position she found herself in—the terrible bargain.

This exchange on the show last night is a perfect example of the problems with a culture so steeped in misogyny—the purveyors of it are the ones who receive applause. Those who challenge it are shouted down with more misogyny as though their concerns are the result of hypersensitivity, as though there can be no meaningful discussion to be seriously had about how misogynist language is harmful to both women AND men, because they can't even be bothered to recognize that there is any kind of problem inherent in that language to begin with.

I appreciate what Christina Aguilera does on this show every night, because this is really just the obvious, out-in-the-open breaking point of a season full of more underhanded, insidious misogyny that has been directed at her. It was especially nice to see her with her finalist, opera singer Chris Mann, onstage after his "thank you" performance to her. She got up out of her chair, embraced him, joined him on stage and told the audience, "This is a real man. A real man respects women."

While noting the problem with "real" language, it was a nice, and honestly touching, moment, to see her there after having been the target of such an ugly display so soon before, standing alongside a man whom she truly seems to like, respect, and care for, and to see him return that tenfold as he stood alongside a woman he genuinely respects, and likes, and cares for.

The whole thing—the audience's reaction not only to the performance itself, but to Adam's attacks on Christina afterward, reminded me so hard that if there is one thing America seems to love so dearly, it's men who openly hate women.

I'll say this—I've got plenty of problems in my life. Maybe 99. Maybe more. Maybe fewer. But I do know that if Tony Lucca and Adam Levine win tonight—finding time to watch The Voice next season sure as fuck isn't going to be one of them anymore.

[Notes: If there is any further incident on tonight's finale, I will post a follow-up tomorrow. Also, my thanks to Liss for helping me tease out some of the ideas in this post.]

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