The same day Lil Wayne’s track was leaked to the public a friend posted an image of a sexual enhancement drug called S.W.A.G.
[Image Description: in this photo is a picture of the product SWAG. It is a small red package. The title SWAG is written in yellow letters. Beneath it are the words “Sex with a grudge”. To the left of the package are black stick figures having sex there is smoke rising from the backside of one of the figures. To the right there are black stick figures having sex and there is fire rising from the genital area of one of the figures. the left side as the words “1 to hurt it” on the right side of the package are the words “2 to kill it”.]
S.W.A.G. is an acronym for the company’s website and product name, Sex with a Grudge. The male sexual performance enhancement drug’s website offers the following product description:
We can’t state this enough, the damn stuff makes sex almost violent, in a good way, of course!! … 45 minutes after taking S.W.A.G you will start to feel a little buzz… [that will] give you a sense of urgency to go crush someone. You’ll actually start to feel BIGGER in the process. The rest of the story is whatever you make it, and believe us; you will have a story to tell.” (www.sexwithagrudge.com, 2013)
At this intersection of poorly conceived ideas gone public, is the frightening marriage of internalized racism and Rape Culture. Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape Culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety” according to Marshall University’s Women Center website. In both Lil Wayne’s verse and in S.W.A.G’s marketing what we are seeing is rape culture at its best, a system that simply reduces women to receptacle. The type of sex both Wayne and S.W.A.G imply in their words is not actually sex with a woman; it is sex with an orifice; an orifice they both apparently hate. We must wonder how the presence of songs and over-the-counter pills where Hurt it, Kill It, and Beat it like its Emmet Till, are so normalized that they make it from studio booths, market testing rooms, trademark applications, and label executive reviews to actual public consumption without even the raising of an executive eyebrow? It is indeed a testament to how acceptable it is to not only dissect women’s bodies but to then further enact violence on the parts that have been dissected.
Deniers of Rape Culture have offered, “but men are only doing what women want” and “women are being too sensitive” as excuses. Given that according to a 2009 ABCnews.com article, 75% of women do not achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration alone and 10-15% have never achieved orgasm from any sexual stimulation whatsoever it is hard to believe that the beat it, pound it, kill it message is coming from women. Given that women have a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually assaulted in their lifetime, sensitivity to sexualized violence seems absolutely reasonable. Given that in many cases women are more likely to be raped than to get adequate healthcare and three women a day lose their lives to partner violence perhaps the patience for attempts on our lives has been exhausted.
It was not lost on me that S.W.A.G , with its use of urban street slang and a product name popularized by black hip hop culture, seems to be marketed directly toward young Black men. I desperately wish I was shocked that Lil Wayne had so little regard for the traumatic history of racial violence in this country that he would equate a sex act with the gruesome kidnap, shooting, strangling, and drowning death of a 14 year old boy in 1955 that sparked the civil rights movement. I am not surprised that black masculinity has been so crushed that as S.W.A.G states in its online write up, it wants to “crush” something else. As I thought of all of this I was reminded of a scene from the 80’s childhood fantasy film, The Never Ending Story. At the end of the film, after the land of Fantasia has been ravaged by The Nothing,(a mysterious force destroying all of humanity), left standing amid darkness and desolation, The Rockbiter, an enormous creature made of limestone shakes his head, palms outstretched and says, “They look like good, big, strong hands, don’t they? That is what I always thought they were. … my little friends…The Nothing pulled them right out of my hands. I failed.”
I believe Black men know that feeling. What it is to be told you are so big, scary and inconsequential all at once? The attempt to hold on to dignity and self worth with those big hands only to have them snatched away. The historical ache of emasculation. I can only imagine how that stripping might make someone want to crush, smash, beat, kill something… even if only metaphorically. There is a deeper cultural pain Black men are trying to avoid. To my knowledge, Lil Wayne is not a rapist. I do not believe that most of the men who would consider taking S.W.A.G are murderers or violent misogynists. I do believe oppression oppresses everyone, including oppressors. Black men, all men are belittled by the culture of misogyny and sexism. Rape culture dismisses the intelligence of men. It constricts the breadth and depth of male identity, reduces depictions of maleness to violent, emotionally stunted, brutes rather than the nuanced, capable, compassionate humans that men can be. Lil Wayne’s lyrics and S.W.A.G’s marketing assume the worst of men at the expense of us all. It assumes men must hurt women to be ‘real’ men. It asserts that women want to be hurt, thereby removing the accountability of violence from the perpetrators, calling to mind the oh so common tropes of rape such as, “She asked for it.” or “She wanted it.” Correlating violence with sex desensitizes us to the emotional, social and political impacts of rape. It makes politicians use terms like, “legitimate rape”. It reinforces the false notion that only the most extreme cases of stranger rape are rape at all. Everything else is just a guy “killing it” like we women really wanted anyway,right? Rape culture and racism have convinced Lil Wayne that his ability to dehumanize the women he has sex with substantiates his power. It so thoroughly detaches him from his history as to make a brutal historical moment simply a lyric of crass comedy, even as that moment served as a catalyst for his own ability to make records and amass wealth. S.W.A.G asks men to forget that there is a human on the other end of sexual intercourse. S.W.A.G manipulates the insecurity of male sexual prowess at the expense of everyone’s humanity. It removes what is best about sex, human connection and pleasure and turns it into blood sport.
I remember being 8 years old in a movie theater in Oakland, CA watching The Never Ending Story, weeping into the plush velvet seats. The Rockbiter was so sad. He decided he was helpless and worthless, so why even try to make it out alive? Why not just give himself over to The Nothing which had taken everything else? In the last moments of his scene, he laments to the protagonist of the film, Atreyu, “The Nothing will be here any minute. I will just sit here… and let it take me away too.” It seems, Lil Wayne, S.W.A.G and far too many others have also chosen to do just that.
[Cover Image Description: In this photo is a large close up of the Rockbiter, a character from the 80’s children’s fantasy film The Never Ending Story. The Rockbiter is grey and made of limestone. In the photo appears to be pointing in front of himself.]