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Posted in Op-Ed, Opinion

Fembots Have Feelings Too: Safe Spaces and Party Music

April 17, 2012

This semester, the planning and execution of Genderfuck has sparked useful conversation in the Swarthmore community about what makes party spaces safe or not; we, Swarthmore Feminists, want to add our voices to this conversation and provide an example of what we think a good party space could look like.

Parties can be uncomfortable spaces for women and queer folks, with issues of sexual assault and misconduct, derogatory comments and disrespect. There are many, many ways in which a fun space can be compromised for us and for any of you, as feminists and as partiers. At the party that we’re holding this weekend, we will be doing our best to keep our space safe and fun for all, but we are concentrating especially on the music.

When we go out and dance to popular party music, we often find ourselves dancing to lyrics that promote rape culture and endorse disrespect, derogation, and sexual misconduct. Here’s a line from Lil’ Jon’s song Get Low:

“To the window, to the wall/ to the sweat drop down my balls/ to all you bitches crawl/ to all skeet skeet motherfucker, all skeet skeet goddamn.”

How many times have you danced to this song? How many times have you sung along to this song? Have you ever thought about what you’re actually singing? This line is about a guy who thinks women should crawl to his ball sweat. It would be an absolutely unacceptable thing to say in conversation and would probably cause an uproar on Swarthmore’s campus. When it’s framed as song lyrics however, we ignore it. We sing along. These subconscious messages infuse party culture in an insidious way. The music at a party may not immediately influence its safety, but music definitely shapes the party environment. Lyrics such as these normalize and desensitize us to harmful messages that promote unhealthy gender dynamics.

But songs like Robyn’s Fembot can subvert or give alternatives to those unhealthy gender dynamics and to patriarchal constructions of women as sexual-objects, mothers and “bitches.” A playlist full of songs like Fembot in a safe party space could make a statement, and we need to do so. We will be making a statement against those who reduce women and queer and trans* folk to collections of body parts, who make free celebration unsafe. While we can’t promise a playlist clean of all problems, our songs will respect everyone as whole, complete people, neither to be worshipped or degraded.

Here’s what we, as feminists and as Swarthmore students, propose. Let’s make parties safe spaces for everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. Let’s make consent active, ALWAYS. Let’s respect, not demean, each other’s bodies. Let’s keep partying like we want to, but stop making others feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Let’s think critically about our music choices and recognize when lyrics are not just guilty pleasures but degrading. To convince everyone that it is totally possible to create not only a safe and respectful party space, but a really fun one with a playlist that celebrates these values too, Swarthmore Feminists will be holding “Fembots Dance Party” on Friday, April 20th from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. in Wharton D basement.

We’d love to hear your suggestions on what to add to the playlist! Post away in the comment section below.

  • Becca

    Girls Who Run the World – Beyonce

  • Katherine

    This is the sort of thing that makes me love Swarthmore.

  • Miriam G.

    I can’t tell from this article whether you all are proposing that every Swarthmore party be free of degrading songs. Anyone want to clarify? Thanks!

  • Bitchez and hoz

    It’s music. And a lot of it is genuinely good for parties (especially Lil Jon). I think all us Swatties are smart enough to realize that misogynistic lyrics =/= actions or ideas we should adopt. Maybe that’s not true in the real world, but this is not the real world.

    That’s not to say I won’t come to the party!

    • Troll

      You’re a troll.

  • Leah Foster


    We’re proposing first of all that (this Friday) we create a space of our own where we just have fun to non-degrading songs–because it’s more than possible.

    On a wider note, the pleasure–>guilty-pleasure–>oh-god-I-don’t-want-to-listen-to-that scale of degrading music doesn’t break down in the same way for everyone at the same time. One person’s “guilty pleasure” can be another person’s or their own “turn that off” the next day, and that’s ok. So the implementation of freeing Swat’s party spaces of degrading songs would be pretty complicated and dicey.

    But we would really like to have party spaces where we can have fun that is unspoiled by dancing to–celebrating–lyrics about rape. That would be pretty nice. So yes, in general idealistic terms, we’re calling for some thought about the music we play at parties; specifically, we’re holding our own party that puts this into practice by being extremely awesome AND lacking in discomfort.

    -Leah Foster
    co-president of Swat Feminists

  • Joanna Venator

    Hi Miriam,

    So I’m not going to speak for all of Swarthmore Feminists, since I’m only one member. But my goal in being a part of planning both this article and the party this weekend was to encourage Swatties to think more about what the songs are actually saying and what messages the songs they choose when they DJ a party are saying. I don’t think proposing that EVERY party is free of derogatory songs is a realistic goal nor one that I would want to take on. Do I wish Swat parties only had non-derogatory songs? Yes, that’s my personal preference. But I also personally don’t believe in censoring people’s choices, which is what proposing that all parties must not have derogatory lyrics would ultimately have to be.

    However, Swat Fems does want to have at least one party with awesome, non-misogynistic songs (that does include neutral songs, not just those typically thought of as anti-misogynistic)which is why we chose to write this article and hold the party. The goal (in my view) is to make people think about the issue and maybe make their own choices to include less derogatory music in their own playlists. (Well… let’s be honest. The goal is also to dance and wind down the week with a great party on a Friday night. There can never be too many awesome Friday night parties :) )

    Hope that answers your question…

  • Eleanor Pratt

    Hi Miriam,
    While having all parties be free of degrading songs would be a welcome change, that’s not what we’re proposing. We understand that much of popular party music is infused with derogatory and sexist messages and that it’s difficult to completely reject it. Also, what’s derogatory to one person doesn’t necessarily carry the same meaning for another (for example I’m in love with Jessie J’s “Do It Like a Dude” but I’ve heard critiques of it as well). Instead we’re throwing this party to show that dance music doesn’t have to be degrading and that we can make a badass playlist from neutral or celebratory songs. Our goal here is to heighten Swat’s (and our own!) awareness of the messages we passively receive and accept from music.

  • Miriam H.

    I keep getting really excited about this party – and then remembering I’m abroad. Have an awesome time, and I hope we can have more parties like this in the future.

  • Miriam G.

    Thanks for all the responses! I think this is a great idea for a party and completely agree that it’s important to be aware of the messages in the music we listen to. Should be a refreshing night, and I hope that, eventually, party playlists will generally end up free of derogatory lyrics without our having that goal in mind when putting them together.

    Also, just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t stating an opinion on whether or not all Swat parties should be free of derogatory music. (If I were to state an opinion, I think I agree with Swarthmore feminists that that would be ideal, but not if it meant censoring people’s choices, which at this point it *would* mean).

  • Jared

    What if you alternated misogyny with non-misogyny so we could experience both, then make an active choice?

  • M

    Aphrodite- Kylie Minogue
    Diva- Beyonce

  • gilles and felix

    so, you’re suggesting that we follow “lines of flight” from misogyny. just like one of us followed a line of flight from his apartment window to the street below. amiright? amiright?

  • Nick

    I love you, comment above.