In Greek Mythology, the figure of Pandora is established as the first woman on Earth. Like the Biblical figure of Eve in the Book of Genesis, Pandora is the downfall of mankind, bringing pain and death into the world and marking the end of utopia. Both Pandora and Eve are created by supreme beings (Zeus and God) to be companions for men, but the fatal flaws of these women — foolish curiosity, greed and manipulation — get in the way. The misogynistic view of women as troublemakers began with Greek society and has been perpetuated throughout the ages. Popular culture references of troublesome women, including those contained in recent rap songs, are evidence that this attitude is still alive today
As Hesiod explains in Works and Days, Zeus becomes angry with Prometheus for providing fire to humanity. To punish the humans, Zeus orders the creation of Pandora, who Leeming describes as, “one of the earliest examples of the archetypal femme fatale” (177). Pandora is fashioned with the beauty of a goddess and “the lovely figure of a virgin girl” (Hesiod qtd. in Thury and Devinney 40). She is taught charm and manipulation by Aphrodite, “sly manners and the morals of a bitch” by Hermes, and various gods and goddesses fashion her beautiful robes and jewelry.
Pandora is given a jar containing the Spites — Old Age, Labour, Sickness, Insanity, Vice and Passion. When she releases them into the world, a period of great human happiness ends. Pandora becomes the mother of all of men's troubles, and as Hamilton puts it, “From her, the first woman, comes the race of women who are evil to men, with a nature to do evil” (88).
The modern “child of Pandora” depicted in recent rap songs has her own spites to release. Gangsta rap artists Kanye West, Jay-Z and Eminem, and metal rap artists Insane Clown Posse and Korn depict their own versions of the “femme fatale” who cause scores of trouble and unhappiness for men. In the world of these rappers, women bring about three “spites” or troubles — the loss of money, the loss of love and the loss of health. The men in these songs rarely accept responsibility for trouble in their lives. Instead, they blame the women, who are greedy “gold diggers,” lying, manipulating cheaters, and carriers of sexually transmitted diseases. Sometimes they violently punish or kill the women for being this way.
Since the rise of the gangsta rap genre in the late 80s, rap music has been deplored for its violent and misogynistic attitudes toward women. In 2001, Edward G. Armstrong published a content analysis of popular gangsta rap music from 1987 to 1993 and found that 22 percent of gangsta rap songs in that time period contained violent and misogynistic lyrics. However, in the conclusion of his article, Armstrong suggested that gangsta rap lyrics may be getting worse. While the 22 percent figure was calculated from all songs of all mainstream artists in 1987 through 1993, Armstrong pointed out that 78 percent of one recent artist's songs (the phenomenally popular rapper Eminem) contain violent and misogynistic lyrics.
In her article “Eminem is Right,” Mary Eberstadt contends that there is a consistent theme in today's hate-laden music, including Eminem's — that many of today's adults are still suffering from the lack of a nuclear family structure during their developmental years. She writes that, “misogyny in current music does not spring from nowhere; it is often linked to the larger theme of having been abandoned several times — left behind by father, not nurtured by mother, and betrayed again by faithless womankind (Eberstadt 9).
Eberstadt's argument is a valid one, especially when considering the lyrics of Eminem and Korn, who save their most gruesome depictions of violence toward women for mothers, step-mothers and ex-wives. However, while much of Eminem and Korn's violent lyrics are directed toward specific women, later in the same song or in other songs, the hatred is transferred to a generic “everywoman.”
Eberstadt argues that most of Eminem's lyrics are not “the expression of random misogyny but, rather, of primal rage over alleged maternal abdication and abuse” (9). But Eminem's song “Kill You” presents a different view. True, the song begins with depictions of Eminem raping and beating his own mother (“Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK, Ma?”). But a few lines later, he asserts, “I invented violence, you vile, venomous, volatile bitches,” and he continues with the rhyming tirade, “blood, guts, guns, cuts, knives, lives, wives, nuns, sluts.” By this point in the song, Emimem's violence is transferred away from his mother and is redirected toward the everywoman. This is later reinforced by the line, “ladies' screams keep creepin' in Shady's dreams.” (Slim Shady is Eminem's homicidal alter-ego).
Korn also has a song called “Kill You,” on their 1996 album Life Is Peachy. Similar to Eminem's “Kill You,” the Korn song depicts the lead singer, Jonathan Davis, raping and killing a step-mother who mistreated him as a child. While Korn's “Kill You” does not transfer hate from the step-mother figure to the everywoman, “Cameltosis,” a song on Korn's album Follow The Leader, released two years later, does depict all women as troublesome. The song's chorus contains the lyrics, “You see this time, I cannot ever love another cunt. You trick ass slut, love twice and you'll get fucked.” Also, the title of the song associates an “osis” (a suffix for a disease or disorder — in this context possibly a psychological or emotional one) with a “cameltoe” (a slang term for the upper part of a woman's genital area). The title of the song itself suggests that women are the cause of psychological or emotional troubles.
In the songs of many gangsta rappers, women are greedy manipulators who use their sex appeal and fake promises of love to cheat men out of their money. Kanye West, is a relatively new gangsta rap artist whose 2005 single “Gold Digger” is still ranking high on the Billboard charts. The message of this song is that women marry men for their money, cheat on them, have babies, divorce them and then milk them for child support for children that were actually fathered by other men. The song begins with the depiction of a “cutie the bomb” with a “Louis Vuitton [expensive purse] under her underarm” who will not date men without a substantial amount of disposable income. Then, the song becomes a cautionary tale for men to be wary of marriage. The lyrics warn, “She got one of yo kids got you for 18 years. I know somebody payin' child support for one of his kids. His baby momma's car and crib is bigger than his.” Later, the song becomes a public service announcement for men by advocating the use of prenuptial agreements. (“We want prenup! Yeah, it's something that you need to have. 'Cause when she leaves yo ass, she gone leave with half”).
Similarly, the 1998 single, “Can I Get A...” by Jay-Z depicts a world in which women refuse to have anything to do with men who are not “ballas” (rich). In the song, Jay-Z questions a potential mate by asking: Are you one of these women? Here is an excerpt from the first verse:
Can I hit it in the morning
without giving you half of my dough
and even worse if I was broke would you want me?
If I couldn't give you finer things
like all of them diamond rings bitches kill for
would you still roll?
By making the blanket statement that “bitches kill” for diamonds, Jay-Z is being cynical. He doubts that this woman he's questioning will turn out to be a genuine, caring, potential mate who is not simply out to get his money. He receives his answer when female rap artist, Amil, takes over in the second verse announcing that she likes “a lot of Prada [expensive fashion label], Alize [expensive alcohol brand] and vodka” and that her “coochie remains in a Gucci [another expensive fashion label] name.”
In rap songs, women are never to be trusted because they are faithless cheaters who see other men behind their lovers' backs. In the songs of Eminem and Insane Clown Posse, female infidelity can be a deadly sin. Cheating women are beaten up and murdered.
Eminem's “Kim” is the fictitious story of Eminem brutally murdering his real-life ex-wife, Kim Mathers, her new husband and her four-year-old step-son. In the song, Eminem alternates his own hate-filled shouting with impressions of his ex-wife's terrified voice. He asks her questions like, “How could you just leave me and love him out of the blue?” and “How could you let him sleep in our bed?” while she screams in the background and pleads for him to stop. The most striking passage of the song is as follows:
You really fucked me, Kim, you really did a number on me.
Never knew me cheatin' on you would come back to haunt me.
But we was kids then, Kim, I was only 18.
That was years ago. I thought we wiped the slate clean.
This section of the song is troublesome. It implies that male infidelity is supposed to be forgiven, but female infidelity is unforgivable and is punishable by death. Insane Clown Posse's “Bitches” provides a similar message with the line “When I was locked up you fucked something like 34 guys.” While the man in the song must have done something bad enough to end up in jail, a woman's infidelity during his sentence is a capital crime (“Now ya gotta die, now ya gotta die,” he says). Also, Insane Clown Posse's “Another Love Song” contains the line, “I'd rather chop and never stop because you fucked my homies.”
“Superman,” a song from a later Eminem album, shows that Eminem's attitude has changed a little since “Kim” was released. Instead of focusing on the infidelity of his ex-wife, Eminem assumes that all women are cheaters and liars. Because of this, he is no longer interested in long-term relationships. (He announces, “Ever since I broke up with whats-her-face I'm a different man”). To Eminem, women have become little more than sex objects. Because he is no longer interested in taking them seriously, he can simply have sex with them and beat them up (or in his words, “put anthrax on a Tampax” and slap them until they “can't stand”).
In rap songs, women who give men sexually transmitted diseases are also beaten up and murdered. Eminem's “Drips” is a sexually explicit tale of a woman “Denise from the cleaners” who gives HIV to both Eminem and his fellow rapper Obie Trice. The song's chorus provides:
That's why I ain't got no time for these games and stupid tricks
or these bitches on my dick. That's how dudes be gettin' sick.
That's how dicks be getting' drips, fallin' victims to this shit
from these bitches on our dicks. Fuckin' chickens with no ribs.
There are several interesting things to point out about these lines. First, the line “chickens with no ribs” is a clever play on words. While it might make one think of food (“chicken and ribs”), and it's probably referring to sex with a woman without using a condom (many condoms are “ribbed”), it could also be a reference to Eve, who was created by God from one of Adam's ribs. Second, the chorus of the song makes it clear that men take no responsibility for contracting their own sexually transmitted diseases. While both Eminem and Obie Trice willingly have unprotected sex with “Denise from the cleaners,” (and in Obie Trice's case it was a one-night stand), they blame her for their sickness. After Emimem goes to the doctor and discovers he has HIV, he describes this scene: “You jet back home, because you gonna get that hoe. When you see her, you gonna bend her fuckin' neck back, yo.” Similarly, when the frontman of Insane Clown Posse finds out he has genital warts he says, “Now I stack my nine. I'm goin' for your knees. I'ma blow 'em out and give your neck a squeeze.”
In truth, not all women are “children of Pandora” whose purpose is to cause misery and suffering for men. Many of the lyrics in the songs mentioned above are obviously disturbing and would probably be offensive to most women. This is because first, they perpetuate stereotypes of the “gold digger,” “slut” and “unclean” woman and second, they promote the message that it is OK to physically harm women who do fall into these categories. While Eberstadt blames musical misogyny on the breakdown of healthy families, one cannot ignore the fact that negative attitudes toward women have existed since ancient times. Is there hope that these attitudes may gradually grow weaker as time wears on? Or is Hesiod's myth so ingrained into the belief system of male society that women will be forever depicted as Pandora's children?