Why is Drake so sad? Is it the Canadian winters, that whole Rihanna thing (we’d be sad too), or just his sensitive soul? It could be a combination of the three, but here at Witchslapped we think there’s probably more to it than that. Drake’s a fascinating figure because he’s a man perceived as soft in an industry that values masculinity over any other trait–that can’t be easy, but he’s obviously striking a chord. Wherever his emotions come from, millions of men and women around the world are relating to them. His new tape and collaborations have landed him on the Hot 100 list 14 times over, tying the Beatles for most Hot 100 singles at one time, and even Kanye West called him “the hottest rapper in the game” in a recent interview with the BBC’s Zane Lowe.
After listening to his latest tape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, we wanted to get to the bottom of Drake’s feelings. We reached out to Raewyn Connell, you could call her an expert in men and their feelings. Connell is a highly-respected social theorist in Australia, who’s written or co-written 21 books and more than 150 research papers on class, culture, and gender relations. In the 1980s Connell became internationally recognized for her theories on the social construction of masculinity. As if that isn’t impressive enough, her 1995 book Masculinities is the single most-cited in the field, and she’s been an advisor to UNESCO on initiatives regarding men, masculinity, gender equality, and peacemaking. We sent Connell an email (possibly the weirdest message we’ve written in our lives) asking her to share her thoughts on some of Drake’s lyrics and their relation to masculinity in music and society. For some blessed reason, she responded with insightful and constructive points.
“There are lots of ways of being a man, or for that matter being a boy,” Connell told us. “That’s not admitted by the people who tell us that rape is due to testosterone or that shooting people is programmed by men’s genes, but it’s true.
Everyone who has kept their eyes open in a high school will get the point. You can see the different groups of young men, the different styles, the different interests – and the different ways of relating to women.
When you are in high school, of course, you are still learning, still forming your way of life. So as well as diversity, there can be a lot of uncertainty about masculinity among young people. Someone with a definite line on how to be a man, how to handle women, can get prestige and attract followers.
Where there is a settled pattern of prestige, a model of masculinity that carries most weight in the society, and especially where it establishes the priority of men over women and of particular groups of men over other men, researchers speak of ‘hegemonic masculinity’.
In countries like Canada, the United States and Australia, hegemonic masculinities follow a pattern. Heterosexual and attractive to women; associated with money; assertive or decisive; competitive; physically robust – this is what usually means prestige in gender terms. Violence isn’t necessarily part of the pattern, though there are threads connecting violence and hegemony. Men who beat up women, the research tells us, usually have conservative views of gender.
Hegemonic masculinity doesn’t mean a biologically fixed dominance. It’s a pattern created by an unequal society. It does change, and it can be challenged. Different men follow hegemonic models to very different degrees.
Rapping came from poor black and Hispanic communities, and hip-hop got much of its incredible energy from being protest music. It still is, in the hands of some performers. With others, it’s become a way of claiming prestige and asserting dominance, especially in gender terms. There’s not much doubt about the attitude here:
You too worried ’bout the bitches. I got one girl, and she my girl, no one else can get in it
And like everything else in my life, you can have it when I’m finished
Here Drake’s lyric is not just showing contempt for the woman, but also asserting priority over another man. Similarly with:
Head to toe I’m Prada covered
I know your girl well just not in public
Boasting about his brand-name wealth, and doing down another man by appropriating ‘his’ girl. And more directly expressing aggression towards other men in the music industry:
Thinkin’ they lions and tigers and bears, I go hunting, put heads on my fireplace
Who knows if the lyrics represent the rapper’s actual beliefs–they may be just a way of catching attention. Who knows how many people even listen to the words? What we can say is that texts like these present a truly sad model for young men’s lives – self-centred, abusive towards others, contemptuous towards women.
The music industry gives words like these immense circulation. But there are other ways of being a man – building real relationships with real women. There are men who oppose, rather than buy into, injustice (see www.menengage.org).”