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Die Antwoord — are we missing the misogyny?

By Talia Meer

As critical dialogues about race in the Antwoord’s ”Fatty Boom Boom” video emerged, I was certain that a gendered analysis would soon follow. I was wrong. While South African commentators have critiqued the use of blackface in the video — UCT’s Adam Haupt deftly contextualises Die Antwoord within histories of class and race in South Africa — these crucial conversations are painfully audible against the silence surrounding how the female body is represented: we are missing the misogyny.

By misogyny I mean everyday hostility toward women: gender-based discrimination and violence, sexual objectification (including the shaming of women’s bodies that do not conform to the image of the ideal sexual object) and sexual subjugation/oppression (not allowing women free sexual expression, enjoyment or control). Often these violences are perpetrated, and rendered banal, through the representation of women and women’s bodies in popular culture and the media. In its attempt to humiliate Lady Gaga (due to personal vendetta or beef with her label Interscope), Die Antwoord’s video employs an arsenal of popular misogynistic memes.

1) ”Hey fatty” — amid tabloid skinner about Lady Gaga’s weight and her disclosure of her struggles with anorexia, the title and refrain ”Fatty Boom Boom” is no coincidence. Given her massive adolescent following, Lady Gaga’s reflection on the physical and psychological scourge of battling an eating disorder is powerful. Unfortunately this video reaffirms that the best way to bring a girl down to size is to pick on her size.

2) ”What’s in your pants?” — when the frazzled Lady Gaga look-alike is rushing into the doctor’s room, an ambiguous black phallus wobbles briefly in her crotch (04:01, look again). I am still uncertain how to interpret this. Here are two suggestions: 1) It’s a reference to media buzz that Lady Gaga is a hermaphrodite (has male and female genitalia) or 2) given the context of the video, is a sinister reference to the reduction of the black man to his phallus superimposed on the popular trope of Africa as the site of disease and/or perverse sexuality. Both connotations are problematic: whether ridiculing non-conforming bodies or exoticising non-western bodies, it frames genitals as the ultimate weapon in this assault on the pop-star.

3) ”Your vagina is disgusting” — the depiction of vaginal mucous and the removal of an insect from the vagina are loaded in a global culture that vilifies women’s bodies and sexuality and portrays vaginas as requiring douching, perfuming and bejewelling. This is not new to popular culture. Dancehall music holds the prize for vagina-hating but this video is a close contender. Given the context of pervasive gender-based violence, where women’s sexuality is largely portrayed as negative, taboo or submissive and where sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) are highly stigmatised, this music video is yet another depiction of women’s bodies as sexualised, violated and diseased. So while defenders of Die Antwoord will doubtless assert this as satire, meant to ridicule the unwitting (white) tourist, the point is made, if it is made at all, on an all too familiar site of violence, the female body.

4) ”She asked for it” — finally the bedraggled Lady Gaga look-alike is devoured by a lion, doubtless due to her poor choice of outfit: the infamous meat dress. The idea that ”what you wear makes you responsible for what happens to you” is one all too familiar to women across the world. Both the mini-meat dress and the lion, and the miniskirt and the sexual predator, invoke the already pervasive view: it is her fault.

It is significant that there has been no public conversation about the misogyny in this video. In private however, as with the racism of ”Fatty Boom Boom”, three feeble defences of the misogyny in Die Antwoord’s video have emerged. The apolitical focus on the sleek production of the video: “whatever you think about them, the video is a masterpiece”, the de-historicised ”double standard” — ”how can the black paint be offensive when they also wear white paint”, and in this case, ”in other videos, they make fun of men too” and finally, the argument ”it is not misogyny, it’s satire”.

In this last response lies what I call hipster exceptionalism (usually manifest in hipster racism and hipster sexism/misogyny): the idea that something ordinarily offensive or prejudiced is miraculously transformed into something clever, funny and socially relevant, by the assertion that said ordinarily offensive thing is ironic or satirical.

This, by its very formulation is absurd. If dancehall music, portraying vaginas as hateful and filthy, is sexist, so is Die Antwoord, and it makes no difference that the detractors are skinny-jeaned trendsters rather than dread-locked selectas. Here perhaps is where race, class and gender analysis come to bear on each other: do we make exceptions for hipster misogyny because it is a cooler, classier (or classist), less familiar, and often more subtle kind of misogyny?

We need to learn how to address the glib retort ”but it’s ironic”. More importantly though, we need to acknowledge that when critiques of popular culture fail to include a gendered analysis, they are perpetuating misogyny by not calling the artist out on it, by fostering an environment where it is accepted to assault, abuse and degrade women.

Talia Meer is a researcher with the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. She completed an undergraduate politics, philosophy and economics degree with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2008 and a master’s in development studies in Halifax, Canada. Her current work focuses on gender-based violence and she is keenly interested in popular culture and its contribution to a culture of violence against women.

Author

  • Talia Meer has studied political science and development studies in South Africa and the great white north. She is a researcher and gender activist. She is interested in how the social categories of race, class and gender are practiced and articulated in daily life, individual and collective experiences. She often uses the f-word … feminism.

33 Comments

  1. Paddy Paddy 2 January 2013

    Wow – You reside in the rape capital of the world and you dedicate such energy on a fringe group’s video clip? Why?

  2. Matt Black Matt Black 2 January 2013

    It’s still the festive season and I can’t be bothered to write a proper retort (also, typing long replies on a phone sucks). So here goes my weakend reply:

    I do think you have a large, feminist chip on your shoulder and you are reading toouch into this video. I’m aware Die Antwoord put multiple, layered references to various things in their songs, but I think you’re stretching it.

    I do think violence against women is bad though. Just to clarify.

  3. Adam Haupt Adam Haupt 3 January 2013

    The Guardian brief and word count did not make it possible for me to explore all of the issues in that particular video, but I do address gender politics in the book, Static (HSRC Press, 2012). In Chapter 3, I analyse Die Antwoord’s performance of racialised gender-based violence in the song “Doosdronk” (as performed at Die Nekkies outside Worcester).

  4. Iago Agogo Iago Agogo 3 January 2013

    1.”Fatty Boom Boom” was written AND recorded way before Lady Gaga anounced her weight gain to the world.
    2. Your “ambiguous black phallus” is really a stretch to interpret in your way. It appears to be coming out at the level of a belly button, which makes it more than likely one of the meat ropes or whatever those are dangling.
    3. Lady Gaga calls herself “the mother monster”, so they have her giving birth to a monster cockroach. What’s the problem there?
    4. “She asked for it”. The lion eats Gaga because she’s wearing a meat dress. It seems to be a fun way to end the vid, nothing else.
    Your rant against dancehall music depicting vaginas as “hateful and filthy” ignores the same music depicting penises as “snakelike, slimy and filthy”. So that must mean that dancehall music hates BOTH male and females? How stupid!
    Your entire set of arguments trying to diss Die Antwoord is flawed to the bone. Lady Gaga is not a role model for any young girl. Have you read any of her lyrics? Do a bit of research before you try to play performance critic.

  5. WTF WTF 3 January 2013

    @Talia:

    Many of us would not have known about this has you not wrtitten about it. May be a good thing you did, or a bad thing. Die Antwoord attracts a very select audience.

    Perhaps, you need to critically appraise the videos of Justin Bieber/ Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Much more mainstream artists.

  6. Neuren Neuren 3 January 2013

    I believe that Die Antwoord’s purpose is to be politically incorrect. That is what makes them so appealing and intriguing. They are an antidote to the mediocrity of popular media. By its very nature they will offend and for now it is entertaining and often quite poignant. I am also sure that Lady Gaga appreciates the attention too.

  7. RTP RTP 3 January 2013

    @Paddy this article is about the (often subtle) misogynistic messages in popular culture that we overlook which further contribute to the degradation and abuse of women. I would argue that it was written because we live in the rape capital of the world among other forms of gender based violence and abuse. Dehumanizing women’s bodies is part of what makes rape and other forms of gender based violence possible. I cannot imagine a more fitting context for this piece than the ‘rape capital of the world’.

  8. Indira Indira 3 January 2013

    Very interesting analysis… Our failing education system has allowed hipster pop culture to gain the upper hand, young people are not stimulated to think critically or question mass media that they’re force fed on a daily basis. And these stereotypes continue to be replicated and re-enforced.

  9. Boots Boots 3 January 2013

    Fully agree, and have to add that this group is trash personified. If people have talent they should use it in a constructive way. These idiots are an embarrassment!

  10. cyberdog cyberdog 3 January 2013

    Or perhaps, they are a bunch of immature, unintelligent people who have put together the few unimaginative items they found to be most hurtful while they attempted to grow up. Then put these into a poor attempt at a music video. They are to untalented to make something big, so they use the guise of attacking someone else to get more public traction. Really pathetic. Though I am still not sure which is worse, having people that rotten, or actually having people with not enough intelligence to see them for what they are and wasting time writing articles about them. Though, on the other hand, It appears that this is the perfect reflection of South African politics of the day. The complete lack of moral, ethics and intelligence is perfectly appropriate if viewed in that light. If only any of them could actually have some talent.

  11. Brown Salt Brown Salt 3 January 2013

    No.

    No.No.No.

    As a coloured, growing up, if a BOY or GIRL was fat we would call them “fatty boom boom”

    The “whats in your pants” is OBVIOUSLY a reference to the transgender issue – thats what makes it so damn funny.

    The reference to the insect – obv a “baby monster”

    Every point you have picked sounds like a wailing monologue of some angry feminism student. We find the errors in a certain shape if we are looking for them in a certain shape….

    as for the freedom of women. bleh. freedom is earned – not given. I get so sick when I hear all this boooolsh!t.

    Thatcher never once bemoaned the freedom of women on her rise to power. She was hardly a feminist.

  12. Talia Meer Talia Meer 3 January 2013

    @ Adam Haupt, I completely realise that. I look forward to reading Static.

  13. Dude Dude 3 January 2013

    “Hipster racism” I’m going to use that.

  14. Jerome Jerome 4 January 2013

    Yes. It’s funny, isn’t it?

  15. Chico Chico 4 January 2013

    If you reward that which is shocking & banal with attention, those who crave attention will behave accordingly. In fact, the entertainment industry’s quest to produce shocking and banal entertainment has become totally passé.

    Nevertheless, in their resolute attempt to portray their performance as unfettered by conventions, (yet once more—how boring!) their self-censoring faculties will, quite naturally, tend to relax as well. It is therefore hardly surprising if they betray the gender biases they have subliminally imbibed from society. I believe that you are right to call attention to this.

    By the way, the abortion ad in the background was yet another strong mysogynistic signal. It would make compassionate pro-choice advocates cringe.

  16. Boots Boots 4 January 2013

    Brown Salt, please explain: “freedom is earned – not given”

  17. CS CS 4 January 2013

    “If you’re going to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”
    -Oscar Wilde

  18. Max Max 4 January 2013

    This blog reminds me of the kind of McCarthyism and rooigevaar that went looking for signs of communism under every bush, in every song, film, painting, book and bedroom.

    It’s the same paranoia.

    The taxi driver and the body guards are executed in the video.You might as well argue that Die Antwoord are xenophobic promoters of execution-style murder and hijackings because of this and you might as well claim that Die Antwoord are now to blame for any murders of foreigners and tourists that take place in South Africa from now on.

  19. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 4 January 2013

    A case study in how to miss the point in order to drive middle class guilt ideological agendas.

    South Africa has no dancehall culture whatsoever and this post just shows how Americanised gender studies has regrettably become. Similarly, blackface does not have the same context here as it has in America.

    Die Antwoord does not have the cerebral capacity to work within the cappuccino and latte flavoured, be-speckled, thrirft shop turtle-neck campus cafeteria condescension framework. Their work is mostly visual, visceral and relies on pop culture shock value. That is why an attack on Lady Gaga’s kitch image is not an attack on women in general, and also why a visual stunt like being in blackface is not a racist portrayal in the slightest.

    I can’t help but picturing them laughing in their sleeves when people project so much in their work.

  20. Ewok Ewok 5 January 2013

    Rad piece. I am a big follower of the discourse around Die Antwoord and this is another intelligent insight into their particular brand of creative genius. I enjoyed the brief look at hipster culture towards the end. Have you got any more published on that specific topic or could you drop a few leads that we can follow? Cheers again for a good read, keep on keeping on…

  21. Valerie Valerie 6 January 2013

    @ Brown Salt

    Do you actually read what you write? freedom is earned?
    So in your eyes women have to prove that they deserve the right of being treated as an equal?

    That sounds to me like promoting patriarchy. Gender based discrimination is equal to racism and classicism and a real problem worldwide. Statement like yours can easily be dragged in one of the other categories. Although I think your opinion might change because I doubt that you would like an answer like this if it would effect you. It is important to talk about issues which are there! It is important to be aware and make people know the problems which still have to been solved.

    Be a little bit more critical and think carefully how you bring your opinion to others because statements can be easily misunderstood and your point might not be made.

  22. Neil Neil 7 January 2013

    Publicity is neither negative nor positive, there’s only publicity. If you really want to damage: ignore, don’t buy, don’t refer to the video timer (more hit’s on you tube while we test your fear) etc etc, it’s shock value, kids love it because parents are shocked by it…. = more sales, more money in their pockets… etc etc, you’re a victim, a supporter and an endorser. pop stars stage these conflicts because at the end of the day, it’s more money in their pockets, otherwise they’de be suing each other for defermation etc… that’s how it works. Oh yes, and half of the band ? author / producer / creative spirit / etc is female, so mysogyny…. not sure about that?

  23. C. B. C. B. 7 January 2013

    Wow. It seems no one here has ever heard of the concept of using shock tactics in art to provoke cultural commentary and discourse on social norms. The video isn’t about promoting the misogynistic ideas it portrays – its about rendering them ridiculously overblown and deliberately provoking discussion of the topics highlighted.

    Go take a look at the work of Marilyn Manson for comparison. A more mild-mannered, soft spoken, genteel, educated and civilised individual is relatively hard to find. Yet his art reflects the uglyness of society, and highlights its injustices through shock rock.

    Do your homework friends. All is not as it seems.

  24. Jane Jane 7 January 2013

    “Fatty Boom Boom,” anorexia, and Lady Gaga are not linked. They didn’t write the song for her, it’s really quite a silly song that’s redeemed only by its pillory of crappy commercial music and hiphop inbreeding. Gaga is the best example of that. You should be aware that anorexia is a neurotic expression of control; it’s not unexpected she had it because obviously she is ambitious. Which is fine except that she doesn’t give a flip for thought and responsibility; her statements of solidarity are banal and targeted to the psychology of her fans. Slick marketing is her forté and she makes money, not art. Popularity already insulates her from accountability. So, your defense of Gaga as if her own shock behaviour should never have an equivalent critical response is unwarranted.

    On just one point: your (petty) analysis is that the video punishes a woman for what she wears. Lady Gaga appalled a few people, even amongst her fans, when she wore the meat dress. (She is adamant that she doesn’t give a fuck about the lives of animals when it comes to “fashion.”) The meat dress is also an appropriation of a famous Canadian art piece by Jana Sterbak. So the parody here is totally a propos. We don’t wear meat clothing because it’s food, and food for predators. There is always a dose of heartfelt authenticity in Die Antwoord’s art – which few expect, but is there if you notice. A multi-video narrative shows the affection they have for animals. Chalk one down for the zef…

  25. H. Markunsen H. Markunsen 12 May 2013

    thank you so much for this clever analysis. I was blown away by the misogyny in this video. Their appropriation of “Zef” culture is a complete joke — entitled clowns just trying to shock.

  26. Wynston Wynston 31 January 2014

    It was not a roach, it was a prawn. Die Antwoord themselves said that the video was supposed to be “Lady Gaga’s African Adventure gone wrong”, so the native South African prawn found by the gynecologist was just another facet of that narrative… and, for that matter, so was the meat dress. It’s tongue-in-cheek humor.

    “Fatty Boom Boom” refers to the heavy beat. Come on now. Die Antwoord does not slut-shame or fat-shame. Yo-Landi Vi$$er’s function in the group is very feminist. She writes her own raps, wears what she wants, sleeps with whom she wants, and does what she wants; Die Antwoord exemplifies that message.

    The video was just supposed to be a lighthearted lampoon of Americans stuck in a place they are unfamiliar with.

  27. Twitch Twitch 18 February 2014

    I think this is a well thought out and observant article. Way to call it as you see it.
    I am interested in what you think of Cookie Thumper and Baby’s On Fire since I personally find them to be profeminist. Those videos seem to be a direct call for society to acknowledge a woman’s ownership of her own body and sexuality. So… The opposite of what you perceive Fatty Boom Boom to be.
    BTW, I always thought (and still do think) that the blackface in Fatty Boom Boom was to represent how Lady Gaga (representing Western Tourists) see South Africans- as minstrel show performers. That doesn’t make it a call out. What do you think about that context for it?

  28. Johng736 Johng736 4 May 2014

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  29. Paul R. Gauthier Paul R. Gauthier 10 June 2014

    You ask whether we’re to make exceptions for offensive images and discourse when it is used ironically? The answer, in short, is yes.

    This might be a bit of a newsflash to you, but irony existed before hipsters. The fact that you only can associate it with hipsterism doesn’t say anything about irony’s long subversive and transgressive tradition.

  30. Pat Farrelly Pat Farrelly 4 November 2014

    Excellent article. Thank you. It’s interesting that other Die Antwoord videos contain misogynistic motifs so commomplace now that we’re blind to them when we come across them. I couldn’t agree more that we need to learn to address the glib retort, ” . . . but it’s ironic”.

  31. q q q q 18 February 2015

    LOL Die Antwoord is completely anti-feminist
    just because yolandi is a girl doesn’t make her feminist. Most women are NOT feminist.

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