Could Eminem Be a Feminist?
Examining the lyrics of two of his most controversial songs about women
Eminem and I are almost the same age, and it feels apropos to write this article and mention our age similarities. I am definitely not in the category of stalker, or super fan. It’s not weird, so don’t make it sound weird, OK. I have been a fan of Eminem’s work for twenty years.
It’s just Eminem and I have a lot of surface commonalities. We are both fans of hip hop, in recovery, have adopted children, and both grew up poor.
We are both writers…
It’s safe to say Eminem is a far more prolific and successful writer. Inspired by legendary artists like Rakim, and Nas. He invented a strong and relatable lyrical voice, and a unique tempo of delivery. Carving a way into a credible part of hip hop.
I am also a woman, a feminist, and human rights advocate. I’m delving into the lyrics and meaning behind some of Eminem’s most controversial songs about women. Eminem is an important cultural commentator. Could his music attempt to end violence against women through his overarching themes? Could Eminem’s music be interpreted through a feminist lens?
Art is meant to push boundaries, make people uncomfortable, engage in new ideas, and express inequalities. Loud, or nuanced. Art should make you feel something.
On the surface, It makes zero sense for me to be an Eminem fan at all. I’ve been a feminist since 1992, and when Eminem was first on Mtv, songs like “Kim,” and “97 Bonnie and Clyde,” should have sent me running to the typewriter, scrambling to write an angry response.
The media certainly reacted that way. I always felt journalists were never really listening. Capturing the overtones, specific lyrics making them uncomfortable. The media was feeling something, and it was uncomfortable. Sharing his pain, his anger, was bound to upset people.
Instead, I thought his music was provocative, introspective, authentic, and brave. He was reflecting real societal issues, and relatable pain.
His pushed boundaries in a way art rarely is able, a guttural reaction. A reflection, he captured the loneliness and oppression of an entire generation of people. He capitalized on it.
He got credibility by being better than most, angrier, louder, and more self aware. His work transcended music and became social commentary.
A voice remarkable for its recognizable structure and sound. His rhyme and flow existed within his unique mind. It’s hard to remember, now he is so easily copied, he fucking invented this style. More than twenty years later, he still does it better, faster, and stronger than most.
This isn’t the first time as a feminist I’ve argued for Eminem’s art. It’s a strange public position because Eminem would hate the feminist label, and my position is definitely not popular with mainstream women. I am just pissing everyone off.
I am still going to illustrate my point.
Let’s go back to 1999 and discuss Eminem’s song about his ex-wife, “Kim.” A song striking for its violence, it’s a song about betrayal; The anger, grief, and insecurity perpetuated when someone you love cheats on you. The song is angry, but anger is just emotion. When Eminem peels off that angry layer in the second half of the song, he reveals another person. He reveals the pain of feeling unloved, a shattered soul. Insecurity and low self worth contributing to anger.
His delivery is the art, reflecting the whole cycle of domestic violence women experience. He taps into anger, but also tremendous pain. Pushing to look past the outer layer, the real song emerges.
“Kim, Kim! Why don’t you like me?
You think I’m ugly, don’t you?… No, you think I’m ugly
…Get the fuck away from me! Don’t touch me!
I hate you! I hate you! I swear to God, I hate you!
Oh my God, I love you! How the fuck could you do this to me?!
How the fuck could you do this to me?!”
Marshall Mathers “Kim”
It’s easy to cancel men who are violent towards women, rapists, abusers, and assholes. Eminem’s music makes us see them, though, as men who are also victims.
He writes about cycles of domestic violence in a circular format that addresses the root causes from both perspectives. It’s not just through songs like “Kim,” and “Love the Way You Lie,” but through an expansive body of work.
These are larger themes of Eminem’s art cancel culture has threatened to destroy. Silencing misunderstood art only increases the very problems it was trying to cancel. It eliminates the discussion, the narrative that promotes societal change. It keeps critical voices from understanding the root causes of violence silent. Turning off a discussion pivotal to real change.
Eminem spouted feminist theory back to women who used feminism as a weapon against men. He was furthering the conversation at the cross section between the cultural emasculation of men, and cisgender male violence towards women.
Pure wokeness doesn’t halt violence against women. Cancelling voices from men, even violent men, escalates the alienation and oppression that causes generational cycles of violence. Eminem knows it. He’s been trying to tell you for twenty years.
Feminism shouldn’t be silencing voices, even male voices. It’s purpose was to bring more voices into the fold of mainstream conversation by encouraging dialogue between divisive spheres of influence. Sometimes talking more is better than one side talking less.
Eminem’s art continued to mature beyond the violent lyrics of “Kim.” He has explored themes of regret, forgiveness, guilt, and aging in a youth obsessed industry. Still, some of his best work is when he explores relationships.
In 2010, he performed a song with Rhianna, herself an abuse survivor. “Love the Way You Lie.” A song tackling domestic violence from both sides, in a deeply raw and accurate way. A song about the nuances of love, the place between right and wrong where violence tends to occur.
“I can’t tell you what it really is
I can only tell you what it feels like…
Sound like broken records, playin’ over, but you promised her
Next time you’ll show restraint
You don’t get another chance…
Told you this is my fault, look me in the eyeball
Next time I’m pissed, I’ll aim my fist at the drywall
Next time, there will be no next time
I apologize even though I know it’s lies
I’m tired of the games, I just want her back, I know I’m a liar”
Marshall Mathers “Love the Way You Lie”
The fresh calls on social media to cancel Eminem are from Generation Z. A generational cohort born between 1997–2012. Actually, it’s an attempt to cancel Eminem’s music, not the musician. Claims that are ridiculous because it’s asking us to censor art. I thought the purpose of cancelling culture was aimed at powerful men exploiting women, not the censorship of art.
Generation Z, at the risk of offending, are still quite young. Nuance is hard, and critics of Eminem’s lyrics are picking apart lyrics and misrepresenting these lyrics as violent or sexist, using cancel culture like a weapon. A threat to silence and not discuss. Talking, not listening. Reactionary, not introspective. Impatient, not unfolding.
I don’t know if Eminem considers himself a feminist. His art, though, explores human relationships, anger, violence, mental illness, addiction, and aging. Sometimes through a feminist lens. He is also an artist, playing a character. Eminem is just a character, an alter ego, used to explore some of these controversial themes.
Eminem has spent a career collaborating with women, and exploring feminist themes. Including the voices of female songwriters, and exploring relationships from their perspectives. He’s been the epitome of what our culture tends to ask of white men.
He is a white man in a historically black musical genre, but isn’t that the nuance of diversity. Incorporating a minority view in a way not appropriating or stealing from that culture.
It’s fair to say Eminem has only worked to establish himself as a separate artist, operating successfully as a minority within while not getting labeled as racist. Creating a space both respectful and honorable. The fine line so few men can walk, because it’s the walk of a feminist.