Former Elite Gymnastics member James Brooks released a new four-track EP this week called Stop Pretending under the moniker Dead Girlfriends. Its concluding cut, “On Fraternity,” is a sweetly menacing song about sexual assault. The song itself, without its divisive lyrics, is something else. It screeches with feedback in places, its synths twinkle and build into an emotions-driven cushion padding Brooks’s heartbroken vocals. It’s painful and beautiful; its only problem lies within its lyrics. Since its release, Brooks has noted that there are no gender pronouns in the song, but its initial presentation felt like it was meant to explain to women the political reason there are certain physical discomforts that come from, essentially, being a woman in public. Here are some of those lyrics:

The way your heart speeds up/ when you notice someone/ walking behind you/ Well, that’s why/ The way they’re all watching/ for your guard to drop/ at the end of the night now/ Well, that’s why … The way they act like/ even bringing it up/ means you’re the one with the problem/ Well, that’s why

What Brooks is describing is in line with three primary instances of fear in many women’s lives: the mystery of who is near you in public; the notion that male friends may take advantage of you; and that you’ll have to garner the blame for your own trauma. When he sings, “Well, that’s why,” the “that” refers to rape culture, which suggests that women are unaware of the reasons that the taboo of talking about sexual assault and the looming fear of potential physical threat can exist in our lives. This is “mansplaining” (when a man, intentionally or otherwise, uses a condescending tone to explain something to a woman that she already knows) at its most egregious and it’s primarily because it is very clear that Brooks does not mean to do it. He is open as an ally, staunch about his feminism, and, thus, with this song Brooks has seemingly crafted the gender edition of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s unfortunate collaboration “Accidental Racist.”

With “Accidental Racist,” the country star and rap icon intended to brew up a conversation about the structures of race perception. Paisley sings about not knowing how to reconcile his fandom of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern pride by beseeching his black Starbucks barista not to judge the Confederate flag on his shirt, while LL offers, “If you don’t judge my du-rag/ I won’t judge your red flag.” The implementation of stereotypes instead of experience turned it from its intended conversation-starting, unity-bringing origin place into a murky water no one really wanted to tread. And, in its own way, “On Fraternity” feels the same way — a song to act as a guide to understand where uncomfortable feelings come from and generate discussion from there. Most of the coverage of Stop Pretending lacked commentary on the meat of the music, focusing more on the name change from Elite Gymnastics to Dead Girlfriends, padding the posts with Brooks’s long explanation for such a gruesome appellation.

“Dead Girlfriends” is also Brooks’s Tumblr username, which is where he initially suggested he might be releasing new music under that moniker, unless other inspiration struck, in response to something in his ask box. It’s an appropriate name for Brooks, who is an avid Tumblr user, posting sensitive screeds about sexism and the music industry, among other things. On it, he wrote, “this tumblr always felt like an outlet that was wholly mine and a safe place to just kind of talk about personal stuff and be myself and the art that i make now is kind of an extension of that so it feels like a name i feel comfortable putting on stuff.” He proceeded to explain that he liked the name because it sounded dangerous to parents (“no shots but no ones’ parents would ever get offended by teenagers saying that they liked to listen to ‘beach fossils’ or ‘animal collective’ you know?”) and said that its genesis was rooted in a quote from the feminist theorist Andrea Dworkin:

“We have been asked, by many people in the societies in which we live, to accept that we women are making progress. You see, because you see our presence in these places that we weren’t before. And those of us who are berated for being radical have said: that is not the way we measure progress. You see, we count the dead bodies. We count the numbers of rapes. We count the women who are being battered. We keep track of the children who are being raped by their fathers. And when *those* numbers start to change in a way that is meaningful, we will then talk to you about whether or not we can measure progress.”

That quote gives way to support that this is music about women, but due to some backlash, Brooks has, again, used his Tumblr to suggest that these narratives are not strictly relegated to women:

my intent when i was writing the lyrics was not to speak to any specifically female experiences about anything, and i mean i’m sort of starting to veer too closely to the zone of “stuff i am probably not willing to go into depth about in the context of a tumblr debate post”, but women aren’t the only people in the world who get raped, you know?

When he, in the same post as the Dworkin quote, had said earlier:

theoretically when people would ask me what the name means which is the first thing everyone in every interview ever would ask me when i was doing elite gymnastics i will say “it’s how andrea dworkin measures how much progress women have made in society – by counting the number of dead girlfriends”

that explanation will probably make most people feel even more unpleasant than the name but that’s how living in the patriarchy makes me feel every day

This is where the use of pronouns might have been helpful for Brooks. Without them, it suggests that “living in the patriarchy” is his own burden to bear and that women need to be told how to understand their oppression. If, without pronouns, it’s was supposed to address only men, it suggests that women don’t listen to music or interview musicians. I am certain he did not intend either of those things, but as an ally, it would behoove Brooks to be clearer with language and to be more mindful of trigger words. Saying that the “explanation will probably make most people feel even more unpleasant than the name” shows a dearth of understanding that a name like “Dead Girlfriends” can serve as an awful reminder to anyone who has lost a friend or family member to sexual, domestic, or other gender-driven violence or someone who has been assaulted or raped herself. But the name is meant to cause discomfort — not just in people oblivious to patriarchal peril, but — as referenced in an aforementioned quote — to parents.

There was a larger explanation about the tameness of band names like Beach Fossils and Animal Collective in regard to an episode of Roseanne and the band name Hole:

i kind of like that it is sort of an unpleasant name, i remember watching this episode of roseanne where darlene was having some friends over and dan the dad was DJing some classic rock and darlene’s ornery goth friends were like “this music sucks! play some hole!” and dan was like “WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE YOUNG LADY”

I’d like to remind Brooks that another mostly-women band from the ’90s, Bikini Kill, was also referenced on that show. In episode 7 from season 8, Roseanne and her sister Jackie pick up a hitchhiker who tells them about riot grrl and has them play a cassette tape of “Don’t Need You” in the car. In another set of lyrics from “On Fraternity,” Brooks sings, “who cares if it’s right/ as long as it’s punk?/ so if someone gets hurt/ and then the cops come/ then no one talks,” referencing, again, the inability to acknowledge or talk about sexual assault, even if it’s right in front of your face. But what Brooks is forgetting is that this movement already exists in riot grrl, a significant tenet of which stated that men were not needed to tell women’s narratives. At the end of “Don’t Need You,” Bikini Kill lead singer and riot grrl torchbearer Kathleen Hanna sings, “Does it scare you/ that we don’t need you?” And while this is not in reference to allies, it should serve as a reminder that women are fine to tell their stories on their own.

Since the initial draft of this piece was written, Brooks has posted another Tumblr explanation about how he believe he’s being wrongfully perceived and, seemingly, digging a bigger hole for himself. He writes:

when i said “that’s how living in the patriarchy makes me feel every day” i was kidding, it was meant to be a self-deprecating joke at the expense of the two paragraphs i’d just spent laying out a ridiculous and dramatic explanation for my intention to use a really ridiculous and dramatic name for my new music project

i mean the patriarchy totally sucks, but i can see how some people saw that quote and assumed that i am totally humorless and in denial about the fact that i benefit from the patriarchy no matter how many mean things i say about it on the internet, which is the exact opposite of what i originally meant to express

One of the most significant parts of being a good ally is knowing when to be quiet and listen. Brooks’s bouquet of explanations and continuous back-peddling are only hindering his very important stance. His inability to just acknowledge the criticism and appreciate it as a male feminism are likely a function of a lack of understanding of his male privilege. If he can’t see why people are upset about this project, “well, that’s why.”

Comments (91)
  1. A very good article –– in particular, the last paragraph is fantastic.

  2. My hope when I write a song with feminist themes is not to explain anything to anyone so much as to highlight something I care about. I am a little confused about the argument this article is making; I’m assuming you are not making the argument that all songs dealing with gender and feminist issues written by men are an attempt to usurp the voices of women. I’m sorry if I come off as ignorant, but I am asking for a little more clarity from the author.

    • I was actually hoping to open a dialog with the author but seems like that’s not going to happen. There is a degree of anger in the comments section, but the discussion for the most part has been rather one-sided. Anyway, I’m glad this song has opened up a discussion that normally isn’t brought up in music criticism.

  3. I never thought “On Fraternity” was intended to tell women about their experience. Just based on the name, and the later jabs at the punk community, it felt like he was crafting a narrative directed at whatever male fans he might have to help them understand, especially those who might be part of insular communities that claim to be sympathetic to feminist causes and then overlook sexual assault when it happens in their ranks (punk, for example).

    Additionally, I’m curious because you refer to it a bit in the last paragraph, but can a man ever truly transcend the label of ally and become a full feminist? You mention gender privilege as a limiting factor in his understanding of this issue. Wouldn’t that also preclude him from being a feminist by its very nature?

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly! I thought the song was about punk people ridiculing other people for not being punk enough and being a force of anxiety in a young (and genderless throughout the song) person’s life. And then these lines: “who cares if it’s right as long as it’s fun?/so if someone gets hurt and then the cops come, then / no / one / talks.” is kind of a continuation of “omerta” which he titled the second track of this EP.

      I guess I can agree that this song makes for a poor attempt at trying to explain the female experience, just as “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a poor attempt at writing a love song to a cat. It’s not a song trying to explain the female experience. It’s a song about being a man that does not buy into all of the societal expectations of a man with regards to how women are treated.

      I’ve read criticisms of this song today and yesterday and what bothered me about both was that those doing the critique were doing so under false assumptions.

      And it’s beyond me how any aspects of riot grrl are lost on him – or how he’s “forgotten” anything. I think here Claire Lobenfield is projecting intention on this song, saying that he thinks he’s being a pioneer or trying to acquire pats on the back for being so forward-thinking.

    • There is debate in the feminist world about whether men can be feminists or are they feminist allies. I consider myself a feminist and I don’t think that using that term will ever make me feel what a woman feels being subverted or oppressed. It won’t wipe away my privilege, but I don’t think it is supposed to. To me it signifies that my aims are wrapped up in the same issues as many females who self-identify as feminist. Again, it doesn’t mean I am the same as them, but no two feminists are alike anyway.

      • That last sentence of yours I find very striking, mostly because I’m looking at this thinkpiece, which has ample criticisms of Dead Girlfriends, and then I’m looking at Pitchfork’s song review for “On Fraternity,” also written by a feminist, but praising and named Best New Music. Two very different positions, indeed.

    • A man writing about women’s issues is sort of like a muslim writing about jesus, err, i mean, a democrat writing about reagan.

  4. Talking about feminism and doing so as a male is a very tough thing to pull off, or so I personally feel. I have a tough time discussing anything dealing with feminism in music when I write because it’s not really my podium to speak about, so when Savages and the Crutchfields began started gaining traction, I would read many profiles written by great female writers on influential sites where the main takeaway from the piece went deeper than I could about these artists as women writing making art that is important to females in both a worldly sense and a music scene community sense. That topic is not my strength, so I’m left to just talk about how the music sounds, and with that, I feel like I’m doing coverage of it an unintentional disservice. Every time something new happens with the Julie Ruin, it’s equally exciting to want to talk about but also mind-wrecking since I know the reader will expect some sort of feminist slant and honestly, I’m just afraid I’ll say the wrong thing and piss someone off.

    • I think you can look at that interview with Reza Aslan about being a Muslim discussing Christianity. Part of scholarship is discussing things that aren’t just about who you are. As a Jew, I don’t expect every article written about Jewish works and addressing Jewish themes to be written by Jews. But at the same time, nobody needs to explain to me that Jews are being denigrated. I think the author was upset by the tone of the song itself, not that a man tried to address it. Part of what confused me is the song itself; I’m not exactly sure who the audience is for that song.

  5. Shame on your for comparing this song to “Accidental Racist”

  6. “no, this is silly, the song is literally called “on fraternity”, it’s about being frustrated with being a man and being expected to participate in/being unable to fully extricate myself from the power systems that create the “certain physical discomforts” of being a woman in public

    it’s not a rewrite of “oblivion”, it’s a song about what it feels like to listen to that song knowing what it’s about and that it was written by someone close to me, about not wanting to be complicit in the power systems and codes of silence that enable the sexual assault and dehumanization of oppressed minorities including women, it is not a female perspective on sexual assault, it is a male perspective on it, it’s mine”

    His response to this article – posted on his tumblr.

  7. Am I the only one who feels like these things are only meant to garner more attention for your band? I mean, of COURSE he’s gonna call it “Dead Girlfriends” and put out a song that may/may not be about violence towards women or whatever. It’s calculated! I love Elite Gymnastics, I have not listened to Dead Girlfriends because when I went to buy the EP it’s friggin 8 bucks for 4 songs, I mean COME ON, anyway…the way the indie blogosphere works, you do something maybe/kinda/probably controversial, then you watch the blogs slobber over it, writing provocative “think-pieces,” when really, dude’s getting what he wants: more publicity for his band, more hits on his page, more people listening to his maybe/kinda/probably controversial song, IT’S ALL A PART OF THE INDIE BLOG MACHINE THAT INDIE ROCK NEEDS TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF TO SURVIVE. Then all the intellectuals jump on the comment feed and start talking about other “issues” and how “we need to fix those, maaaaan” when really, it’s a song that some dude wrote where he’s like, “OOHHHHHHHHHH SHIT THE BLOGS ARE GONNA GO NUTS ABOUT THIS ONE” and maybe he’ll get to headline some fucking festival in like 5 years or something. CALCULATED.

    This is the state of rock n’ roll nowadays, kiddies. Hipsters stroking their own egos, praising themselves for their intellectual music taste and grasp of major “issues.” You know, people wouldn’t hate intellectuals so much if we weren’t so goddamn smug about our intelligence. Put it this way: if Green Day had written this exact same song, same words, EVERYTHING, I guarantee the tone of this piece goes from “Wow, I’m a hipster talking about issues” to “Wow, Green Day sure are male chauvinist pigs.” It’s all about context and what’s cool RIGHT NOW and the fucking blogs are killing music, man. Try to form a band with no Internet presence. Do that.


    That being said…fuck every single motherfucker that has ever raped/assaulted/molested a woman. We don’t need some fuckhead from Minneapolis that I actually like vaguely referencing these things, we need to fucking do something about it in SOCIETY, not just write a little “think-piece” on a blog and forget about it a week later. The nature of the beast is that the beast is fucking devouring us from the inside out.

    Anyway, anyone else like the new AlunaGeorge record?

    • You were kind of making a good point but then went of the rails just a bit. Bring it back a tad…

    • re: your first paragraph

      that is EXACTLY what’s happening here, and i can’t fucking believe how well it worked. damn fast, too.

      the rights of women and the investigation of rape culture are topics that should be taken seriously.
      this kid’s music and his “feminist agenda”, which he was so thoughtful to spell out to us IMMEDIATELY upon releasing this ep, are not.

      • It was very calculated wasnt it? I saw how far he went to explain his new name.
        It’s so sad he calls himself an artist. Even sadder he calls himself a feminist. Feminists do not preach their message and expect pay in return for it. They also don’t backpeddle and try to cover up what they initially meant. They stick to a cause and advocate whole-heartedly for it. This is why i feel he is just doing it for the attention and applause.

    • I completely agree with you. They do it for the applause and attention.

  8. I guess JT is off the hook now.

  9. To be honest, I actually think this song isn’t as big of a deal as it’s becoming. People are always projecting meaning and intention on to art for better or worse (Kanye seems to always benefit from everyone assuming there is more to his music than meets the eye). Though I agree with the idea of much of this piece, I’m a little surprised that so much grief is getting thrown at James Brooks heals. He’s a guy trying to sympathize.

    I think people look way too hard for things to be offended by these days.

  10. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  11. I liked how the back of it has COVER DESIGNED BY MY FAMOUS GIRLFRIEND GRIMES THAT’S RIGHT GUYS GRIMES in the same type font and size as the credit for his band. And all the pictures of GRIMES MY GIRLFRIEND YEAH THAT GRIMES he has on his tumbr so I guess that makes him a feminist because he is totally cool with riding the coattails of GRIMES GRIMES GRIMES WHO SANG PITCHFORK’S #1 SONG LAST YEAR GRIMES MY GIRLFRIEND GRIMES.

    Also why does he always look like he’s a milisecond away from sneezing? Like, he always looks like that. I would like him to just let it all out so that I can say “grimesundheit” to him and then maybe he’ll he’ll be happy.

    • Haha yeah. I was thinking a similar thing. He likes to name check Grimes any chance he gets. This song is basically a disguised name check.

    • You read him crediting someone for their contribution to the album as “the same type font and size” (as though that could ever possibly matter to anyone) as namechecking?

      Even if you were right (and, to be clear, I don’t think you are): Ok, granted, I do think biographical fetishism is a big problem in music journalism, and I think a lot of coverage has a tendency to group people together unfairly, in a way that is limiting or overly reductive, and because of that it’s easy to resent well-known people for acknowledging that they know/hang out with/have gratifying personal relationships with other well-known people, but these are two people that live together, talk together, make music in the same room–for them to NOT credit one another as influences and sort of ‘implicit collaborators’ would be insane and artificial. Crediting Grimes for her artwork is a functional and straightforward way to acknowledge her (probably significant) contribution to the EP.

      Like, I’m aware that this comparison isn’t flawless, but no one accused Mac DeMarco of ‘namechecking’ his girlfriend when he pulled her onstage for Still Together whenever that was, a few days ago, because that would be bona fide insane–I don’t think James should be villified for the fact that YOU recognize his partner’s name.

      All ‘my girlfriend’ criticism reeks to me of a weird kind of solipsism, that you think someone is talking about the person they love for the sake of producing a certain reaction in you, a total stranger.

      • I kind of took fierce’s comment as a bit of humor, so I didn’t take it so seriously as you did (hence my lighthearted response), but you make good points.

        I actually really like Grimes and James in all his incarnations. Even met and talked with him when I saw Elite Gymnastics live. Really down to earth and quiet dude. He doesn’t really deserive all this mess. People just like to bitch.

      • This nigga threw out ” solipsism”. Damn.

    • Real grimy thing for someone to GRIMES GRIMES GRIMES GRIMES…

      this IS fun lol

  12. *Fact Checking* It’s in your description journalists! AKA Stereogum.

    You can’t rip apart an artist because you “feel” like his song is about something that it’s actually not about at all. You even said that there is is no fact or interpreting that “on fraternity” is written from female perspective or experience! This doesnt come from “mansplainining” since i know of the arist and i can assure he doesnt mainsplain anything. this song is about HIM and the way HE feels and theres no right for attacking in an article. Im just tired of you guys jumping on any possible controversy possible because you need web traffic.

  13. Uh-oh, sounds like listeningin is stereogumsplaining.

  14. You seem to be suggesting that any attempt by males to talk about gender issues is mansplaining. Is the fact that women already know that women get raped enough reason to ignore it?

  15. I don’t really know how I feel about the song at this point (even lyrics aside, I’m not sure if I particularly enjoy it), but I think this flavorwire piece at the very least adds to the discussion and offers perhaps a different if not opposing perspective: http://flavorwire.com/406901/dead-girlfriends-on-fraternity-when-male-musicians-write-about-rape

  16. “ok, god damnit. First of all — these ‘stereogum takedowns’ are really stupid. Like, one of these happened to me when Visions first came out. Not only was it terrible journalism, but it was fucking sexist (suggesting that I’m not as admirable as my peers because I don’t “tap into [my] womanhood and sexuality as a source of power.” Um

    So first of all assholes, you have NO fucking right the be standing on a feminist pedestal. Your article about me in this series based it’s criticism on attacking my refusal to sexualize myself which is so immensely fucked like… i dont think i need to explain why it’s fucked.

    Secondly, you can’t just rip apart an artist because you “feel” like his song is about something it’s not about. You even acknowledge that there is no basis in fact for assuming that “On fraternity” is written from a female perspective or about a female experience.

    It doesn’t come close to “mansplaining”. I live with the fucking person who wrote this song, and I can assure you I’ve never heard him mansplain anything. This song is about being JAMES and the way that JAMES feels and you have no right or reason to attack him. fucking surfer blood doesn’t even get it this bad

    James doesn’t have a publicist or a label or money or an agenda. He’s making art and he’s releasing it. I’m so tired of people jumping on every possible controversy they can conjure because they need web traffic. We don’t make art because we want to be in tabloids, you probably didn’t start an indie music blog beccause you wanted to make tabloids

    god damn it ive been trying to stay out of this but its gotten completely out of hand and with no basis in fact whatsoever

    FACT CHECKING : its in ur job description”


    • Oh man, I forgot about how splendidly incoherent that Deconstructing Grimes article was. It was like someone laced the free quinoa in the grad student lounge with cocaine and adderall.

  17. I stood up in my office and applauded this. Perfect.

  18. Claire Bro- intensionally? i think you meant “intentionally”

    That’ll be $5.

  19. So let me get this straight…

    “Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign” = an unfiltered glimpse into the abyss of the id, a staggeringly honest and complex exploration of a tortured genius’s mind, etc. etc. etc.

    “The way they act like/ even bringing it up/ means you’re the one with the problem/ Well, that’s why” = mansplaining “at its MOST egregious”

    Uh, ok.

  20. Can we just retire the term “mansplaining”? Whatever point/impact/significance it originally had has been lost in a sea of jump-to-conclusion thinkpieces/facebook statuses.

  21. the problem with these “Deconstructing” articles is they discuss a hot button issue that’s a few days (even hours!) old and rush to form a judgement/perspective. I’m assuming this one was rushed in particular due to the numerous spelling/grammar errors.

  22. Brooks has also apologized for writing “women aren’t the only people in the world who get raped, you know?” saying:

    “i was having kind of a weak reactionary moment after reading comments from people on the internet who had inferred that “on fraternity” is sort of about rape and had responded by saying things like “get back to me when it happens to you”

    i think what i wanted to say is that i don’t think talking about or making a piece of art that talks about rape is the same thing as speaking for women, but what i said was not the right way to say that and i am really truly seriously sorry for that”


    I can’t imagine any “mansplain”er ever owning up to something like that (or even understanding why saying something like that can be problematic.

  23. Also:

    “the way abusers are terrible > well, that’s why > why i wanted out”


    Not the reason for sexism, patriarchy, assault.
    Really annoyed at convoluted arguments based of of incredibly vague lyrics that really are about personal issues.

  24. Claire Boucher>>>>>>>>>>>>Claire Lobenfeld

  25. “Without them, it suggests that “living in the patriarchy” is his own burden to bear and that women need to be told how to understand their oppression” – The author surmised all this because of a simple lack of an identifying pronoun?? I don’t even.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • I think the “I don’t even.” has an implied ending. Like “Why I outta…” Or “Well I never!”

        But I could be wrong.

        • Nah, you’re not wrong. Lt. Wine is being sarcastic, I assume, because “I don’t even” is a pretty common expression, and yes, it’s just like “Why I outta!” or something similar.

          Thanks, Lt. Wine, for gram(mar)splaining to us! Ugh.

      • It appears you don’t know how to infer meaning from two clearly communicated observations regarding the lack of evidence on the author’s part.

  26. According to this article’s author’s twitter, her response is to be dismissive of criticism, shrugging us all off because we just dont get it, instead of examining what we’ve pointed out as points about which we disagree with her.

    Radical queers pull this shit all the time – if you don’t agree with them 100% then you don’t know what they’re talking about and aren’t worthy of listening to. It’s an annoying, close-minded way to exist.

    And if I’m wrong about her intentions, so be it. I’m giving her as much of the benefit of the doubt as she’s giving James. And projecting on her as much as she’s projecting on him.

    This site has gone down the shitter.

    • It’s a little harsh to down the entire site, I love this place. But…yeah you nailed it especially with t”giving her as much of the benefit of the doubt as she’s giving James”

      Oh well, that’s what happens in an open blog format. Opinions are more openly subjective, and that’s fine. But don’t bash us when we push back in the comments.

    • Kinda wish the author was responding to points/debating (rather like Michael did/does on his pieces; the QOTSA “…LC” album review comes to mind–that was a good discussion).

      Maybe it’s me, but I’ve always appreciated bloggers/writers/columnists who comment and respond to comments on their posts. Isn’t that what the internet makes possible? The discussion shouldn’t end at the article (as if that’s all there is to be said on the subject), ESPECIALLY when it’s something so obviously subjective as this is.

  27. Some interesting questions:

    To what degree is a (white) man who benefits from and is complicit in the patriarchy allowed to engage with and make art about feminist issues?

    Is there any approach that would garner a potentially positive response?

    Is the only option really to STFU and be a passive ally? Is being a vocal and active ally okay if it’s not in the form of a work of art (i.e. it’s in the form of an article/essay or presence at a protest instead)?

    Is this song only perceived as problematic because it’s a song instead of being a non-aesthetic expression?

    I ask out of genuine curiosity because I very rarely see this sort of uproar and lengthy write-up over the countless songs that denigrate/objectify women or overtly glorify rape, which i think most people with a bit of intelligence and empathy would agree are unacceptable.

    So as a guy who perceived this song as a genuine expression of one guy’s personal emotional response (sadness/anger/frustration) over being a part of a patriarchal society that hurts the people he cares about most, a patriarchy he knows he benefits from but can’t possibly escape from, I wonder is there no possible acceptable (aesthetic) expression of feminist allegiance that a (white) man can create that would be considered acceptable? Is the only supportive response really no response at all, to stand by and wait for a strong woman to say something and then voice your approval of/agreement with her? Would even that be considered condescending and/or unwelcome?

    • I do wonder what reaction this would get if it was a Kanye song.

    • Yes, there would be a positive response if men actively participated to prevent sexism and minimize violence within a society by protesting and voicing their opinions. I mean I see what this guy is trying to do, but he kind of does a poor job at it, which is putting it lightly. He is voicing his opinion which is good, but he is also exploiting it and selling it as “art”. I am trying to mask my anger but because I am a female who believes whole-heartedly in advocating for women’s rights I cant stand to see it exploited or used as a facade to sell or make an image for yourself within the music industry.

      I agree with a lot of the points this author is trying to make because she can see it from a woman’s perspective.

      Also, I don’t know any true feminists who sell their messages or try to create an image for themselves based on the work of a feminist who they later poke fun or belittle. The very essence of her (andrea dworkin) message and theory has been forgotten in comparing it to a patriarchy. Rape vs. living in canada? Really?

      I feel his name truly defeats the purpose and meaning of feminism. The name “dead girlfriends” to me just seems like it has a twisted spin (his perspective) on bringing awareness to something which women are already aware of (quoting the author here). This is another reason i would not pay for his “art.”

      He does name drop a lot and seems more proud of the fact that he is dating grimes than he is of his artwork, which he refers to as a “thing” he made.

      • So, it’s good that he’s “voicing his opinion”, but exploitive because he’s “selling it as art” and “creat[ing] an image for himself”?

        I’m sorry, but if “On Fraternity” is exploitive, I don’t see a way he could possibly be NON-exploitive. Maybe getting in line to rehash the obvious in the tumblr-feminism/SJB echo chamber? Or attempting to do the impossible and create something that DOESN’T build an image of who he is as an artist?

        I really think we ought to just take the guy at his word when he says this is about him being sick of patriarchy and not wanting to be complicit in it. Yeah, it’s not necessarily news to women, but its probably a wake up call to a lot of his male listeners. Maybe it’ll even bring some new readers to Andrea Dworkin. Besides, even if everyone on the planet knew about patriarchy, no one’s talking about it with as much bluntness and as much visibility in the world of “indie blogs” – I can’t see how bringing visibility to the issue outside of its usual hotspots could possibly be a bad thing.

  28. I take it the author of this piece (of shit) doesn’t understand context and ‘character’ point of view in the song. Nothing in those lines of lyrics from, “On Fraternity” resembles ‘mansplaining’. If anything, it’s a method of further validation in ones’ mind on why they hold the views and thoughts they do on a subject, events, experiences and why they have the stances they do. I’m sure the back story to this song, in DGs own words, probably only add to that definition.

    What it seems like though is that the article author doesn’t seem to want male feminist ‘allies’. You want men only “involved” to stay silent and be a punching bag while playing the chattel role.

  29. Good to know the guy who did a Waka mashup is an ally. Hilarious that he puts out artist statements on his tumblr.

    I almost wanted to the mature thing and say something like “it’s refreshing having female perspectives this site” when I saw this. Then, after reading, I realized I’d just put myself through the mental hell of reading convoluted feminist academia, paragraph-length pull quotes included.

  30. ……………..is there anyone else out there that is sitting there like, kind of amazed that Grimes AND James just commented on this? And subsequently realizing they spend way, way, way, way, too much time on the Internet? Hi, Grimes!

  31. Also, I don’t know if she saw it, but I apologize to Grimes and James for my indie-trolling. “Is This On Me?” is my JAM. That song kicks major ass. Indieness nowadays just makes me super angry. Keep making music, you guys. If you’re getting a reaction it means someone’s paying attention.

  32. Can we just agree to not rape and kill/abuse/be mean to women please guys so they can quit being so defensive and paranoid all the time and just lighten up and have fun? I’ve gone my whole life without doing any of those things. It’s not that hard. #FEMINIST

    • It’s about more than just not raping people; almost every man in history has not raped a single person. And yet sexism continues to exist because we allow a culture where misogyny thrives. Everyone who believes in equality should be combating that culture, not merely sitting complacent as it continues to oppress people.

      • Valiant points no doubt and pretty much inarguable in their merit. I’ll just keep being a decent dude on a daily basis and combatting it passively and by example. You and the other warriors can claim all the glory when the patriarchy gets toppled. Good luck.

  33. “it seemed so straightforward to me that both the lyrics and the music in the song were building up to the climax at the end where the beat fully drops in and the “this is why i wanted out” lyric happens, completing the thought. like, i couldn’t imagine something more basic and logical, i could not understand where that other interpretation was coming from. “well, that’s why” > “why i wanted out” like how could you miss that

    but then i realized that the line the rest of the lyrics make sense is at the end of the song

    and then i imagined what the lyrics that happen before that would sound like if taken in total isolation, without the context of knowing how they’re tied up at the end in the last lyric of the song. i remembered how many times i’d clicked play on some new song by some artist i was either unfamiliar with or ambivalent about on a music website and gotten bored a few seconds in and started skipping forward to see if anything else happened, not actually listening to the whole thing unless it seemed to go somewhere cool. i imagined someone doing that with “on fraternity” and my heart sank into my stomach and my face sank into my palms and i felt utterly and wholly gross thinking about how awful the song would be if listened to that way

    it’s the internet, and especially for people who get paid to write about music and get inundated with press releases or constant tweets and bulletins about new songs they don’t actually in real life care about, music feels disposable. i released a song with really freighted lyrics that don’t make sense until the end of the song, and nobody listens until the end of the song, sometimes not even if it’s a song or an artist they like and plan to listen to again.

    i mean i’m not crazy, right? the lyrics really do read differently without the last line of the song, don’t they? and specifically, the weird “mansplaining the rape culture” interpretation only really makes sense if you turn the song off after the first minute and never get to the part of the song that explains what the “well, that’s why” refrain is referring to? is it at least worth considering that a lot of the backlash probably came from people who did not listen to the entire song? ”


    • I think he’s looking for a way to wrong about his own song just so people will not think that the intentions put on this song by other people that misinterpreted it are accurate. His realization makes no sense to me. It seems simple (even without the last line, which I completely forgot until just now) – I think it’s a stretch and a hard conclusion to come by “logically” that he’s saying “these are things that you’re going through that you need to understand”. I just don’t see that.

      I don’t know, his intentions are almost of no consequence because the song is out of his hands once he releases it. So his explanations mean nothing really at this point – - -someone can interpret this song however they want to (they clearly have). But responsible, careful listening is what’s required of us as the audience, and Claire Lobenfeld is guilty of listening irresponsibly (in my opinion). It’s the same thing that keeps us from saying that (for example) “John Wayne Gacey” by Sufjan Stevens is about Sufjan reenacting the Gacey murders. If you want to find the context clues that support that argument, you probably could (with some liberal interpretation). But you have to look for them really hard. And I think that’s what happened here – Lobenfeld looked for clues that suited her interpretation. She seemed to not want to let it go, that she might be wrong about it.

      I don’t know – we might all be done talking about this, I just really find Claire Lobenfeld in the wrong in this situation.

  34. Dear Indie Rock Community: This ENTIRE CONVERSATION is the most hypocritical bullshit I’ve ever seen. A well-meaning dude sings a song in character that is ANTI-RAPE and ANTI-SEXUAL ASSAULT and suddenly EVERY Publication is up in arms because “does he have the right?” (Which, as an artist, yup, he does. Does it make him a jerk for exercising that right? maybe. not my place to judge) when LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE MUSIC PUBLICATION IN THIS CONVERSATION has gone OUT OF THEIR WAY to praise a LARGE amount of Hip-Hop music (most of which is admittedly awesome, but nonetheless) that contains lyrics full of FLAT OUT MISOGYNY. So- it’s totally okay for Kanye to write lyrics that overtly objectify women… but, a kid from some no-name indie band should get crucified because he writes a song about a woman’s fear of sexual assault, because his band name is Dead Girlfriends? Make up your minds idiots. You can’t have this both ways.

    Is Steve Albini Guilty of murder because of “prayers to god”? Does The Knife have the right to Pitch-shift their voice to sound Male? Does Xiu Xiu have the right to sing a song critical of an American soldier killing a girl? Does Sufjan Stevens have the right to write a song about bone cancer? What if Danny Brown sang about Bone Cancer? What if Bat For Lashes sang “Prayer’s to god?” Would you as the music press cry that they are being “inauthentic”? It’s art. Ie: it’s ARTIFICE. Authenticity in and of itself is artifice. LITERALLY EVERY OTHER FORM OF ART FUNDAMENTALLY UNDERSTANDS THIS FACT EXCEPT FOR INDIE MUSIC. Theater, visual art, film, instrumental music. This song’s VERY OBVIOUS POINT was to start a conversation about rape culture and women’s issues… but instead we talk about wether or not someone should even be talking about women’s issues? Lemme ask ya this: If this guy were GAY would it be okay that he wrote this song?

    You’re “wary of white dude guilt”? You’re sick of “Mansplaining”? I mean, way to marginalize this kid who is genuinely feels passionately about women’s issues. I don’t think he ever claimed to understand the female experience. He was clearly playing a character and expressing an opinion. But I guess he should’ve just sang about “Eating Asian Pussy with sweet and sour sauce” like every other Jocko-male-asshole amiright?

    Furthermore, why can’t this kid “Be quiet and listen?” Um. Maybe because he wants to make it as an artist. Maybe because he’s a 20-something inarticulate kids? Maybe because he tried something outside of his comfort zone, which was probably scary for him to do? And now everyone is crucifying him for it? ON TOP of his having to deal with sudden fame? Maybe give him a week or a month or a year to catch up with himself before he gives a clear answer? Being an artist is hard. Probably a lot harder than being a fucking music journalist. You actually have to put your heart out there for the world to look at instead of just sitting around criticizing shit

  35. I wish my son would talk to me

  36. Dear Miss Lobenfeld, I saw a link to this post on a tumblr account and as I began reading your words, I’m wondering what the hell are you smoking?

    I ask this because your explanations of what James meant with the words of his songs seem as if you’re writing them because you KNOW what he meant – when in fact, you have no real idea of what he meant. You absolutely have no idea what James meant with his lyrics. So how is it you write this article using phrases like “but its initial presentation felt like it was meant to explain” and “What Brooks is describing is in line with three primary instances of fear in many women’s lives” and “When he sings, “Well, that’s why,” the “that” refers to rape culture” …really? You’re basing this on what?

    I guess the name of this article is Deconstructing…and that’s what you’re trying to do with this song/album…but my goodness young lady…humility would go along way for you to consider that your opinions of what someone else is ‘thinking’ might be better written as a ‘I wonder if…’ rather than a ‘what he was saying’.

    You’re off base here…maybe you don’t care? Maybe you had to write and article and the goal was offend and stir up enough comments to your post to be asked to write another article? Do you care that your ‘feelings’ and interpretations of what James’ messages are/were, are completely wrong?

    …just wondering.

  37. I’m sure this point has already been made but anyway….

    We have a feminist ally and we rip him to shreds. Way to go!

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