“Boys just like you” is a common refrain on “2 Inch Nails” from the 2002 album, The Downward Spiral. These “bads” tend to be associated with the poor and oppressed—in this case, impoverished men—but often, these words mean something positive, like a “guy” or an “honorable.” Sometimes, bar is also used to describe an honorable male—an honorific, perhaps, or a kind of code of conduct—but other times, it is merely an insulting term for women. The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait calls female rappers “whitewashed” and a “male-dominated industry”; rap’s female protagonists aren’t allowed to wear a dress “because it seems like a very sexist, ‘I’m a good girl, I’m pretty, I’m a whore.'” That’s kind of a weird thing to say about male rappers. In many respects, rap has its own version of the New Republic. The only difference is that instead of mocking it, hip-hop fans try to be part of the culture rather than to mock it. The “bad girl” label has been used to describe many women rap stars since the earliest days; the term started with Missy Elliott, who is one of rap’s best known examples. She started using the term as early as 2004. A few months earlier, another feminist icon—M. Michelle, or Miss Major, as she was known before her professional wrestling alter-ego—used both the phrase, and several other female-bashing insults in the same song, “Bad, B.A.G. and I,” on the M.A.C.E.s.
Even though “bad, bad, bad girls” and its variants have been used as insults, the word isn’t really a negative. It’s just not used that way. It’s an insult, and not just an ad hominem attack. The word isn’t supposed to be taken literally. It’s meant to be thought-provoking, to suggest a new way of thinking or a fresh perspective on current events. But it’s not meant to be taken as the kind of term you could throw at a coworker on a first date that makes the person’s jaw drop and then you want them to leave to go punch out the other person who insulted them, because you don’t know any better. It could mean, of course, that this woman has to stay in a bar while you argue about the meaning of “bad
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