Free Speech! Don't Criticize Me!

Let's say it once more, for the people in the back: "free speech" works both ways. Yes, you're free to express your opinions. That doesn't mean others aren't free to criticize them. Kanye West has a reputation for being interesting, to say the least. Although he's incredibly successful, he often seems to act like he invented the concept of music itself. So last week, he surprised nobody by being a jerk, again, and releasing a new song with the lyrics: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous." Obviously, this was ridiculous and eye-roll-worthy to say the least, with the arrogant, misogynistic message of "oh Taylor Swift kinda owes him sex because he was a jerk to her at the VMAs, and he thinks that's the whole reason she's popular now."

But when Taylor Swift denied that she "approved" the lyrics, as he claimed, he went on a twitter rant (and you know you have a problem when a google for "Kanye twitter rant" doesn't even bring that up as the latest rant, even though it was less than a week ago). It was mostly stream-of-consciousness, but a couple of quotes stood out: "First thing is I'm an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship," and "stop trying to demonize real artists. Stop trying to compromise art."

Everyone's seen this many times before. Whenever something is criticized for being sexist, racist, offensive, or even just kind of stupid, that argument can crop up, full of self-righteous rage. Art is art, so stop trying to censor me! I can express myself however I like!

Which, yes. Yes, you can. But this "free speech! Art is art!" rant always seems to miss the fact that other people have those same rights. You want to express your offensive views in your art? Fine. Other people can express how awful they find it. Claiming something as "art" does not make it immune. In fact, it opens it up to even more criticism, since the entire point of art is to invoke a reaction in the consumer. There's no guarantee that that reaction will be good.

We saw a similar chain of events last week with Stephen Fry at the BAFTAS. Fry, who was hosting the awards, referred to Mad Max costume designer Jenny Beavan as a "bag lady" after her acceptance speech, and some people expressed their disapproval on twitter. Stephen Fry then called those who disagreed with him "tragic figures" and quit the platform. And I noticed, as I read the BBC news article about this, one particular quote of support from comedian Matt Lucas: "Didn't you get the memo? No-one is allowed to do jokes any more."

Excuse me while I roll my eyes. Again, we have a familiar set-up. Man makes joke about woman's appearance. Some people find this sexist and comment on it. Man considers this criticism to be the worst attack in the world, and quits the internet to escape the horror of it. Other man join the outcry at the horrific censorship that is ruining comedy for everyone.

So, again, it's the idea that someone should be able to express themselves in any way they like, and make any jokes they like, but that other people with dissenting views are not allowed to express opinions on those opinions. A joke is automatically funny, and anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, but oppressing the joker. There isn't a chance in the world that what was said could actually be offensive.

And these huge rants and flounces are almost hilarious, when you consider the level of abuse that many female creators face on a day-to-day basis online. They are simply expected to soldier through, to "ignore it" or "rise above it," even when the attacks include graphic threats of violence, doxxing and intense misogyny and racism, because their critics have the right to free speech. But when someone faces criticism for saying something misogynistic? Well, that is too much to bear.

So, yes. Feel free to continue expressing your misogyny in your jokes and your art. But know that people have every right to continue expressing their disgust with your misogyny too.