Do women love Eminem? Absolutely. In fact, they love Slim Shady's new song "Berzerk" so much they helped it debut on this week's Billboard "Hot 100" charts in the No. 2 spot among all digital songs. Billboard reports Slim Shady's song, expected to be featured on his upcoming Marshall Mathers LP 2 album (set for a Nov. 5 release), sold 362,000 downloads by Wednesday.
Eminem's ever-expanding female fan base does raise some important social and cultural questions. Questions I hear when I talk to people about my new book, Eminem: The Real Slim Shady. Questions like: Why -- why?! -- would you, a woman, want to write about Eminem. How do you listen to his music as a woman? Do you selectively listen for the parts that you like? Do you edit in your head the parts that don't sit well with you?
I had to answer these questions again last week after the release of Em's new track "Berzerk." In the song the Detroit rapper blasts Khloe Kardashian-Odom's appearance. He says, "They say that love is as powerful as cough syrup and Styrofoam. All I know is I fell asleep and woke up in that Monte Carlo with the ugly Kardashian." As with previous diss tracks about successful female entertainers like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, again Eminem climbs the charts by disrupting social norms and stirring up some sexy gender controversy.
Here's how I -- a scholar of rhetoric and cultural communication and a woman -- make sense of it all. A strict focus on Eminem as a disgusting sexist is simply one way to tell the story. Another way to tell the story is to really listen for underlying themes concerning women, men and relationships in his music and lyrics that reverberate throughout our society. Themes like pleasure-pain, love-hate, guilt-redemption, insecurity, and a profound disappointment with narrow versions of rugged masculinity that permeate rap music. From my perspective, a close look at Eminem's work is required for understanding our present moment and the rising war on women because he both preceded and prophesied it.
Part of what makes Eminem's music work, and perform an important public service, is that he's bringing this gender unconscious out into the open. In this way his music invites a public dialogue about gender issues, which is why Slim Shady can claim that "feminist women love Eminem." We do because his music provides a social critique on the grandest scale imaginable. What's important to note here is the fact that his targets (in this case Khloe Kardashian-Odom) are poised to speak back in public but often don't. Or, when they do their voices aren't as loud as Eminem's. These lower frequencies allow us to hear the gender gap that continues to divide popular and political culture and remind us that important work remains to be done -- by men and women alike -- in the interests of gender equality worldwide.