Gilmarie Muñiz cannot stand reggaeton, the wildly popular music genre with roots in Latin and Caribbean music.
“You can’t find anything significant in the genre that has positive contributions to society,” the 34-year-old from Tampa says in Spanish. “In spite of the music industry improving the quality of music and diversity through the fusion of genres over the years, it’s not the same for the development of the lyrics… they’re primitive and caveman-like.”
There’s also the songs that revel in the degradation of women – an issue surfaced in many conversations about the genre and one that has been the subject of anti-reggaeton campaigns.
"They present the man like someone who doesn’t have to care or be chivalrous to a woman," says Muñiz and she is not alone in her opinions.
Some reggaeton performers draw from and reproduce sexist narratives and fantasies through which women are faceless fragmented bodies whose main purpose is to serve as sexual objects for men, according to Frances Negrón-Muntaner, an award-winning filmmaker, writer, scholar and the director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University.
“You have what people think is the intent of the singer and the lyrics and that has to do with how some of these artists want to project themselves… whether they are that way or not, we don’t know,” she says. “What we know is that they want to create an image and the image that they want to create is that they are a man that has a lot of women… they’re also articulating a rejection of marriage, of commitment, of middle-class respectable norms of men… it’s a little bit more complicated than they’re just sexist.”
important question, according to Negrón-Muntaner, is why is this so prevalent. The message sticks
with audiences for different reasons. For some, it may affirm a masculine
identity based on the power that they think that
they should have over women. For
others, it may represent a world of male friendships and unity against marriage, fatherhood, and other forms of
commitment. In certain ways, it is a conversation between men rather than
While reggaeton is culturally distinct, Negrón-Muntaner says that the idea of valuing women mainly as sexual objects is not particular to the genre. "It is present in not only many other musical genres but in the entertainment media and advertisement generally," she adds. "So, part of the reason that people may find reggaeton more offensive is that the performers are using a different language, associated with a lower social class, which does not follow middle class norms. The larger sexist message, however, is everywhere."
In Jiggy Drama’s “Contra La Pared” music video, the Colombian rapper poses as a law enforcement officer and demands all the women at a house party to stand against the wall. “We’re going to search you all, you know,” he says in Spanish with a laugh. Jiggy Drama later makes gestures with a police baton as though he’s going to hurt one woman.
“Si sigues en esa actitud voy a violarte hey,” he raps – the lyric translates to “If you keep up with that attitude, I’m going to violate you.”
In “La Groupie” by De La Ghetto featuring Ñejo, Luigi 21 Plus, Nicky Jam & Ñengo Flow, the track centers on sex with a groupie, a slang term used for a young woman who tries to achieve status by having sex with musicians, security, etc. In his verse, Luigi 21 Plus raps that the woman wants sex, but he wants “bellaquera” – a word often used to describe a horny spell. The Puerto Rican rapper continues:
“Darte como una perra, como una cualquiera,
Jalarte por el pelo, agarrarte por el suelo,
Usarte como escoba, aulla como loba.”
The lyrics translate to:
“Hit you like a dog, like a tramp (or anyone),
Pull you by your hair, grab you by the floor,
Use you like a broom, howl like a wolf.”
Dr. Petra Rivera-Rideau, author of Remixing Reggaeton: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico, says there are all kinds of power dynamics behind who raps what in these songs.
"Certainly that particular lyric is obviously objectifying the groupie and she can be anyone and she's just here to satisfy him sexually… that’s the classic kind of lyric that people talk about when they criticize reggaeton," she says. "Do I personally find that to be sexist lyrics or a lyric that is really problematic? Yes I do."
Though Rivera-Rideau says she doesn't think the genre should get a pass for its problematic parts, she notes people should understand the lyrics in a larger social context. "Think about what are those bigger social forces that really need our attention in order to get rid of these problems," points out Rivera-Rideau. "For me that’s the biggest issue. It can be terrible (reggaeton lyrics) but it's not the only terrible thing."
Rivera-Rideau brings up "Propuesta Indecente" by bachata singer Romeo Santos, in which he describes pushing the boundaries sexually with a woman before asking for permission to do so.
"I'm not convinced that it's exceptionally sexist. We live in a society that is very patriarchal and objectifies women in a particular kind of way and does glorify certain types of relationships. It's very heteronormative," she says. "Reggaeton does not operate in a vacuum, it operates in a society and we can think of many examples of violence against women."
Alejandra Hernandez, a graphic design student at Bogotá’s Panamerican University, waged her own war in 2014 against sexist reggaeton song lyrics. Using the Twitter handle @Usa_larazon (Use Your Reasoning), Hernandez posted very graphic photos that depicted real reggaeton lyrics.
In one photo, a pained woman looks into the camera, her right hand bloodied and outstretched with a nail in it. A man pins her hand to the wall, about to lick her neck in lust. The lyric that accompanied the photo was "Si fueras un clavo y yo un martillo, quisiera CLAVARTE.” That lyric comes from reggaeton artist Arcangel in a remix of the song “La Bellaquera." Arcangel's team did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
“Our goal is not to ban reggaeton and other urban rhythms,” Hernandez told Fusion of her efforts with friend John Mello. “But maybe there can be some change, maybe lyrics can change so that women aren’t mistreated.”
says that the larger implication of sexist lyrics (not just in reggaeton but generally) is that
women are valued only for their looks and sexuality while men are valued for their
skills, intelligence and other qualities.
Alexis Eudabe, a 22-year-old Mexican American from Texas, hopes to get the research subject of sexism in reggaeton approved by her school, The University of Texas at Austin.
"I'm trying to party with my friends, but I'm paying attention to this type of misogyny that’s being reproduced within the song and I just can't enjoy myself," she says, "It's hard being a Latina and partying with my Latinos and having the knowledge that I have."