Listen-In #1: Challenging Heteronormativity and Toxic Masculinity – letlive.’s Lemon Party

Disclaimer: I generally try to use gender neutral third person they when referring to people whose gender is not specified or who do not identify according to the gender binary. Also, I use the term queer throughout this article to refer to people who do not fit traditional ideas about gender and sexuality. I do not want to offend anyone by using this term.

Today, I would like to show you how the band letlive. addresses heteronormativity and toxic masculinity in their song Lemon Party and its demo Poison. Therefore, to provide a basis for the analysis of the lyrics, I will briefly explain heteronormativity and toxic masculinity.

What is Heteronormativity?

According to Butler and Merriam Webster, ‘heteronormative is the “attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.” ‘(Butler 2019). It can also provide the ‘viewpoint that cisgender people (meaning those whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex) in opposite-sex relationships are the standard kind’ (Butler 2019). If you break this down, it means that heteronormativity is a mindset based on the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm, hence heteronormativity.

This concept of family does not apply to all families and is insufficient to describe the concept ‘family’ in our time. Not every family looks like this and if a family deviates from this form, that does not take away from its value

‘But not only does heteronormativity assume that a ‘normal’ marriage is between a man and a woman, it also holds the belief that individuals should fall into certain categories in life due to their genitalia’ (Butler 2019). This illustrates how blunt and unsophisticated this mindset can be: people may reduce you to your sex and try tell you what you can or cannot do and who you should be just based on that trait. And that’s just incredibly narrow-minded and sexist, since it reduces you to just this one attribute.

Since heterosexuality is the basis for our reproduction as a species, at least to some extent, it makes sense to assume that it is ‘normal’. I can understand that logic. However, heteronormativity normalises heterosexuality and as a result, you are constantly confronted with gender-based norms and tropes, which imply that everything outside of this heterosexual norm is abnormal. That sucks for both, heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals.

For example ‘It can be harmful to the LGBT+ community as it makes one feel like they don’t belong in what society deems to be acceptable’ (Butler 2019). Just to name an example from my personal experience as an aromantic asexual: You may also feel like something is wrong with you or like you are dysfunctional or even broken and undeserving of love if you find out that you do not crave a romantic or sexual relationship because these types of relationships are constantly depicted as desirable and perfectly natural by society. This normalisation implies that you are abnormal if you do not pursue this ideal, hence I felt defective and out of place.

Nelson also addresses this and summarises that ‘Queer folks, trans folks, and folks of color are inherently outside of the demands of heteronormativity. So, knowing how to recognize these societal pressures as “heteronormativity” is a wonderful way of knowing why you feel “outside” of certain parts of society’ (Nelson, 2015). Accordingly, ‘heteronormativity’ can be used as a label to describe the pressures on non-heterosexual and non-cis gender individuals in a mostly heterosexual cis gender society. 

Tech Catcalling GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
This remark is an example of catcalling and heteronormativity. The idea that women are obligated to respond to supposed compliments (especially if a compliment is unasked for and basically harassment) is sexist and it is based on the assumption that they are female and straight. So it’s also heteronormative.

Nelson provides an example of heteronormativity that shows how it can also affect straight people negatively:

In their scenario, a woman is worried about approaching a man because she thinks she might come off as desperate if she directly approached him (Nelson, 2015). This highlights heteronormativity in form of societal expectations towards women. Her approaching the man could be considered desperate because it would suggest that she was not approached by anyone else. Based on that, people might think that this is her only reason to approach him and thus, they might think that she must be desperate to do so.

When she approaches him, he catcalls and belittles her without her consent. This is heteronormative because the guy is sexist and just assumes that she is ok with this kind of treatment because she is a woman and he is a man. Therefore, according to his logic, this belittlement could be interpreted as a way to show her that he is interested in her.

The woman leaves because she feels uncomfortable. As a response, the dude claims that she is oversensitive. That’s sexist and heteronormative. It is sexist for obvious reasons and heteronormative because it is based on the assumption that due to her sex, she is in a position in which it is desirable to be approached by a man, since heterosexual relationships are generally seen as desirable in a heteronormative society. Accordingly, the woman’s withdrawal from this situation contradicts the man’s mindset, which leads him to think that her behaviour is irrational, while actually, his behaviour is inappropriate and leads her to leave.

After that, Nelson summarises the following: ‘Heteronormativity, then, is a system that works to normalize behaviors and societal expectations that are tied to the presumption of heterosexuality and an adherence to a strict gender binary’ (Nelson 2015). This perfectly summarises the example above, as it is the basis for what happens in that example. Because of the normalisation of heterosexuality, the man in the example assumes that it is only natural to catcall the woman but it is sexual harrassment.

There is much more to go into but I also want to explain toxic masculinity. Therefore, check out Nelson’s post using the link below if you want to learn more about heteronormativity. They did a great job of explaining heteronormativity and providing examples of it. But since I also want to address toxic masculinity, I cannot talk about all the topics that they address in their article.

What Is Heteronormativity – And How Does It Apply to Your Feminism? Here Are 4 Examples

What is Toxic Masculinity?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines toxic masculinity as ‘ideas about the way that men should behave that are seen as harmful, for example the idea that men should not cry or admit weakness’ (Cambridge Dictionary).

Gender Roles Mic GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
These are perfect examples of Toxic masculinity.
I did not make this. This is for educational purposes only and all rights belong to HUFF POST
Watch their video on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=22&v=jk8YmtEJvDc&feature=emb_title

According to Salam, toxic masculinity can also involve acts like suppressing emotions or masking distress and maintaining an appearance of hardness and violence as an indicator of power (Salam 2019). She concludes the following: ‘In other words: Toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes them “feminine” or weak’ (Salam 2019).

In conclusion, toxic masculinity describes a wrong notion of being a man that involves toxic and harmful ideals of manliness that are harmful to both, toxic men and people in their environment, since their toxic behaviour can affect others negatively.

According to Müller, it can be expressed in form of violence towards women or queer people (Müller 2018). Another example of toxic masculinity named by Müller is the assumption that one should always strive for heterosexual sex and that men and women can never really have platonic relationships.

The assumption that men cannot be victims of (sexual) violence is another example of toxic masculinity. For instance, Amber Heard accused Johnny Depp of domestic abuse, which lead to debates about whether or not he should still play his role in the Harry Potter prequels. However, she had abused him and there is evidence for that. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7947733/Amber-Heard-admits-hitting-ex-husband-Johnny-Depp-pelting-pots-pans-tape.html

Since ideas of manliness are normalised and strongly engraved into our mindsets, people initially believed Amber Heard and in general, one would be less likely to believe a man who claims that he was abused or raped. This illustrates that toxic ideas of masculinity are still predominant in our minds.

As you can see, toxic masculinity can affect everyone. It affects the men who fall victim to it and feel like they need to prove themselves but also people abused by them based on their toxic ideas of masculinity. Accordingly, this topic concerns everyone and we should all be aware of this.

How are these topics depicted in Lemon Party?

You can find the lyrics of Lemon Party below. I will present the lyrics first and add my analysis of them below the respective excerpts of the text. The following is only an analysis based on the topics that I addressed earlier. Because of this focus, it does not consider all possible aspects of the lyrics.

There is also a demo version of the song with different lyrics and quite a different sound. I will discuss this version too because it touches on heteronormativity while the new version focuses on toxic masculinity. But first off, we will look at the new version of the song, more specifically at its portrayal of toxic masculinity. Enjoy!

This is for educational purposes only. I do not claim any rights. All rights belong to the respective artists and labels

Toxic Masculinity in Lemon Party

Denounce these old exalted limbs once you’ve gained

Krishna status or something better than-we know we’re better than

To every judge I’ve ever had, allow me to lay your verdicts to rest

While I’m swooning them

The jury knows that I’m a man, and I’m a great one

There ain’t no way you’re stopping him

There ain’t no way you’re stopping me

The first verse, which you can see above, introduces the main theme of the lyrics: pursuit of masculinity by use of promiscuity.

Krishna is an Indian love god. Based on that, Krishna status as conveyed in this song could be a really promiscuous lifestyle in which you sleep with as many women as possible in order to prove your status as a man. This becomes particularly clear in later verses. The singer criticises this pursuit of a wrong concept of masculinity stating ‘or something better than- we know we’re better than’. This implies that the notion of aiming for said status and obtaining it by having sex with many women is a bad notion of being a man. People who pursue this toxic, overly manly lifestyle should know that they are better than that but they still decide to pursue this standard and degrade themselves in the process of attempting to gain the status of an ‘alpha male’ (Krishna status).

The following lines may represent overly manly and overly sexual behaviour, as the narrator claims to swoon the jury (with his manliness) and goes on to stress that there is no way to stop him, which he emphasises twice: ‘There ain’t no way you’re stopping him, there ain’t no way you’re stopping me’. This is really reminiscent of the toxic standards that men can be faced with. They have to be tough and they mustn’t be weak, hence they have to depict themselves as strong. The repetition of these lines and the remark ‘the jury knows that he’s a man and he’s a great one’ emphasises how men affected by toxic masculinity must convince themselves to be strong to adhere to these toxic standards and how they aim to prove their worth as a man to others. According to their mindset, it is necessary to be strong and unstoppable. Therefore, they repeatedly convince themselves of their masculinity and like the characters in this song, they use their behaviour to do so.

In this verse, there is a first person narrator who ties himself into the text, as can be seen in these lines ‘There ain’t no way you’re stopping him, there ain’t no way you’re stopping me’ (emphasis added). The narrator also mentions another male character (him) about whom we learn more in the second verse of the song.

I’ll tell my proudest secrets

Don’t mind if you can’t keep them

Well, lately it’s been mayday

So tell me, why is this your favorite sin?

Lately it’s been mayday

So tell me why you wanna fake it?

In the chorus, the narrator completely shifts to first person and raises the question why people would want to pursue ‘this sin’. This sin is probably lust, which is one of the seven deadly sins. This continues the religious theme present in this song and gives the pursuit of Krishna status a negative connotation, criticising it in the process.

Additionally, the lyrical I asks why anyone would want to fake ‘it’. This is probably a reference to how men in a toxic environment feel the need to prove themselves by claiming to have sexual experience in order to prove their manliness. By asking why they ‘wanna fake it’, the narrator questions their pursuit of the status as a skirt chaser. Because of the shift to first person, the narrator makes his questioning of the aforementioned aspects and concepts more engaging, as he directly calls them into question and addresses the listener directly (‘you’). This challenges the listener to pose this question to themselves and to question toxic standards.

Apart from that, the chorus strongly implies that these ideas of masculinity are harmful because ‘lately it’s been mayday’ (because of these narrow ideas of masculinity, things change for worse).

They say that once you’ve gained

This status it only gets even better

And he will prove that he’s a man

With wooden bed posts whittled away

With the notches, they were carved in a little too deep

And now he’s paying for it

He’s sleeping on the floor tonight

Especially in this verse you can see how the band deconstructs the standards of toxic masculinity. Being a man and proving this by sleeping with as many women as possible is propagated by advocates of toxic masculinity, hence “they say that once you’ve gained this status [of having slept with as many women as possible], it only gets even better” (emphasis added). The character sleeps with as many women as possible and carves notches into his bedpost for every one of them in order to prove his status as a skirt chaser and man. However, this leads his bed to fall apart because of the many notches. This possibly represents how this notion of masculinity is harmful and how pursuing this status degrades you, hence the protagonist has to sleep on the floor, since he broke his bedposts with all the notches. He is responsible for this himself because he degraded himself by pursuing the standard of a skirt chaser and broke his bed in the process.

I go from the back

So that way they cannot see

That this is me

Now I know shame

Look at my back

The marks make it clear to see

Innocent me can no longer claim a saint

I’m now digging my fingers

Into the back of a whore

But here’s the thing

In the good book it said that

God made man, and I’m a man.

So tell me…who’s wrong?

This verse elaborates on the themes established in the preceding verses. The perspective shifts to first person again, possibly to enhance the engagement of the listener.

In order to prove himself that he is a man, he pays a woman for sex. However, he did not feel happy about this situation, hence the narrator describes it as a shame, attempts to hide it and goes ‘from the back so that way they cannot see’. Accordingly, toxic standards about masculinity brought him into an uncomfortable situation that made him feel ashamed of himself and led him to question these standards. Therefore, ‘Now I know shame’. That experience enables him to question societal and religious standards and to criticise both of them.

In the second half of the verse, the narrator contrasts both, religious and societal standards and questions them with the following lines:

‘I’m now digging my fingers into the back of a whore but here’s the thing, in the good book it said that god made man, and I’m a man. so tell me…who’s wrong?’

According to religion and the bible(‘the good book’), god creates humans (‘god made man’). This contradicts the idea that a boy becomes a man when he loses his virginity which suggests that women turn boys into men. The latter idea is typically advocated by toxic males who may claim that you are not a man if you ‘havn’t gotten laid’. These statements are mutually exclusive. According to religion, god makes men, while according to toxic males, women make men by turning boys into men with sex. This suggests that at least one of them, if not both of these notions of becoming a man, are wrong. Thus, the narrator criticises both, the standards of toxic masculinity and of religion by challenging their claims to who makes men.

Heteronormativity in Lemon Party

I would also like to discuss the old version of this song because the lyrics and the song structure are quite different. Additionally, the lyrics go into more depth about heteronormativity, while the newer version focuses mainly on toxic masculinity. However, I will not discuss the entire song but only some parts of it that are relevant to this discussion.

You can find this version on the band’s bandcamp page using the link below. Check out their demos, they released them yesterday (on 13th April) and all of the tracks are great if you like Post-Hardcore.

https://letliveperiod.bandcamp.com/track/01-poison-final-master-lemon-party

The following lines illustrate how people with less or without sexual experience can be belittled by toxic people with more sexual experience:

they said “you can speak to me once you’ve gained

this status on your bedpost or better

until then you’ll watch our sin”

Our heteronormative societies raise us based on the belief that it is desirable to have sexual relationships, especially with people of the opposite sex and if you do not fit into that mindset, you are belittled and perceived as immature or abnormal, hence ‘you can speak to me once you’ve gained this status […] until then you’ll watch our sin’.  If you lack experience (or desire) people might deem your opinions on the topic irrelevant, which highlights how having sex is turned into a status. It is seen as a general truth that intercourse is desirable and only natural. This leaves no room for people who are not necessarily interested in sex (like asexuals).

This section of the text illustrates how heteronormativity and toxic masculinity can go hand in hand quite easily: toxic masculinity can be one manifestation of heteronormativity and both can invoke a feeling of being abnormal in people who do not live according to heteronormative or toxic male standards.

During the climax of this song, the singer shouts the following lines and highlights the negative implications of heteronormativity:

There’s one way to feel

and it’s the only way, only way

there’s one way to feel

it’s the only way, righteous way

The allegedly only way to feel according to a heteronormative mindset, is being straight and interested in sex with persons of the opposite sex. If you are queer, you inherently do not fulfill this standard. Accordingly, your feelings and your identity may be interpreted as ‘wrong’ by people with a heteronormative mindset. We are raised based on the assumption that sex with the opposite gender is desirable and based on the gender binary, which solely distinguishes between men and women and assigns them roles based on this binary division. This implies that everything that does not fit this norm is not normal. Therefore, people outside the gender binary, as well as everyone who is not heterosexual, may feel like they are abnormal when they find out about their identity, simply because they are constantly confronted with heteronormative standards that normalise being straight and either male or female. The delivery of the aforementioned lines in shouts conveys the frustration that one might feel because of these narrow-minded world views and highlights that there is not just one way to feel.

Finally, I would like to address the last bit of the song, in which the narrator plays the role of a sexist in order to challenge heteronormativity and illustrate how toxic this mindset can be:

woohoo!

alright boys get’r done

here we go

alright

ay yo watch this, watch this!

who’s gonna join me tonight?

who wants to suck a dick?

… suck a fucking dick

This is an extreme example of toxic masculinity, as it uses imagery of objectification of women: ‘alright boys get’r done […] ay yo watch this!…’ In this case, the woman is merely reduced to a sex object and sex is treated as the most basic thing (‘who’s gonna join me tonight? Who wants to suck a dick?’). In a blunt way, these lines illustrate how toxic behaviour may take away the relevance of an act of trust and love like sleeping with someone.

By being sexist, homophobic and toxic in any form, people can degrade others and themselves and the section above illustrates this quite viscerally. The question ‘who wants to suck a dick?’ does not only reflect how toxic people take away the emotional meaning of sex. It could also address everyone who has a toxic mindset and could thus be interpreted as a ‘Fuck you’ to everyone who seriously behaves this way, as it confronts these kinds of people with their own harshness.

We are better than the behaviour described above. Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay

Why did I choose this song to address this topic?

Letlive. oppose heteronormativity, sexism and toxic masculinity and criticise them strongly in both, the older and the newer version of Lemon Party. I chose this song because it has a deeper meaning to me on a personal level and it was the first song that really made me think about sexism, homophobia and all of these issues.

The demo version of the song helped me find out that I am asexual because the bit about ‘the one way of feeling’ always resonated with me, even when I did not know that I was asexual. Somehow, it always touched me and later, when I’d found out about my sexual orientation, it all made sense. That part perfectly summarises my frustration with society when it comes to this topic. You are constantly confronted with heteronormativity and you are raised to believe that it is only natural for men and women to love each other and that this is ‘the only way to feel’. However, that assumption does not apply to everyone and these categories are outdated and insufficient to describe the multitude of human emotion and identity.

What should I take away from this?

If you take away anything from this, let it be the following: It is okay not to be straight and you are valid, no matter how you identify. You are not abnormal or sick and the only thing that is sick is that society makes us believe that we are dysfunctional because of who we love or do not love or who we identify as.

To my fellow men: Being a man does not mean you have to be tough, emotionless and strong. If we cling to such ideas of manliness, we define it far too narrowly. Do you really want to be defined by others? I don’t think so. So just be yourself without caring too much about what is considered “manly”. Don’t let others define how you should behave just based on the fact that you are a man, especially if their ideas of masculinity are toxic. Just be a kind, non-toxic man. You and your environments will profit from this.

Please do not stick to outdated conceptions of sex and gender and try to be open to everything. Not everyone is the same and that’s perfectly fine, since things would be much more boring if everyone was the same. Just be tolerant and don’t be a sexist, homophobe, transphobe or bigot in general. Instead, just treat others nicely. No one should have to hide who they are and if we can get away from these obsolete mindsets, everyone will benefit from it.

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to comment if you know a song that tackles these topics. Or just tell me how you liked this song.

-sovlpvnk

Sources:

Butler, Tijen. “Heteronormativity: definition, societal examples and why it’s harmful to LGBT+ community”. Pinknews.com, April 11, 2019, URL: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/04/11/heteronormativity-definition-societal-examples-and-why-its-harmful-to-lgbt-community/, Accessed on April 07, 2020.

letlive.. “Lemon Party.” Fake History, Tragic Hero Records, 2010.

letlive.. “01 Poison (Final Master) // Lemon Party.” 10 Years Of Fake History, 333 Wreckords Crew, 2020.

Müller, Frederik. “Hä, was heißt Toxic Masculinity? Unser Glossar gegen die Panik vor Wörtern. Diesmal: Toxic Masculinity”. missy-magazine.de, August 16, 2018, URL: https://missy-magazine.de/blog/2018/08/16/hae-was-heisst-toxic-masculinity/, Accessed on April 14, 2020.

Nelson, Kris. “What Is Heteronormativity – And How Does It Apply to Your Feminism? Here Are 4 Examples”. everydayfeminism.com, July 24, 2015, URL: https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-is-heteronormativity/, Accessed on April 8, 2020.

Salam, Maya. “What Is Toxic Masculinity?” The New York Times, 22 January 2019, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/us/toxic-masculinity.html, Accessed on 8 April 2020.

Samakow, Jessica, and Oliver Noble. “48 Things Men Hear In A Lifetime (That Are Bad For Everyone).” YouTube, uploaded by HuffPost, 22 December 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk8YmtEJvDc, Accessed on April 19, 2020.

“toxic masculinity.” Cambridge Dictionary, URL: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/de/worterbuch/englisch/toxic-masculinity. Accessed on 14 April 2020.

Next time on sovlpvnk: Scene-Sciences #1: Victimhood Culture in the Hardcore Scene – ‘Oversensitive Snowflakes’?!

https://sovlpvnk.com/2020/05/04/scene-sciences-1-victimhood-culture-in-the-hardcore-scene-oversensitive-snowflakes/

Published by sovlpvnk

This is my personal blog about culture and sustainability. It is mainly concerned with topics that I'm interested in, mostly the alternative music scene and its ethics as well as LGBTQIA+ -related topics and veganism. I post my content in English and German.

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