NOTE: This is a freelance post I wrote for The Perspective Collective. I really enjoyed researching and writing this. When I shared it LinkedIn this got 11.3K viewers. You can check it out there on: https://www.theperspectivecollective.org/articles/does-she-really-belong-to-the-streets-how-internet-trends-breed-sexism
Two weeks ago, “entanglement” was trending worldwide. In fact, on July 11 the word hit an all-time high in Google search results after the Red Table Talk hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith. There she admitted, to her husband Will Smith, to having an affair with singer August Alsina for a brief period and referred to it as an “entanglement.”
The fans’ reactions to the video were eerily similar. “Jada Pinkett Smith is the literal definition of she belong to the streets,” one said. “If your girl on here tryna defend Jada’s actions she belong to the streets,” another said. I was confused here and decided to dig around.
Further research revealed to me that this catchphrase has been going around since May. Originating from the book Ni**alations: The Lost Book of Ghetto Philosophers, the phrase was popularised by the rapper Future when he was seen uttering it in a viral video. Since then, people have made thousands of memes describing things women do that prove that they “belong to the streets from whence they came.”
“If she posts some basic ass food with the phrase ‘wife me’, she belong to the streets.” “If she puts her phones brightness down when she’s with you, she belongs to the street.” These memes are often accompanied by images of Future as a preacher, or the quote from Ni**alations formatted to look like a Bible verse. It is as if they mean to say that such is the holy truth and if a woman isn’t completely subservient to her man, she ought to be banished from Eden. All of this begs the question, what does a woman have to do to NOT belong to the streets?
Like any sexist phrase, it immediately blew out of control and was used to bully women who post sexualised content on social media. It’s worse when the woman has her own OnlyFans account. Any sexual post – even comedic ones – are bombarded with comments like “they ask us to not treat them as objects”, and “the streets are calling”.
Even men aren’t safe from sexist attacks and name-calling on the Internet. Only in this case, it’s still other men that attack them. The “simp” meme has been popular for a few months. It attacks men who compliment or “defend” women and sees them as subservient to certain women in order to get sexual favours from them.
Toxic masculinity is a major reason for this meme becoming popular. Giving a woman a genuine compliment is seen as “desperation” and perpetuates the idea that men are animals whose every action is in some way meant to bring them more sex. Being just “friends” with women is nothing but a lie you’re telling yourself and the woman. These men are trapped by a toxic masculinity which deprives them of intimate relationships without thinking of sex.
Naturally, “simp” was popularised in the controversial subreddit MGTOW. The subreddit, which stands for “Men going their own way”, is at the centre of Reddit’s “manosphere” and is known for sexist remarks and opinions spewed by its members. In fact, MGTOW even criticised Will Smith for sticking with his wife after the interview, and they accused him of being a “simp”.
The Red Table Talk shows that both these memes go hand in hand. For every Jada in the streets, there’s a Will simping over her. Are you a woman, independent, with your own desires and dreams? Send her back to the streets. Are you a man who supports her independence? Simp. Do you have an OnlyFans? The streets are calling. Do you want to hear a woman’s story on how trolls abuse her online? What a simp.
It’s easy to see why these memes are blowing up. The status quo is shifting and these people are not happy with it. Women everywhere are sharing their experiences online. More people now believe women and call out men for their behaviour. Millennials and Gen Z are taking down patriarchal structures of society and breaking down barriers set by toxic masculinity. Men can show emotion and vulnerability. Women can speak and dress and act however they want with less fear of being bullied. The world is moving forward and the trolls are feeling left behind in the dust.
However, there is one effective way to combat the trolls in the present, and that is to use the power of meaning-making. Meaning-making is a process that we all take part in as we influence what certain words and phrases mean. Generally celebrities, the media, and other people in power have more influence over meaning-making.
But this power is not absolute. After all, the power of the Internet can result in anyone going viral, and can change a meaning overnight. What I’m trying to say is that if they all belong to the streets, then the streets might not be such a bad place after all.