There are few comebacks that are truly impenetrable. The childhood classic “I know you are, but what am I?” was once the only one known to mankind. However, this summer, after years of being proclaimed as “trash” who “ain’t shit,” the men of Twitter have made a linguistic breakthrough, producing a remarkably resilient comeback: the viral meme, “still beat.” Since late July, a river of tweets containing “I still beat tho” and its variants have flooded the Twitter timeline. One popular meme-video variant of “I still beat” has been streamed over 800,000 times. Underneath the rapid likes and laughs, however, lies the sluggish, stubborn sediment of misogyny and sex negativity, all too indicative of the muddy lens through which our society views sex.
Essentially, “I still beat though” is employed in any situation when a woman is criticizing a man she once slept with. It intends to assert triumph amidst a roast by using a woman’s sexuality against her. When Nicki Minaj clowned Meek Mill on her track “Barbie Dreamz” for still being in her DMs, for example, hundreds of Twitter men banded together to celebrate the fact that nevertheless, Meek “still beat.” Was your ex-boyfriend a bum? He still beat though. Did you break up with him? Did he beg for you back? Did he stand under your window with a boombox playing “In Your Eyes”? Doesn’t matter, he still beat. One can imagine why Bossip.com has credited “still beat” with spawning a war of the sexes. The meme’s “foolproof” foundation is built on the ruins of women's sexual autonomy and the objectification of women. “Still beat tho” only functions under the general acknowledgement that sex is the end-all be-all victory for the man, the woman his permanent human conquest. The fact that engaging in sex is really (or should be) a joint decision between two parties is ignored.
Unfortunately the way “still beat” is using sex against women is not wholly original. Rather, “still beat” is yet another manifestation of society’s constant sexual shaming of women, a phenomenon that Dr. Uchenna Ossai observes is “as natural to the American sociocultural landscape as apple pie.” Yes, Twitter men, the spicy new comeback of the summer is nothing fresh—it’s actually just heated leftovers from centuries-old dry sexism that has been served to women endlessly. It’s an old recipe, one passed down from ages of telling young women that their most valuable asset is their virginity, stigmatizing female masturbation while normalizing its male counterpart, reminding girls to cross their legs and pull down their skirts and cover up their shoulders. This recipe tells women sexuality is something to be ashamed of, something that can and will be held against you. Consider the fact that, out of the hundreds of “still beat” tweets that have appeared on my timeline, in only one has a woman actually “won.” The subject of the tweet? The Virgin Mary. Of course.
While the current sexual system may often give men the upper hand (as seen in the case of “still beat”), this advantage stops below the surface level. Digging deeper, “still beat” problematically further perpetuates the sexual stereotype that all men care about is sex, playing on the untrue notion that all men are sexually insatiable. This is the very stereotype that makes male victims of sexual assault so vulnerable. As Scientific America highlights, “Aware of the popular misconception that, for men, all sex is welcome, male victims often feel too embarrassed to report sexual victimization. If they do report it, they are frequently met with a response that assumes no real harm was done.” After all, if all that matters is that a guy “still beat,” how can he explain not having wanted to do so? RAINN reports that out of the 18,900 people who experienced sexual violence in the military, 43% of females and 10% of males reported. The male victims who felt empowered enough to report their abuse were a mere quarter of female victims. Even the men of Twitter themselves have complained about the skewed way society regards men’s sex drive, with user @Craigs_VCR tweeting out “Have you ever denied a woman sex? Watch the entitlement and consent goal posts change like a bitch. LMAO” and garnering a healthy 3,000+ likes and much applause from the Twitter community.
Before the defining feature of memes became humorous internet content, Webster’s dictionary actually defined a meme as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from one person to another in a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning.” Indeed, in the case of “still beat,” this meme perfectly conveys phenomenon of society’s toxic sex culture. While at its surface level, the culture is undermining towards women and is generous to men, the weapon of patriarchy so often used to attack women is actually a double-edged blade, one that cuts men deeply too. A stunted sexual culture has devastating consequences for everyone. Although comedy is often used as an escape from the despair of reality, perhaps in the case of “still beat” a step back to reality from the world of Twitter memes is needed. The current state of affairs, after all, is no laughing matter.