Misogyny is Played Out: A Demand for Music that Empowers the Sexes, without Sexism // Aimee M. Poleski, M.A.
Img source: http://soulumd.blogspot.com
Hip hop has long been characterized by its gritty strength and power to energize a diverse audience through kinetic beats rooted in dynamic rhythms and commanding bass. Early forms of hip hop unearthed culture of African American communities, allowing widespread exposure to culture rich with pride, drive, and an eclectic range of talent. The world came to love hip hop in both pure and polluted forms as artists broke upon the scene, leaving a legacy of a legend or a one-hit-wonder. Despite the tenacious appeal of hip hop, a love of the music genre poses a problem. Hip hop has remained entrenched with misogyny. It perpetuates a culture of demeaning attitudes and behavior toward women. As one female music reporter stated early in her career, “As much as women love hip hop, it doesn’t love us back (Iandoll, 2012).”
Hip hop emanated when cultural traditions met city life. West African story telling in musical forms became integrated with a rising culture comprised, in part, of graffiti, deejaying, break-dancing, and rap (Layne, 2014). These elements led to the emergence of a new form of music in the Bronx, New York in the 1970s (Adam & Fuller, 2006). As the economic and racial composition within the Bronx changed, so did the social problems residents endured. Hip hop became an outlet for people of color to respond to oppression (Layne, 2014). A new way of life led to the birth of an art form that has withstood changing trends, norms, and values within communities world-wide.
The next decade unceremoniously infiltrated hip hop with sexism. Racial themes and oppression of women arose from racist and sexist ideals established by dominant, White culture and the rise of capitalism (Layne, 2014). Exploitation of women was initially reflected in hip hop lyrics in the 1980s, when groups such as N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew emerged. These performers left a legacy that traps many of us in moments of nostalgia when their music hits the ear. However, they set the stage for a new standard in respect to a woman’s place in the world. Despite the medium being used to express various emotions, misogyny became a prominent theme in hip hop (Adam & Fuller, 2006). Often over sexualized and the favored target of domination by men, rap lyrics portrayed women as submissive, disposable orifices.
Female artists arose despite attempts to exclude women from the genre. Artists such as Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa created room for empowerment. These women combatted the hypermasculine culture through boasting ideas surrounding safe sex and independence from men (Rhodes, 2013). Yet progress was short-lived despite a handful of women breaking barriers. Demeaning attitudes and behavior toward women proved to transcend the onset of a strong female presence in hip hop culture. While Black women were initially targets of racially charged sexism, misogyny within the genre would eventually be generalized to women of all backgrounds. Women, as a collective group, became the ultimate target.
Queen Latifah was one of the first female hip hop artists, who preached messages of equality and empowerment. Pro-equality lyrics were evident in her song U.N.I.T.Y. (1993,12):
Instinct leads me to another flow
Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho
Trying to make a sister feel low
You know all of that gots to go
Now everybody knows there's exceptions to this rule
Now don't be getting mad when we playing, it's cool
But don't you be calling out my name
I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame
Female independence was a promising theme in lyrics, but ultimately became a hybrid of sexist stereotypes. One example is the “bad bitch.” The bad bitch concept created a misleading representation of what a strong woman is and how she presents. The bad bitch describes the woman who asserts herself onto those around her, successfully manipulating others through a fiery attitude. In turn, she is able to dominate even men. (Adam & Fuller, 2006). However, the concept shifted to define a woman that uses dominance in conjunction with self-exploitation to achieve a goal (Layne, 2014). A similar brazen stereotype in hip hop is the “ho,” or the sexually promiscuous female, referred to in various fashions over time. While this type of female is looked down upon, negative views are often juxtaposed with idealization. The distorted portrayal of the sexually promiscuous woman enmeshes enamor and disgust through encouraging a woman to engage in sex. She is praised if she behaves in line with the stereotype yet insulted in the same respect. This woman is also dismissed if she does not fulfill men’s expectations of how she should use her body. A woman’s innate sexuality, as well as her desire for positive attention and independence, are preyed upon by misogynistic themes within machismo, hip hop culture. Trending terms have changed over time, but the message remains the same.
Lil Wayne is known for sexually explicit content in many of his rhymes. In a verse featured on Drake’s song, I’m Goin’ In (2009, 5), his lyrics portray violence as an integrated component of sexual dominance through linking sexual references with a term used to describe a deadly gun shot:
Bad to the bristle
Hat to the rizzle
I'm so official all I need is a whistle
Bitch named Crystal
Let her suck my pistol
She opened up her mouth
And then I blow her brains out
In his track U.O.E.N.O (2013, 4), Rick Ross describes taking advantage of a woman after drugging her. His lyrics indicate a woman was date raped, and he boasts about the woman being entirely unaware that sexual assault has occurred:
Put Molly all in her champagne
She ain't even know it
I took her home, and I enjoyed that
She ain't even know it
Misogynistic themes contribute to women being at risk. Aggressive behavior toward women is shown to increase after being exposed to music with misogynistic lyrics (Greitemeyer, Hollingdale, & Traut-Mattausch, 2012). Priming occurs, which has short-term and long-term effects on attitudes and behavior toward women. Lyrics blur sexuality and obtainment of romantic, personal, or professional goals, leading to distorted perceptions of what women should strive for and by what means. Dichotomous messages may not effect a self-actualized woman, but to an impressionable young woman, lyrics matter. Most importantly, sexist lyrics lead to desensitization, which becomes dangerous if listeners are effected by aggressive, sexual themes. Ultimately, the effect of sexist lyrics increases the potential of women being subjected to sexual assault and violence (Adam & Fuller, 2006).
Conversely, lyrical content can also improve people’s perception of women. Songs that contain pro-equality lyrics or those that are absent of content inciting objectification of women are associated with positive attitudes and behavior toward women (Greitemeyer, Hollingdale, & Traut-Mattausch, 2012). Despite this, it is an unfortunate reality that pro-equality lyrics in hip hop are rare, if not non-existent. Some women, such as the Crunk Feminist Collective (CFC), are maintaining a love for the music and hip hop culture while adhering to core feminist values as a diverse group of scholars and professionals. Pro-equality content has the potential of increasing the image and treatment of women, and a love of hip hop can be embraced while still striving for a world that better reflects women’s true worth and potential.
Goodie Mob’s, Beautiful Skin (1998, 6), is absent of sexist lyrics. As group members rap and sing about women’s worth, notably that of Black women, they present as feeling nearly indebted to the female sex. Lyrics liken a woman to a queen worthy of utmost respect. At times more of a plea than a tribute, they express deep admiration for females and call for self-respect among women. By referring to a woman as a “sister,” the artists portray women as equal to men:
At one time my mind just couldn't conceive
A woman had to dress a certain way to believe
But, in the same breath allow me to say
That if you believed young lady you wouldn't dress that way
And I was attracted to your class, I couldn't see all yo' ass
And I was very content, and you deserved every compliment
Now, remember our indifferences make us the same
You gotta have some game, or
You ain't even gonna be able to take care of yourself
And Love when I look at you I see my reflection
So I offer my love, affection, and protection
Shawty, you dead fine, but the bottom-line is
You're still my sister
Our society must advocate for an absence of misogynistic lyrics in music. Sexism is an integral part of music overall, with even female performers doing little to promote equality in some cases. No woman, certainly not the lover of hip hop, will escape being victimized by a culture that demands women succumb to exploitation through sexualizing oneself as a means to an end. Women and men are worthy of escaping to music that empowers every human being. The woman who truly creates her own world and defines herself is the model for the hip hop world, and her resilience carries more weight than the dominant force of misogynistic culture. Likewise, it is time to move past holding men to unrealistic standards of masculinity. Our music should better reflect the true potential of women and men. Music that can be categorized as microwaved garbage in its sound or content should be easily dismissed and receive little support. We all deserve better, and it is time we demand it.
Written by: Aimee M. Poleski, M.A.
Adams, T. M., & Fuller, D. B. (2006). The words have changed but the ideology remains the same: Misogynistic lyrics in rap music. Journal of Black Studies, 36(6), 938- 957.
Crunk Feminist Collective. Mission Statement.Retrieved from http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/about/
Drake. (2009.) I’m Goin’ In. On So Far So Gone. United States: OVO, Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records, and Universal Motown.
Greitemeyer, T., Hollingdale, J., & Traut-Mattausch, E. (2015). Changing the track in music and misogyny: Listening to music with pro-equality lyrics improves attitudes and behavior toward women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4(1), 56.
Iandoll, K. (2012.) The chickenhead convention. Vice. Retrieved from http://www.vice.comread/the-chickenhead-convention
Latifah, Q. (1993.) U.N.I.T.Y. On Black Reign.United States: Universal Motown.
Layne, A. (2014.) Now that’s a bad bitch!: The state of women in hip-hop. Women’s Issues. Retrieved from http://www.hamptioninsitution.org/women-in-hip-hop.html#.WERIJmWMC9Y
Mob, G. (1998.) Beautiful Skin. On Still Standing. United States: LaFace Records.
Rhodes, H. A. (1993). The Evolution of Rap Music in the United States. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Retrieved from http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1993/4/93.04.04.x.html
Ross, R. (2013.) U.O.E.N.O. On Notice Me. United States: Eastside Corporation.