Women In Hip Hop Essay

The Negative Portrayal Of Women In Hip Hop And Rap Music

Doug E. Fresh, a popular beat-boxer in rap music today, has been quoted saying, “Hip-hop is supposed to uplift and create, to educate people on a larger level and to make a change.” Although this is the original intention of hip-hop music, public opinion currently holds the opposite view. Since the 1970’s musical artists have changed the face of hip-hop and rap and worldwide, people – mostly teens—have been striving to emulate certain artists and their lyrics, which has created negative stereotypes for hip-hop music and also for those who choose to listen to it. With vulgar lyrics referencing drugs, alcohol, sex, and aggression, it’s no wonder these stereotypes exist. However, is music really the direct cause of how teens act, or could their behavior possibly be the result of music that taps into the emotional feelings of those who listen to it? Could it be peer pressure and the fact that with technology today it has become harder to regulate what teens listen to? When analyzing these questions, it has become apparent, not only why people listen to music, but how it affects each and every person, possibly resulting in inappropriate lifestyle choices.
Hip-hop music hasn’t always had a bad reputation attached to it; it actually had positive beginnings. DJ Kool Herc was the first to lay the building blocks of hip hop in 1973 in the South Bronx (Swanson). Unlike the situation in today’s society, hip-hop music was a cry against oppression and a way to let out built up anger while trying to move away from gang violence in inner-city neighborhoods. Once hip-hop began to gain popularity, break dancing competitions replaced violent gang fights. Even then, this genre of music seemed to influence those who heard it, but in a different way from its influence today. Now, unfortunately, hip-hop musicians do not care if their songs give a positive message or not, just as long as their songs become popular and sell (Tanner). Musicians may feel that the only way to increase sales is to make their lyrics as graphic as possible. It seems as though the lyrics to songs are giving permission to listeners to do wrong and immoral things (Tanner). As stated in the article “How Much Are Violent Lyrics to Blame?” by Emily Tanner, “Music is important in today’s society and when music becomes corrupt in its meaning then society may in turn become corrupt and immoral.”
The corruptness of music today seems to be linked to the crude language and aggression found particularly in hip-hop and rap music. Some rap artists use vulgar language in their lyrics that are easily adoptable by teens (Holden). Not only have certain lyrics influenced the way teens speak but also their actions. An article on Headliners.org stated that “lyrics in the music are too violent and are to blame for many problems.” The problems range anywhere from suicide and aggression towards women to underage drinking and drug use. Lyrics are not only to blame, but...

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On my first real day as a hip-hop journalist, I was mistaken for a groupie. It was 2003.

I documented this memorable experience several years ago for a piece titled “The Chickenhead Convention”—so-called because when I showed up to interview a legendary rap group, they escorted me to a room full of scantily clad groupies instead (“chickenhead” is an unflattering term that “reduces a woman to a bobbing head giving oral sex”).

For the record, I was wearing a Triple Five Soul T-shirt and jeans (hello, #TBT).

I’ve repeated this story multiple times throughout my decade-plus career. It’s the kind of traumatic experience that prompts some to ask me and other women working in the male-dominated hip-hop industry: Why?

Why would you venture into the sh*tstorm of a culture that prides itself on producing music and videos that frequently objectify of women? Why capitalize on something that thinks so little of us? Because if you work in hip-hop in any capacity, someone, somewhere is wondering why you don’t just throw on some booty shorts, and start washing a car for a video in Atlanta. After all, that’s the only thing we’re good for in the industry’s eyes. As much as women may love hip-hop, it doesn’t love us back.

As much as women may love hip-hop, it doesn’t love us back.

But that argument holds about as much weight as asking a vegan why he or she works in fashion when so many designers make leather goods.

Truth be told, hip-hop has always had a tumultuous relationship with women. In its earliest days, Boogie Down Productions said rapper Roxanne Shanté was “only good for steady f*ckin’” on its retaliatory song against the Juice Crew, “The Bridge Is Over.”  

As hip-hop progressed through the decades, women continued to be thrown into the crosshairs of male-driven rap wars, thanks to “Yo mama” jokes and lewd suggestions that someone’s girlfriend wasbeing passed around. We’re the human shields, the bitches (ahem, Kanye), the thots. We’re the female rappers who can’t catch a break, and even when we do, it’s only because we’re whores who used sex as power moves.

To be fair, sexist treatment of women transcends all musical genres. Just watch that scene in Almost Famous, where Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson) gets sold to the band Humble Pie for $50 and a case of beer.​ And as a kid watching hair band Whitesnake’s video for 1982’s “Here I Go Again”—in which Tawny Kitaen wears a see-through dress while cartwheeling and rolling over cars—I remember thinking, “Is that a real job?”

Years later, with the rise of video vixens, I got my answer. Yes, that is a real job, and sometimes, it pays very well. Was Tawny participating in self-imposed misogyny or was she making an unconventional career choice? I still don’t know. 

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But the hard truth is that hip-hop’s misogynistic views of women are harsher and rawer—because that’s exactly what the genre is about. Hip-hop shows reality sans rose-colored lenses or Instagram filters; just as it highlights racism, it also highlights sexism, only in more uncomfortable ways. Men in hip-hop who craft songs that objectify women are telling the world how many men view us. Is that good news? Absolutely not, but they probably share the same views as that guy trying to pick up a woman based on the length of her skirt, or that man who calls her a “whore” for ignoring him when he says hi. And what about that dude on Tinder who sends her a photo of his dick, but then calls her ungrateful for not responding? Do they all have record deals, too?

Leaving the hip-hop industry won’t change the fact that misogyny exists in the world.

Leaving the hip-hop industry won’t change the fact that misogyny exists in the world.

Every day I wake up as a woman, I’m subjected to misogyny. When I show up to a car dealership alone and the salesman tries to overcharge me because he thinks I don’t know any better, I’m subjected to misogyny. When I walk down the street in a hoodie and am still cat-called, I’m subjected to misogyny. When a drunk guy at a bar calls me a “bitch” after I refuse to give him my number, I’m subjected to misogyny. None of these instances involve rappers; none of them involve hip-hop. That guy on the sidewalk wasn’t rapping French Montana lyrics when he yelled at me to “learn how to smile when I’m being complimented,” and the car salesman I turned down for underestimating me wasn’t wearing a dookie rope on top of an Adidas tracksuit.

So please don’t ask me why I work in hip-hop, as if to suggest that if I left it, I would never experience misogyny again. I would still walk down the street; I would still go to the bar; I would still exist in this world. Sure, hip-hop can be misogynistic, but even more misogynistic is assuming that I don’t have self-respect or am anti-feminist just because I work in the industry.

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