R-E-S-P-E-C-T My Sisters... - Misogyny In Hip-Hop, pt. 2

It takes a man to take a stand understand, it takes a woman to make a stronger man (as we both get strong) - Chuck and Flav Last time I talked a little bit about misogynistic lyrics in hip-hop. One thing I intended to do, and either was not clear on, or simply failed to accomplish, was to make some space between the use of the word "bitch" and misogyny. That is, using the same formula for misogyny that I use for racism, where misogyny = prejudice or malice + intent + action, I'm not sure where the "tell 'em why you mad" record would fall on a scale of real misogyny. Like I said, I think there's a good discussion to be had about whether words like bitch and ho should be used at all, but I'm not sure whether their use necessarily constitutes misogyny. Just needed to clean that up a little. Now. For Part 2, I want to focus on misogynistic images within hip-hop. One area where rap is unprecedented in its presentation of "misogynistic" content is in the images portrayed in its videos. Now I had MTV (or as Chuck D calls it, empty-v) back in the day. I saw the rock videos with the big-haired (among other things) Beckys jiggling around in their little strategically-ripped half shirts. It's another case where hip-hop didn't start it, but we have advanced(?) it far beyond where it was. Of course, my perspective on this aspect may be limited because I don't watch TV and I haven't watched a show of music videos in years. Rock videos may have a whole sub-genre of strip club videos like hip-hop. Even if they do, I'm not really worried about it. I'm talkin' about hip-hop. There was a time when the worst thing people could say about the images of women in hip-hop videos was that there were no dark-skinned women. Being a sucker for redbone jawns myself, I noticed, but I wasn't exactly bothered. In the real world, beautiful Black women come in all shades of the spectrum, so it wasn't that big of a deal to me. Besides, I didn't think that the rappers actually did the casting for their videos, so only so much condemnation could be leveled at them. (Although I will say that one of the weirdest video moments came in Rakim's Check The Technique, when Rakim, a 5 Percenter, was rapping with all these bikini'd-up white chicks undulating to the beat. I remember a letter to the editor of one of the hip-hop magazines of the time, maybe Rap Pages, where the writer was like, "I have a hard time believing that any of those women is named Mahogany or Starmecca.") I imagine that the same type of complaint could be raised regarding the scarcity of big jawns. Of course, the stuff that's going on in videos now would be just as bad if they were full of "full-figured" women. (Because I'm not with that using "full-figured" as a euphemism for fat. Full-figured should mean "having ample breasts and being callipygous. But that's just me, though) Nowadays, it has gotten to the point where rappers are making two videos for certain songs, a "clean" version…meaning that the censors will let it play in the daytime, and an "uncut" version. The uncut version is, for all intents and purposes, a porn video. I have seen the unedited, un-blurred, uncut version of Nelly's Tip Drill. Trust me, that joint ain't nothin' nice. Don't get me wrong, I like eye candy just like the next guy, but some representations just cross the line. I mean, I'm sure that there are some feminists who would argue that simply having women in the videos who serve no purpose except to drape themselves over the rappers (and their hype men) constitutes some level of exploitation. Could be, but I'm not so sure about that. Was Langston Hughes being misogynistic or exploitative when he wrote, "I don't mind dying—/ but I'd hate to die alone/ I want a dozen pretty women/ to holler, cry and moan."? If we think of a music video as a representation of (the director's vision of a) rapper's wished-for lifestyle, then maybe not. As always, there is much to discuss here. But that only goes to a certain extent. I mean, it's one thing for me to have a video where I walk by and all the chicks are looking at me like, "there he goes." It's another thing for me to have a video where the video hoes are nothing but warm receptacles. Now one thing to bear in mind is that it's nothing but a marketing ploy. Everybody knows that the easiest way to get men to do something is to bring women. That's the whole concept behind having Ladies Night at the club. "If we let women in free, we'll recoup on all the guys." I think I said before that I even used that approach when I was trying to get high school volunteers for an after-school class. I figured that if my colleagues and I got enough good-looking girls to work on the project, we'd get at least a handful of guys just because they'd be trying to talk to the girls. (You know it worked.) So for a rapper, one of the easiest ways to get some attention is to put out a video with nothing but half-naked women walking around. You know the guys are gonna watch, and if it goes the artist's way, they'll watch the video enough to listen to the song when it comes on the radio, which they hope will parlay into a CD purchase. Or if they can't have that, there's at least the expectation that if they push the envelope enough with the video, it will draw negative attention and get the artist's name out there. Either way, it's all about getting noticed and making sales. In that sense, I guess that the amount of actual malice is questionable, since my guess is that if showing a jar of speckled jellybeans translated to record sales, the day of the video ho would be over. Either that or there would be a bunch of half-naked women walking around with jars of speckled jellybeans… Anyway, in any discussion of misogyny, there's a whole heap of structuralism that has to be addressed. A true feminist critique of music videos in general and rap videos specifically would pay attention to the manner in which the relationships demonstrated in the videos reflected patriarchy within larger American culture, as well as within traditional Black culture, and the way those two have filtered down to hip-hop culture. There would also be some analysis of the manner in which Black women's bodies have been sexualized and disconnected from their personhood. All valid areas of discussion, but far beyond the scope of what I'm talking about. But I'll fiddle with that last one for a quick second. A couple months ago, I wrote a post on racism. Most of the comments dealt with the issue at the level I was writing about, but then one cat got on there talking about how the Black woman is lowest in terms of desirability or whatever. Something like that. I don't remember exactly, and it's not worth quoting exactly. What is important to note, however, is that people have been saying that for a long time, but even at that, there has also long been a fascination with Black women's sexuality. Saartje Baartman. If that name means nothing to you, hit google and the wikipedia, then come back and read this quote from Patricia Hill Collins, in The Sexual Politics of Black Womanhood.
[...]This objectification of African-American women parallels the portrayal of women in pornography as sex objects whose sexuality is available for men (McNall 1983). Exploiting Black women as breeders objectified them as less than human because only animals can be bred against their will. In contemporary pornography women are objectified through being portrayed as pieces of meat, as sexual animals awaiting conquest.
Read that and then watch Tip Drill. You tell me what's going on. But then to confound the whole feminist position are "artists" like Li'l Kim, Foxxxy Brown, and Trina, who flout traditional norms and aggressively flounce their sexuality. This presents a tension to the feminist who, on one hand argues that it is empowering to show women who are "in charge" of their sexuality, but at the same time recognize that the images portrayed by Kim, Foxy, Trina, et al are essentially the same ones that are put forth by male artists. They're not regulating their sexuality by choosing chastity, they're "owning" it by being being promiscuous. (Man, that's why I miss MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill somethin' fierce! They had it to-gether! They had intelligent lyrics and they knew how to display sex appeal without showing all their goodies. Of course, it didn't hurt that they were fine.) Almost like female versions of Whodini talking about, "I'm a ho, you know I'm a ho/How do you know because I tell you so." Some might argue that at the end of the day, it's still white men in suits (read: record companies) controlling the way Black women are portrayed, but that argument basically takes agency away from the both the artists and the consumers. You know, people can complain about misogynistic songs and videos all they want, but until the artists and record companies feel it in the pocket, nothing's gonna change. I thought it was great that the women at Spelman College declined Nelly's charity drive there earlier this year. But you know what? That's not enough. That was a big, well-publicized event, but that's not the type of thing that will effect any lasting change. As just about everybody who has any thoughts on this will quickly tell you, we still buy those records and rush out to the floor when they come on at the club. If we're really serious about change, we'll make our dollars reflect our ostensible beliefs. Trust me on this one, record companies are all about that bottom line. (Not that bottom line) If you remember back to the late 80's/early 90's, there was a proliferation of 5 Percenter groups out. If you know anything about 5% teachings, you know that that's antithetical to anything most of the people in decision-making positions at major record labels believe. But what? But it was selling. Then came NWA and the Gangsta era, which ushered in the days of "authentic" multi-platinum rap albums (Hammer moved major units, but he didn't force a paradigm shift, partially because he wasn't regardes as being "real.") If we reeeallly wanna see something different, then we'll have to sacrifice; might have to pass up on buying some catchy tunes, or might have to sit down on a song, even though the beat is bumping. Might hafta decide that we're not gonna buy records by alleged pedophiles or support organizations that allow them to be nominated for major awards (he ain't hip-hop, but I simply can't pass that up. Somebody (who actually listens to Kells) could probably write thick, healthy paper (did somebody say a paper with a Sofa?) on misogyny in R. Kelly's work...any undergrads out there?) Might mean actually raising our tastes from the lowest common denominator. Might mean not-supporting broadcast radio (which we know is in the pocket of the big 5 record companies, anyway). The question is, are we gonna actually do anything, or are we gonna support misogynistic music and then turn around and bitch about it? Of course, not all hip-hop is misogynistic or presents Black women in a bad light. Tupac has a couple songs, Dear Mama and Keep Your Head Up, that are worth mentioning. Public Enemy dropped Revolutionary Generation (14 years ago?!). Black Star has Brown Skin Lady, which I love. But I think my favorite gynocentric hip-hop song is 4 Women by Talib Kweli. It's actually a remake of Four Women, by Nina Simone. What's remarkable about it is that in the last two verses, Kweli actually raps as the women in his natural voice. That's major. He doesn't play them as characters, separating the women from himself, he takes on their voice and tells their stories as if they're his own. Because really, they are. Men and women aren't opposites, we're complements. We can't advance by stepping on and away from our sisters and mothers. Let's ride out with Kweli (verses in parentheses are Kweli rapping as Peaches.)
A daughter come up in Georgia, ripe and ready to plant seeds, Left the plantation when she saw a sign even thought she can't read It came from God and when life get hard she always speak to him, She'd rather kill her babies than let the master get to 'em, She on the run up north to get across that Mason-Dixon In church she learned how to be patient and keep wishin', The promise of eternal life after death for those that God bless She swears the next baby she'll have will breathe a free breath and get milk from a free breast, And love beeing alive, otherwise they'll have to give up being themselves to survive, Being maids, cleaning ladies, maybe teachers or college graduates, nurses, housewives, prostitutes, and drug addicts Some will grow to be old women, some will die before they born, They'll be mothers, and lovers who inspire and make songs, (But me, my skin is brown and my manner is tough,) (Like the love I give my babies when the rainbow's enuff,) (I'll kill the first muthafucka that mess with me, I never bluff) (I ain't got time to lie, my life has been much too rough,) (Still running with barefeet, I ain't got nothin' but my soul,) (Freedom is the ultimate goal, life and death is small on the whole, in many ways) (I'm awfully bitter these days 'cuz the only parents God gave me, they were slaves,) (And it crippled me, I got the destiny of a casualty,) (But I live through my babies and I change my reality) (Maybe one day I'll ride back to Georgia on a train,) (Folks 'round there call me Peaches, I guess that's my name.)
Maybe we should try to make sure we're as enthusiastic about praising the good as we are about condemning the negative.