You Know I Spell Girl With A 'B' - Misogyny In Hip-Hop, Pt. 1

"They get mad when I put it in perspective but let's see if my knowledge is effective" - Ice Cube Misogyny is one of those words like "racism" that has a nebulous, broadly understood meaning, but is much more slippery when it comes time to actually grab it. There are lots of things we can agree are misogynistic, but are they really, or is it just some behavior that takes a misogynistic form but holds no content? Take using the word "bitch" for instance. For most people, that's a pretty good indicator of some misogynistic tendencies. (And if you keep wondering why I keep writing 'misogynist,' it's just because it has a 'y.') But does it really mean anything? Ice Cube, to use a prominent example, penned the song, "A Bitch Iz A Bitch," dropping the gem,
A bitch iz a bitch So if I'm poor or rich I talk in the exact same pitch Now the title 'bitch' don't apply to all women But all women have a little bitch in 'em It's like a disease that plagues their character Takin' the women of America And it starts with the letter 'B' It makes a girl like that think she better than me See, some get mad and some just bear it But yo, if the shoe fits, wear it. It makes 'em go deaf in the ear, that's why When you say hi, she won't say hi Are you the kind that think you're too damn fly? Bitch, eat shit and die. Ice Cube comin' at you at a crazy pitch. (why?) I think a bitch iz a bitch.
And don't worry, we'll get into the actual words in a minute, but first I need to set up some boundaries. Now, according to some people, the above verse represents views that are hateful to women. Only thing is, Ice Cube's manager was a Black woman. On "When Will They Shoot," he rapped, "A Black woman is my manager, not in the kitchen/ so could you please stop bitchin'." What's more, on Amerikkka's Most Wanted, he has a skit towards the end that's dedicated to "the pretty young ladies who wouldn't give us no play before the album" which is a collage of rappers saying the word "bitch." (And also the first place I heard my catchphrase of 10th grade, "Back up off my tip for the simple fact you on it like a gnat on a dawgs dick…" If I had been a senior that year, I probably would've tried to make that my yearbook quote.) But here's the wrinkle: after all that bitch-calling, there's a voice saying, "Wha'chu say about my mother, man?" Like I said, easy to see but hard to catch. To bring it even closer to home, I've said before that while I was in high school I, like Cube, "spelled girl with a 'B'. At the same time, like Posdnuos, I "never played a sister," so what's the deal? Did the use of the word bitch constitute some real misogynistic feelings, or did it was it just a linguistic feature that some could argue took a misogynistic form? Like I said, just trying to sketch out the boundaries before I start painting. Now, on the real, Ice Cube's verse in "A Bitch Iz A Bitch" is probably fairly lightweight as far as misogynistic expression in hip-hop goes. He says the word "bitch" but that's about it. I don't even necessarily disagree with him that the title doesn't apply to all women, but all women have a little bit in em. (Some of us just know how to bring it out, I guess.) Either way, there's much worse out there. There are several questions that stem from this: • Where does this misogyny come from? Does it originate in hip-hop? • Is it confined to rappers' words, or does it extend to their actions? • To what extent is misogyny in hip-hop reflective of the larger culture? • Do female MCs challenge these roles/norms, or do they support them? I think I wanna start with the third question. Let's work from general to specific. My general perception is that hip-hop, even at its hedonistic, materialistic, vulgar worst, is actually reflective of America. It's not about what we claim to be, or what we wish we were, it's about what we are. We like sex, drugs, guns, and money. Not each and every one of us, of course, but between those three, all 50 states are covered. (Note, I just said 'sex' not 'fornication' or 'adultery', so you're in there too.) Hip-hop is all-American like Allen Iverson is all-American, but just like AI, many Americans are too myopic to see how accurate the reflection really is. See this article, which really expounds on this point. (I may hafta write about AI pretty soon myself. All this AI hate is starting to get to me. Seriously.) So I don't think it's right to point out the misogyny that exists in hip-hop without acknowledging that it doesn't originate there. Whatever your definition of misogyny is, whether you use the hardcore feminist definition, or something decidedly less, my bet is that people were thinking, talking, and behaving that way before 1979. Maybe not, but probably so. As bell hooks writes,
The sexist, misogynist, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving that are glorified in gangsta rap are a reflection of the prevailing values in our society, values created and sustained by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. As the crudest and most brutal expression of sexism, misogynistic attitudes tend to be portrayed by the dominant culture as an expression of male deviance. In reality they are part of a sexist continuum, necessary for the maintenance of patriarchal social order. While patriarchy and sexism continue to be the political and cultural norm in our society, feminist movement has created a climate where crude expressions of male domination are called into question, especially if they are made by men in power. It is useful to think of misogyny as a field that must be labored in and maintained both to sustain patriarchy but also to serve as an ideological anti-feminist backlash. And what better group to labor on this "plantation" than young black men
(yeah, you didn't think you'd be gettin' no bell hooks, did you?) Now I ain't gon' hold you, I don't really subscribe to all that talk about patriarchy and sexism and whatnot. I'll probably take some time and do some writing on gender at some point (promises, promises) but for now, suffice it to say that biological determinism is beyond suspect to me, but the idea that gender is solely a social construct doesn't exactly pass muster either. Either way, it didn't start with the "refrigerated gangstas." It didn't even start with Funkadelic, who had the jam, "No Head, No Backstage Pass", or Muddy Waters, the original "Hoochie Coochie Man." So again, when we talk about this, it's fine to recognie that there is misogyny in hip-hop, but let's not act like it started there, or even that it's more prevalent in hip-hop than it is on other elements of our culture. Now within hip-hop, I'd say that misogyny is displayed in two ways: lyrics and images. Lyrically, there are a couple different forms. There's the fussin-cuz-I'm-mad, "Bitches Ain't Shit" type record, the attempt at defining, "Bitch Iz A Bitch"/"Bitches and Sistas" record, and the pimp record. Of the three, I'd say that the pimp record is probably the most purely misogynistic. The first two, while some things are probably better left unsaid, represent fairly common occurrences. The women in those stories are usually portrayed as gold diggers or hoes (but not actual prostitutes, since they ho for free.) I don't know too many dudes (read: none) who can listen to one of those songs and honestly say they've never felt what the rapper's expressing. There may be some out there, but I haven't met them. The pimp record is something altogether different. Now, I guess I hafta specify that not all pimp records deal with real pimping. Some cats who talk that pimp stuff really mean getting-all-the-girls. But like my friend told me, "It ain't pimpin' unless you gettin' paid." That's the case on Jay-Z's 'Big Pimpin'," where' his lines really belong in a gold digger record,
Just because you got good head, I'ma break bread so you can be livin it up? Shit I.. parts with nothin, y'all be frontin Me give my heart to a woman? Not for nothin, never happen I'll be forever mackin Heart cold as assassins I got no passion I got no patience And I hate waitin.. Ho get yo' ass in
That's not real pimping because his interest in the girl is primarily sexual. He's not trying to get paid off her, he's just not trying to giver her any of his money. Contrast that with 50 Cent on P.I.M.P.
Now shorty, she in the club, she dancing for dollars She got a thing for that Gucci, that Fendi, that Prada That BCBG, Burberry, Dolce and Gabana She feed them foolish fantasies, they pay her cause they wanna I spit a little G man, and my game got her A hour later, have that ass up in the Ramada Them trick niggas in her ear saying they think about her I got the bitch by the bar trying to get a drink up out her She like my style, she like my smile, she like the way I talk She from the country, think she like me cause I'm from New York I ain't that nigga trying to holla cause I want some head I'm that nigga trying to holla cause I want some bread I could care less how she perform when she in the bed Bitch hit that track, catch a date, and come and pay the kid Look baby this is simple, you can't see You fucking with me, you fucking with a P-I-M-P
Now that's pimping. At any rate, hip-hop is loaded with records that describe that gold-digger/ho stereotype. I could probably throw the "chickenhead" in there as a sort of generally dumb road who's easy to trick into performing sexual favors. Now, I can say from personal experience that gold-digers, hoes, and chickenheads do, in fact, exist. But it's not a question of whether or not there's any veracity to what the rappers are saying, it's a question of the accuracy. Dres of the Black Sheep once wrote, "I talk about a ho/ because a ho I know/ and if you knew the honeys too/ then I guess too you would talk so." Only thing is, all women aren't hoes. If you listen to the "definition" records, the rappers even make sure to point out this fact, and delineate the difference between a "bitch" and a "sister" or a "queen" or a "lady." In little ditty on Jeru tha Damaja's "Da Bitchez," Michael Eric Dyson writes, "Of course the main problem is that it's still a man—relying on the tried and true practice of surveillance and the male privilege of definition—who wants to determine for a woman what kind of female she should be." For Dyson, there's some a degree of misogyny, or at least patriarchy, implicit in the attempt by any man to define any woman's role. Like I said before, I ain't buyin' all that. But that's another discussion for another day. As far as the definition records go, I'll just say that I think we've reached the saturation point. We already know there are some women who could be described as "bitches" or "hoochies" or "hoes" or "gold-diggers" or "chickenheads." There's a juicy discussion to be had on whether those terms should be used at all, but I'm not gonna do that here. (This joint is gonna be long enough as it is.) Just let it suffice to say that those chicks have gotten enough shine. It's about time for more songs like Black Star's "Brown Skin Lady," Tupac's "Dear Mama," and Goodie Mob's "Guess Who." To be honest, I've got ambivalent feelings about definition records, though. As long as somebody is writing from his heart based on his experience, this type of thing will come out. Again, it's possible that those types of records shouldn't actually be recorded, or released for public consumption, but there will always be somebody-done-somebody-wrong records, and the definition record is just a subset of that. Pimp records, on the other hand…that's dead. I can easily dialogue on the reasons why pimps and pimping have entered the lexicon, and I can say exactly what elements are being spoken to and what's not. As a matter of fact, I did. And on the real, pimping may never die. That don't mean we need to keep making records about it. I said before that it's time for a new paradigm, and that applies to hip-hop too. The days of Goldie, Iceberg Slim, and Willie Dynamite are over. (Although I reserve the right to use the name Willie Dynamite at any point for any reason.) Not saying that pimping still doesn't go on, but there weren't that many pimps in the first place, and there are certainly fewer now than there were then. Yet, because people idolize pimps and project some fantastic, lavish lifestyle onto them, we keep hearing these same old stories. Only problem is, if they came out with positive stories, I'm not sure people would buy it. For part 2…the images.