Hip-hop feminism was born out of a need to understand the many cultural, social and political conditions that afflicted women of what Baraki Kitwana called the hip-hop generation, comprised of people born between 1965 and 1985. Black feminism, a wave of thought and activism largely influenced by the civil rights and black power movements, was not equipped to consider the issues of women belonging to the hip-hop generation.
For some, the term “hip-hop feminism” offers up quite the enigma. Critics position misogyny as hip-hop’s cardinal sin, which raises the obvious question: How do women actively participate in a culture that seems to hate them so vehemently? For self-described hip-hop feminists, attempting to answer that question is not their only task, since understanding what hip-hop feminism is and isn’t goes far beyond responding to women-bashing sentiment.
No longer just a sideshow and so much more than a freak show, women in hip-hop are THE soothsayers, the vandals, the beat contortionists, the ringleaders and the masters of ceremonies…. at B-Girl Be, we are the main event!
… but does it have to be? A self-described ”hip-hop head” takes an in-depth look at masculinity and manhood in rap and hip-hop, where creative genius collides with misogyny, violence and homophobia, exposing the complex intersections of culture and commerce.
"Intersectionality suggests — and seeks to examine how — various socially and culturally constructed categories such as gender, race, class, disability, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality."
I saw an important intersectional connection between hip hop feminism and sex positive feminism. These ideologies have been created and introduced recently, so I actually couldn’t find a widely accepted definition of hip hop feminism to compare to sex positive feminism. I think the definition is being constructed right now, but a few similarities stuck out to me. Women in hip hop (artists, dancers, producers) form their representations of women in media based on what they think is socially desirable and marketable. How do men want women to act? How they should behave in different company? How, when, and especially where they are allowed to express their sexuality? Sex positivity challenges social norms about performing gender and conforming to stereotypical roles.
In particular, I am thinking of how sex work and hip hop are connected. There is considerable lyrical discourse pertaining to relationships among different kinds of sex workers, such as the stripper, the prostitute, the slut, the pimp, the video vixen, and also the police who are there to stop sex work. Are the only spaces we have for these characters in music videos, where we see a one-dimensional portrayal of the sex worker experience? When looking at hip hop feminism, it is becoming increasingly important to learn about sex positive feminism. The songs that challenge a patriarchal system (see our post on Christina Aguilera’s ‘Still Dirrty’) are marginalized, never hit singles on the radio but tucked into a CD where you must seek the information to find it. Other accounts of sex work in hip hop are usually not delivered by females, and not very informative about the actual experience. Sex positivity also informs issues such as sexual orientation, pornography, and gender identity which have not yet been seen in commercialized hip hop. I think by continuing to incorporate sex positivity into our analysis of female hip hop music, we might start to see those characters develop a little bit, see some of those taboo issues confronted, and have the opportunity to understand them more thoroughly.
As a black woman and a feminist I listen to the music with a willingness to see past the machismo in order to be clear about what I’m really dealing with. What I hear frightens me. On booming track after booming track, I hear brothers talking about spending each day high as hell on malt liquor and Chronic. Don’t sleep. What passes for “40 and a blunt” good times in most of hip-hop is really alcoholism, substance abuse, and chemical dependency. When brothers can talk so cavalierly about killing each other and then reveal that they have no expectation to see their twenty-first birthday, that is straight up depression masquerading as machismo. […]
This is crystal clear to me when I’m listening to hip-hop. Yeah, sistas are hurt when we hear brothers calling us bitches and hos. But the real crime isn’t the name-calling, it’s their failure to love us – to be our brothers in the way that we commit ourselves to being their sistas. But recognize: Any man who doesn’t truly love himself is incapable of loving us in the healthy way we need to be loved. It’s extremely telling that men who can only refer to us as “bitches” and “hos” refer to themselves only as “niggas.”
When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, from fly girls to bitches and hos, pp. 72-75
The phrase “drop and gimmie fifty” sounds like one you would hear a drill sergeant yell at a military training camp as punishment for a mistake. Or you may even hear a disgusted coach scream it to one of his players on a football field during practice. It is a very authoritative phrase. Some might even find intimidating. So why is this statement along with others like “drop it like it’s hot”, “bust it wide open”, and “make it rain” common in today’s hip-hop music? I love hip-hop. Always have. But how did we go from the positive lyrics of the 80’s and early 90’s - Public Enemy’s “Fight the power”, Queen Latifah’s “Ladies first”, and Tupac’s “Keep ya head up” to the stupid misogynistic lyrics of the 21st century.
In 2005, the Center for Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago held the first national conference on feminism and hip hop. The Feminism and Hop Hop Conference featured panel discussions about the impact of hip hop culture on the racial, gender, and sexual perceptions of young people. Click on the link below to watch full-length video coverage of the four-day event.
While these ladies may or may not consider themselves feminists, as a young hip-hop fan looking for tracks that I could rap along to without 1) contorting my voice into deep tones, 2) having to change all the pronouns, and 3) convincing myself that the “hoes” referenced in the songs I was rapping to had nothing to do with REGULAR black women, I found them inspiring and much easier to enjoy. Roll call!
Misogyny is prevalent in hip hop culture. Hip hop has had a tremendous influence on modern popular culture, saturating mass media through music videos, radio broadcasts, and a variety of other mediums. However, hip hop is constantly criticized or dismissed, especially by members of the Civil Rights generation, as a form of expression demeaning to women and therefore not worthy of airplay. In challenging hip hop, many blame only black artists for their use of derogatory language, suggesting that they are corrupting the black community into misogynistic views.
However, the rampant womanization of hip hop is a result of a pre-existing antisocial attitudes in the ghetto due to larger structural causes. This mindset can be attributed to the breakdown of the poor black family, the culturally accepted view of women as sexual objects, and the search for power in a pro-white hegemonic environment.