Hip-hop, Misogyny and the Beats (we hate to love).

My favorite album used to be Biggie Smalls Ready to Die. I loved this album so much that I wrote my entire undergraduate women’s studies thesis about sexism and hip-hop and tried to find ways to justify my love for an album that is practically an ode to misogyny. Along with other feminists of color and hip-hop lovers we looked for new ways to talk between our feminism and our love for hip-hop. It is really hard work.
Now, about fifteen years later, mainstream hip-hop seems to have reached it’s height of misogyny. I can’t even watch music videos without cringing and thinking how little they get paid. I am all for sexual expression and empowerment, but it is a fine line between the clear exploitation of women’s bodies and overt sexuality as a site of women’s empowerment. As Pam takes on Nelly’s video “Tipdrill” my feeling is that right now we are on a exploitation tip.
I never liked to criticize hip-hop culture for anything. I didn’t want the wing-nuts to appropriate our feminist words to conflate with racist ideas and suppress black voices. I don’t support that. But still we need our own language and our own strategies to counter the misogyny in mainstream hip-hop. So I was delighted to get this email about an interview with Byron Hurt director of the fantastic Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. He is right on the money with some ways we can deal with, understand and work against the misogyny, violence and homophobia in hip-hop. I say just read it, but some stuff I loved included:

Now the conversation is about hip-hop, misogyny, and sexism, which are indefensible—and I don’t defend them on any level—but I think the conversation should continue to be not only on Don Imus and his comments and the impact that it’s had, but also on sexism and racism in American culture, not just hip-hop, because both of those things, including patriarchy, predate hip-hop.

He also says that if we stop buying the albums and buying into the messages, maybe it will change. Who knows, it could work. But I just want to know, is it ever OK to dance to hip-hop that has a bad message (cuz maybe I do that sometimes)?

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57 Comments

  1. EG
    Posted April 25, 2007 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    OK. I’m going to say this once:
    Art that denigrates women is already political. Feminists call attention to the political bias that is already there. We do this because ignoring problems does not make them go away, no matter what my mother told me about the mean kids on the schoolbus.
    I am a literary/cultural critic, a reader, an audience for art, and, I might add, a writer myself. I, and everyone else who reads/listens to/looks at/watches art, have every right to criticize it. Art isn’t some special gift from the heavens that should remain untouched by grubby human thoughts and critiques. It’s human creation, it involves all the concerns of any given human being and the culture in which it’s being viewed/read/etc., and criticism is a vital part of the artistic process.

  2. donna darko
    Posted April 25, 2007 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    I deliberately excluded Arabs and Muslims. American feminists such as the Feminist Majority supposedly supported the invasion of Afghanistan (god, really? I learned that recently) and they were not criticizing the sexism of Arab Americans in the United States. When has the criticism of sexism of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans led to appropriation of feminist words by wingnuts. Besides, I don’t see the US bombing Africa, Latin America, East Asia to “save their women” mostly because they don’t have any oil.

  3. donna darko
    Posted April 26, 2007 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    msstrez, there are TONS of hip hop artists who are non-sexist and conscious. One of my favorite groups is The Coup. They were never sexist and never had to “reform” like a lot of hip hop artists.

  4. Itazura
    Posted April 26, 2007 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Gee I was kind of hoping this site was trying to build a social movement.
    Criticizing is a direct attack.
    politicizing implies that pressure groups do the direct attacks.
    Awareness is made through broadcasting, and is usually done in an attempt to spread the word to the masses rather than directly attack, or meddle politically.
    I don’t want to ban hip hop, but I would rather the masses were interested in something else. The key here is the masses. People want hip hop, therefore it sells and gets played.
    Until most people say “hey I am tired of misogynistic hip hop, and I want something else,” nothing is going to change.

  5. Ninapendamaishi
    Posted April 26, 2007 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    this site is /an element/ of a few wider social movements.
    that being said, publicizing criticism /is/ spreading awareness. It happens everyday, in various newspapers and other media sources, and believe it or not, it does create debate and have some affect on opinion and consumer patterns.
    “Awareness is made through broadcasting, and is usually done in an attempt to spread the word to the masses rather than directly attack, or meddle politically.”
    I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, just because this makes no sense. “meddle politically”? By changing the way people are thinking? My getting involved in your liberal democracy? Both of those elements are necessary to make change, frankly. There are a lot of different people taking a lot of various actions that make up any movement.
    You don’t like public criticisms of specific artists? Or public political messages? What should the activists seeking to sway public perceptions and consumer patterns do? Use their special mind-melding powers?

  6. anorak
    Posted April 26, 2007 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Ranter,
    EG and myself (and I think other posters on Feministing) have suggested you read some of the archives before you continue to post.
    Your definitions for the above words are not the definitions most posters here understand.
    Criticising does NOT mean a direct attack. It merely means to engage with something from an intellectual/philosophical standpoint.
    Politicising involves seeing the political aspects of something, and engaging with them. (hot tip – the personal is political)
    Awareness is an overused term, but generally involves a combination of education, consciousness raising, and critical (see, there is it again!) thinking.
    This is one of a couple of posts where I have replied patiently and politely to your comments.
    Why don’t you return the favour and read a month’s (any month, you choose) worth of Feministing archives, including the comment threads.

  7. susanb
    Posted June 21, 2009 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    i like listening to hip hop music. Not all of it is bad. You have to get away from gangster rap.
    CD Label Software

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