YO Blog Training: What is Lil Wayne Saying?

Last week, I was lucky enough to be in the Bay Area and was invited to do my annual blog training at the YO! summer program (a project of New America Media). I have gone for the past 3 years and the students and staff never cease to amaze me. The YO summer program is in part funded by the San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and is focused on youth that have been in some way touched by the juvenile justice system. They seek to give youth skills with the hope to not only tell their stories, but to stay out of the criminal injustice system. Harris has recently come under scrutiny after having been accused of allowing “illegals” back on the street due to her support of re-entry programs. This criticism has been part of conservative attacks on spending money on rehabilitation for criminal offenders.
This year we tried something different at the summer program. In trainings in the past we have usually discussed what blogging is and how young journalists and media makers can use new media in their work. This year, Neela Banerjee, director of the program (and my BFF), asked me to focus explicitly on what it means to be blogging about gender and sexism. So that is what I did.
We started by asking the group what they perceived sexism to be. Around the board the youth answered (2 women and 3 young men) that it was pay discrimination, hiring practices and the “get back in the kitchen” attitude. They hit the nail on the head, but interestingly their perception of gender issues were ones they had not experienced themselves. When I asked them to think about the ways sexism plays out in domestic violence, sexual violence or even in popular culture, they were more reserved in their responses.

Finally, I asked them what they felt about the depiction of women in Lil’ Wayne’s track (see above), “Every Girl,” and had them compose their own blog entries around the topic. They had to write three paragraphs where they listen to the lyrics and defend their point of view. Initially, most of the youth were stuck, debating how to write about a track critically that they enjoyed so much. I admitted myself how much I can enjoy hiphop that may not portray women that well, but can evaluate it critically while still enjoying it (at least most of the time).


But some of them finally got to writing and each one of them had something different to say. They spoke about the recording industry choosing women that would do “anything” to make it, about how women have a choice to listen to this music or not, or how it wasn’t sexist but an appreciation of women. One young man admitted that he would “fuck every girl in the world,” if he could, well, “maybe not EVERY girl,” but could also understand how women might find it offensive.
One young woman wrote extensively about how she can enjoy the track while realizing that it doesn’t portray women that well and that young women also have a responsibility to dis-identify with the tracks as well. She admitted he might want to sleep with every girl, but every girl doesn’t have to sleep with him!
Afterwords, many of the youth thanked me for the exercise and said that it got them to think about the different themes in hiphop and what produces them. What I found most interesting, was not only the diversity of their answers, but the thoughtfulness of them. And while they may not sound “feminist” per se, they were able to apply a gender analysis to something they like if given the tools to do so and a structure with which to support the development of their ideas. If that doesn’t speak to the power of gender analysis through new media, I don’t know what does.

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9 Comments

  1. FilthyGrandeur
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    i think that exercise was an awesome idea. i admit to being a fan of Lil Wayne, have attended a concert of his in Detroit, and next week will be going to the one in Milwaukee (where i currently live). anyway, this appreciation of his music, as well as other hip hop songs, causes confusion among my peers, especially since I’m not shy about being a feminist.
    i have a sort of love/hate relationship with Lil Wayne’s music: i love the beats and music, and even if i don’t love the lyrics themselves, being a fan of poetry, i adore the sounds of words.
    but i also know that he objectifies women. i know that even though women actively participate in his videos, it’s still sexist.
    besides, if i sat around avoiding everything that was sexist, i’d be hiding in my house with no t.v., internet, or music. I can still enjoy certain things so long as i can point out the sexism and analyze presentations of gender.

  2. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I think your students have a very clear headed idea about what sexism is “pay discrimination, hiring practices and the “get back in the kitchen” attitude.”
    As for the cultural criticism stuff – at the end of the day, isn’t that a whole lot less important than the economic sexism issues ["pay discrimination, hiring practices and the "get back in the kitchen" attitude."] that your students outlined so well?
    Maybe they should have written an essay about those forms of economic sexism that they identified – as well as the cultural criticism of Lil Wayne (considering that economic sexism – the kind that enforces reduced wages and job discrimination on their moms and their older sisters – is a hell of a lot more immediate than the content of a rap song]

  3. alixana
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    If you’re a woman, objectification can often be far more immediate than your paycheck. Especially given the sort of end results it can have (ie – the whole rape culture).
    Popular media plays such a huge role in shaping our expectations and beliefs, and from their answers, Samhita’s students already knew job and pay discrimination are bad things that need to be rectified. It wasn’t so easy for them to say that the same about the objectification of women. It’s everywhere in our media, and is often assumed to just be the way things are (boys will be boys, etc). Samhita’s exercise is a great way to introduce these ideas to her students, and hopefully she’s started them thinking about the world in ways they haven’t before.
    Really, it’s all part of the same problem in the end. Will we ever successfully get rid of economic sexism if we don’t get rid of the problematic cultural perceptions of women? I’m no psychic, but I have a hard time believing it’s possible. Will men really be viewing their female coworkers as equals while singing along to songs that call them bitches and hos?

  4. Tracey T
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Great exercise and great post. I also like the comment made by the girl who said while a guy may want to fuck every girl in the world it doesn’t mean he should every feel entitled to or forget that women have sexual agency and are not passive objects for male enjoyment. I think that is a huge problem, especially when it comes to some hip-hop music. Many will try to defend it saying it is about appreciation of women’s beauty or expression of desire. Some people don’t see a difference between expressing desire and denying women agency and humanity.

  5. LalaReina
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I like Wayne so I cut him a wide amount of slack for some of those dumbass lyrics. And I also like hip hop criticism from someone like Samhita who actually has knowledge and likes the music. But women aren’t held captive to this we make choices, there is a reason Maxwell is killing it. We want some sexy over idiocy.

  6. eleanargh
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    No no, I very much disagree. The attitude in the kinds of songs like this promotes the culture which leads to me getting harassed in the street, which is pretty immediate. I believe that the perpetuation of these attitudes through popular (and unpopular, everywhere really) culture contributes to the lowering self-esteem of girls and women, which in turn can lead to them underestimating their abilities, therefore not pushing themselves forward in the workplace, in society, in education. This may seem simplistic but I absolutely believe that media stereotypes of women, from the lyrics of one song upwards, feed into how we feel about ourselves and what we do with our lives, so are absolutely as important as ending pay discrimination, and absolutely entwined with those workplace and economic issues.

  7. LalaReina
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    When are we going to see that uber misogynistic rant against Mariah Cary by Marshall Mathers on here by the way?

  8. UnHingedHips
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    No- I’d actually say it’s the reverse. The economic stuff is harmful and can be debilitating, but at least it’s out there somewhere. The cultural stuff? That’s what gets *inside* my own head and screws with the way I think about myself and everything and everyone I interact with.

  9. LalaReina
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you at the end of the day nobody even knows what he is saying anyway. But rappers are good fodder to rally troops around.

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