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.