These past couple of months–in the midst of debates about women’s issues, women’s representations in congress and women’s bodies–I (and I’m sure many others) have been thinking a lot about… well, women. More specifically, I’ve been focused on how we look at women due to popular culture and our own ideas based on years of subconscious reinforcement. To go off on a tangent about every facet of popular culture, laws and attitudes that are clearly dismissive or think lowly of the female gender would be too extensive and complex to get into all at once, so for now I will focus on a specific subject–one that is, unfortunately, the most obvious and egregious offender: Rap. Discussions of the misogyny inherent in hip-hop is as old as time–pretty much anything that is, or started out as, male-centric will always come with inherent misogyny–the reason it continues to be a major talking point seems due to the fact that, in the roughly close to 40 years of its existence, it’s made very little progress. You’d think, with the advent of the internet and the constant flood of music daily, there would be more obvious examples of rap music showcasing voices that were unique and separated from the enslavement roles that have been placed on women (particularly black women), but even today you have to go to the low low depths to find that.
In reacquainting myself to indie rapper Open Mike Eagle’s 2010 album Unapologetic Art Rap, I was reminded with how unique I originally thought it was: from it’s stylistic wordplay laden with pop culture references to its all-out blitz on mainstream hip-hop and the corporate infrastructure that profits over the musical glorification of a black person’s worst attributes and thoughts. This is particularly pertinent with the song “unapologetic”, a 3-1/2 minute ode to the backpackers who “In ’96 they would have been De La Soul fans…” but in 2010, “…It’s My Chemical Romance.” Detailing the ideals of young black men who just want to have fun and create, and the corporate stooges more than willing too profit over it. Standard hip-hop (and black music) complaint; what I do find the most unique about this song comes near the end:
“‘Cause my little brother never heard of Little Brother
‘Cause all the girls in their video kept their nipples covered
The only ones he can discover
Are the ones that please Viacom’s executive nigger lovers
So it’s another monkey-po gimmick
Sambo videos with country crows in ’em
Middle school virgins playing run-and-go-get-it
‘Cause they memorized songs about nuttin’ on women.”
This then leads to a bit of a rant about how “cool” it is that the most popular song out at the time contributes the line “superman dat hoe” which, for those not in the know, is essentially a euphemism for ejaculating on a young lady. “Real good message for the young ladies” he says. The first time I heard this I felt a sense of both pride and shame: pride because someone finally said it and shame because I knew that I was just as much part of the problem as those rappers being referenced. Most of us are part of the problem, and the ones who aren’t, God bless you, I’m truly jealous. For most of my life, my generation (as well as the ones after) has been inundated with images of pure sex. This is no different than most generations before us, but what made us unique was we were at the beginnings of the internet age. Sex came from every avenue now. No longer did young males find themselves enamored by dirty magazines like playboy or hustler, now the raunchiest of things was but a mouse-click away. We became numb to it and as a result, we upped the ante–to the point where rappers could make songs about ejaculating on women.
The problem with society and pop culture’s view on sex is it’s mostly (in most cases completely) unfair to women. It, more or less, perpetuates a hatred of women. Rap songs champion girls who act loose, or are open about their sexuality or are just plain down to fuck whenever and wherever; at the same time, these same songs attack women who aren’t these things by labeling them as “stuck up”, “bougie” or “bitch”. Men write songs about having sex with any woman they want due to their fame, while lambasting those same women for only wanting to fuck them because they’re famous. Society has taught us to hang onto an archetype that says men are this way, women are that way and we should accept it. A whole social enterprise has been made of exposing the percentage gap between the number of men and women in the world, by insinuating that men should do whatever they want because “why not? There’s less of us than you, so you can either except it or be alone–which we know you don’t want to do because of your natural “emotional” state.” This is further capitalized by then exposing this idea by advertising dismissive “relationship manuals” that more or less apologize for this behavior but offer no real advice on handling or fixing it.
In a struggle to keep up with this heightening of sexual obsession, television (music video channels especially) have gotten dirtier. The most obvious example was the BET staple Uncut, a showcase for rap videos to hot for TV–featuring both underground rap artists, as well as some of the biggest names in the game at the time. Chances are when you think about Uncut, you remember the infamous “Tipdrill” video by Nelly. A video so hypersexual and demeaning that it proved to be the tipping point that led to the show’s cancellation, and the ensuing protest by students of Spelman University led to a stall in Nelly’s then skyrocketing career. This is nothing new, MTV used to get in the same kind of trouble during the heyday of 80’s glam rock where women were nothing more than lust objects either writhing around on sports cars or being fetishized like baked goods.On Ab-Soul’s fantastic mixtape Control Systems, He uses the track Double Standards to take aim at a mindset that puts a man and a woman in the same scenario yet congratulates the man and ostracizes the woman. “See the moral of the story is… she a ho, he a pimp” he raps, “My auntie told me always treat my lady right, my uncle told me only love ’em for a night, you can see the immediate disconnection, between a man and a woman, the reason for aggression. A staple as old as time, boys being raised to continue this trend of using women anyway we feel like while teaching women to behave “proper” and “lady-like” lest she shames the family name. What makes rap so interesting is that it’s a hyper version of what’s happening in our world. It’s hyper-aggressive, hyper-masculine and it showcases the anger and hatred of women inherent in us as men. When I say anger or hatred, I don’t mean it in an active sense. I don’t hate women, nor do I think these young men do; what I do know is that a hatred of women is in us subconsciously because we’ve been raised not to think of them as people–and their pursuit of rights and respect are bringing that hate out. If you’re familiar with the bottle episode trope used in television, you know it puts the main characters in a room together for a whole episode to bring out the tension that’s been boiling over. The hip-hop/top 40 pop club is a classic example of societies bottle episode: put people in a room together, mix in liquor for good measure and watch the tension between men and women boil over. There’s aggressiveness and well, let’s face it, a lot of sexual assault taking place–that’s its own article for another day.
This piece isn’t about bashing men or how terrible we are, nor is this an opportunity for meto act high and might about my progressive thinking. As I’ve said before, I’m a shameful pawn in this as well; I’ve absorbed hours of this stuff, I’ve lusted, I’ve been aggressive… and angry with women. My itunes is filled with misogyny. I’ve bought into generalized gender roles and fed off of the ideas promoted by music, TV and movies on how to regard women. Yes, I’m more than aware there are exceptions to the rule–there are awful women out there, because there are awful people out there period–and not everything is a man’s fault. This isn’t about blame or individuals, this is about an infrastructure. That’s the biggest problem with trying to talk to people about this–about anything really: racism, sexism, ageism, social class, etc.–is that people can’t understand that ideals are built into our society. It’s not enough to say we’re equal because it wasn’t ingrained in us to be so. Mindsets don’t just disappear because you wake up and say “ok everyone equal now.” There are no easy solutions–there never are–but it’s important that we talk about it. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman and it’s silly for me to try to pretend that I do or that someday I will… my goal is to understand where they’re coming from and just treat them like the human beings they are. This is how I want to be treated as a black male and I’m sure this is how others want to be treated. I’m trying to do better with my issues personally; I hope others are too, especially in rap… because nobody–regardless of race, gender or anything else–deserves second-class treatment.