Misogyny in hip hop culture refers to lyrics, videos or other aspects of hip hop culture that support, glorify, justify, or normalize the objectification, exploitation, or victimization of women. It can range from innuendoes to stereotypical characterizations and defamations. Overt misogyny in rap music emerged in the late 1980s, and has since then been "a constant feature" of the music of numerous hip hop artists.
Hip hop has had a considerable influence on modern popular culture, saturating mass media through music videos, radio broadcasts, and a variety of other mediums. Gangsta rap, the most commercially successful subgenre of hip hop, has been particularly criticized and associated with misogyny. Many scholars criticize the societal emphasis on misogyny in hip hop music, noting that misogynistic themes are prevalent within other forms of popular discourse.
Misogyny has become a sign of authenticity for some rappers, who use misogynistic lyrics and depictions of violence against women to prove that they are authentic gangstas. Many rap artists see demeaning women as a way to assert their masculinity. Rappers are often considered "soft" and "fake" if they distance themselves from hypermasculine self-portrayals and hostile representations of women. Hip hop artists may also use such lyrics to gain commercial success. In the 1990s audiences began to demand more violent and offensive lyrics and record executives were urging artists to write them.
Adams and Fuller (2006) suggest that one of the reasons why rap artists use misogynistic lyrics in their music is that they have internalized negative stereotypes about women that are prevalent in American society.
Various authors have argued that misogyny in hip hop culture is only an outgrowth of the cultural acceptance of misogyny at-large. Michael Eric Dyson states that misogyny is a tried-and-true American tradition from which hip hop derives its understanding of how men and women should behave. Similarly, Charlise Cheney argues that hip-hop's misogyny and promotion of traditional gender roles reflect mainstream American values. Jeff Chang and David Zirkin coknkjnntend that the misogyny extant in American popular culture provides "incentives for young men, that are black, to act out a hard-core masculinity". Kate Burns argues, in the same vein, that the discourse of hip hop culture is shaped by its environment, stating that instead of asking "What is rap's influence on American society and culture?" critics should ask "What has been society's role in shaping and influencing hip hop?"
Feminist bell hooks suggests that misogyny in hip-hop culture is not a "male black thing" but has its roots in a larger pattern of hostility toward women in American culture. She criticizes those who take gangsta rap to task for its misogyny while accepting and perpetuating less raw and vulgar expressions of misogyny that permeate American society. She writes: "It is much easier to attack gangsta rap than to confront the culture that produces [the] need [for gangsta rap]." Others have reiterated this concern, arguing hip hop's content is no more misogynistic than other forms of popular discourse. Academic Leola Johnson, for instance, asserts:
The misogynist lyrics of gansta rap are hateful indeed, but they do not represent a new trend in Black popular culture, nor do they differ fundamentally from woman hating discourses that are common among White men. The danger of this insight is that it might be read as an apology for Black misogyny
Authors also link the treatment of women in hip hop to troubled gender relations in inner-city black and Hispanic communities. In an ethnographic study of inner-city Philadelphia neighborhoods, Elijah Anderson found that young men in such neighborhoods try to raise their social status and self-esteem by demeaning and exploiting women. Anderson writes that "[in] many cases the more the young man seems to exploit the young woman, the higher is his regard within the peer group."
Ronald Weitzer and Charis E. Kubrin (2009) have identified five common misogynistic themes in rap lyrics: (a) derogatory naming and shaming of women, (b) sexual objectification of women, (c) legitimation of violence against women, (d) distrust of women, and (e) celebration of prostitution and pimping. In misogynistic songs, it is typically women in general who are called derogatory names such as bitches, hoes, or chickenheads.
Men are praised if they abuse and exploit women. These insults seek to degrade women and keep them "in their place". Sexual objectification is the most common misogynistic theme in rap music according to the analysis by Weitzer and Kubrin. Women are portrayed as good only for sex. Dr. Dre raps:
In misogynistic rap songs, violence is depicted as the most appropriate punishment for women who challenge male domination or who simply disrespect men. Juvenile (March Nigga Step), for example, asks, "If she thinks you're jokin', is she goin' get a quick chokin'?" Physical violence and rape are considered fitting responses if women refuse sex or if they commit other "offenses". Eminem and Tyler, The Creator, who have both been criticized for their depictions of violence against women, rap:
A related subtheme is boasting about sex acts that harm or are painful for women. Many rap songs also have distrust of women as a significant theme. Women are depicted as femme fatales, "gold diggers", and as lying about such things as their age or to get pregnant. Tupac Shakur Still I Rise) asks, "Why plant seeds in a dirty bitch, waitin’ to trick me? Not the life for me". Finally, pimps are glorified and their ability to control and exploit women is praised.
Misogyny is prevalent in hip hop culture. A survey of adolescents showed that 66% of black girls and 57% of black boys agree that rap music videos portray black women in "bad and offensive ways". A 2001 content analysis of gangsta rap found that approximately 22% of the examined rap lyrics featured violence against women, including depictions of assault, murder and rape. By comparison, Eminem scored 78% for violent misogyny. Of the 14 songs on the The Marshall Mathers LP 11 contain violent and misogynistic lyrics and 9 songs depict killing women.
In 2003, McFarland conducted an analysis of Chicano rap and found that Chicano rappers depict women most frequently as sex objects, morally and intellectually inferior, and objects of violence. 37% of Chicano rap songs depicted women as sex objects and 4% mentioned violence against women. Except for the "good mother" figure, all other women that were mentioned in the sample were portrayed negatively. Moreover, Chicano rappers who discussed sex and sexuality almost always depicted women as objects of domination for men. According to a 2009 content analysis by Weitzer and Kubrin, 22% of rap songs surveyed contained misogynistic lyrics. The researchers pointed out that misogyny seems to be less common in rap music than expected and that other music genres, such as rock music, contain more negative images of women according to some studies.
Conrad, Dixon and Zhang (2009) investigated rap music videos and noted that there has been a shift from violent portrayals to more misogynistic ones. Women in rap videos are placed in positions of objectification and sexual submission to their male counterparts. The researchers argue that their research "suggests that there are important gender differences occurring that prefer men over women".
Experimental research has tried to measure the effects of exposure to rap music. Webster et al. found that men who listened to sexually violent gangsta rap lyrics were significantly more likely than controls to express "adversarial sexual beliefs" like the belief that men should dominate women. However, gangsta rap did not influence men's other attitudes toward women. Other studies showed that rap videos which contain images of women in sexually subordinate roles increase female subjects' acceptance of violence against women, and that listening to misogynistic hip hop increases sexually aggressive behavior in men.
A 2007 study by Michael Cobb and William Boettcher found that exposure to rap music increases sexist attitudes toward women. Men who listened to rap music held more sexist beliefs than the control group. Women were also more likely to support sexism when rap music was not overtly misogynistic. However, they were less likely to hold sexist beliefs when the lyrics were very misogynistic. Rudman and Lee found that exposure to violent and misogynistic rap music strengthens the association between black men and negative attributes. People who are exposed to violent and misogynistic rap music are more likely to perceive black men as hostile and sexist.
Academics Johnnetta B. Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, for instance, have expressed concern over the effects of misogyny in hip hop culture on children, stating, "We are concerned because we believe that hip-hop is more misogynist and disrespectful of Black girls and women than other popular music genres. The casual references to rape and other forms of violence and the soft-porn visuals and messages of many rap music videos are seared into the consciousness of young Black boys and girls at an early age." A longitudinal study indicated that young people who regularly listen to sexually degrading lyrics are more likely to have sex at an earlier age while exposure to non-degrading sexual content had no effect. Sexually degrading lyrics were found to be most common in rap music. The survey also suggests that repeated exposure to sexually degrading lyrics may lead girls to expect that they will be treated with disrespect by their partners and that they have to take a submissive role.
In a 2011 study, Gourdine and Lemmons identified age and listening habits as key factors which determine the perception and impact of misogyny in hip hop music. They examined students aged 18 to 24 years and found that the older the participants were, the less they listened to rap music and that they reacted more negatively to misogynistic lyrics.
In 2004 students at Spelman College protested Nelly's music video "Tip Drill" and misogyny in rap music in general. The students criticized the negative portrayal and sexual objectification of African American women in the video which showed women in bikinis dancing and simulating various sexual acts, men throwing money at women's private parts, and a man swiping a credit card through a woman's buttocks. Building on the momentum generated by the Spelman College protests, Essence magazine launched a twelvemonth campaign entitled "Take Back the Music" to combat misogyny in hip hop culture. However, the protests and subsequent campaign received little media coverage.
A congressional hearing was held on September 25, 2007 to examine misogyny and racism in hip hop culture. The title of the hearing, "From Imus to Industry: The business of stereotypes and degrading images", referred to radio host Don Imus who called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" and later blamed his choice of words on hip hop. Rappers "demean and defame black women", Imus claimed, and call them "worse names than I ever did." The hearing seemed to have no impact and was largely ignored by the press.
Female rap artistsEdit
Hip hop is a male dominated genre in which authenticity has been identified with masculinity. Female artists have traditionally faced many barriers in entering hip hop and have been marginalized as performers.
Despite this many women rappers have found ways to contest and resist the objectification and exploitation of women in hip hop culture. Salt-N-Pepa was one of the first all-female rap acts to provide pro-woman messages and critique double standards and degrading images of women in hip hop. In her Grammy Award-winning song U.N.I.T.Y., Queen Latifah challenges male rappers who use the terms "bitch" and "ho" to refer to women. She raps, "Every time I hear a brother call a girl bitch or ho. Trying to make a sister feel low, You know all of that's got to go." Yo-Yo has dedicated much of her career to condemning hip hop misogyny. Many other women rap and rap soul artists such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, Eve and Mary J. Blige have adopted an independent woman persona which opposes misogynistic representations of women in hip hop.
However, some women rap artists offer no resistance to negative portrayals of women and in some cases appear to defend male rappers' misogyny. Lil' Kim, Mia X, and Trina, for instance, often refer to themselves and other women as bitches and gold diggers. A 2011 content analysis of music videos found that sexual objectification of women does not only occur in the music videos of male artists but that many women artists, particularly female rappers and R&B artists, self-objectify, a finding consistent with objectification theory. Moreover, some female rappers assume the role of the "'ride-or-die' chick" who is frequently praised by male rappers as the ideal woman. The "'ride-or-die' chick", according to hip hop scholar Gwendolyn Pough, is a woman who will do anything for men, even commit crimes and go to prison, to be valued.
Tricia Rose argues that women rappers, most of whom are black, may find it difficult to condemn male rappers' misogyny because they need to collectively oppose racism and do not want to contribute to the stereotype that black masculinity is "pathological". Authors Cynthia Frisby and Jennifer Aubrey argue through decoding research that though sexual objectification is found within a good majority of female gender music videos, race or genre does not have a large impact. Rebollo-Gil and Moras contend that black women rappers' failure to provide a "blanket defense" of rap music, including the genre's misogyny, is "interpreted as treason by their black male counterparts and could possibly harm their career."
Moreover, Cheryl Keyes suggests that women rappers rarely get the opportunity to express empowering messages because, in order to enter rap as performers and to compete with male rappers, they must follow what Keyes calls "male rules". Female rap artists must, according to Keyes, embody the male esthetic and emulate male behavior if they want record producers, disproportionately male, to listen to them. Similarly, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins argues that black women rappers must behave a certain way, even objectify themselves, to be "accepted within this Black male-controlled universe."
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