Positive Women in Hip Hop: Feminism in a Patriarchal Society Essay

Despite the negative images that we are over exposed to, can society identify positive women in hip hop? As hip hop promises to become main stream, it is gradually morphing into a component that will eventually be accepted as popular culture. However, the degradation of women continues to be a staple of the hip hop culture. In rap music women are commonly referred to as “bitches,” “hoes,” and “gold diggers”. In the videos that serve as visual aids to these songs, women are usually portrayed in a negative light.

Usually these women are dressed in short, tight, skimpy clothing, and perform in “sexually” charged manner. The behavior of these women often reflect the artist’s lyrics but too often their behavior serves no other purpose, but to please a male dominated culture. A culture that is rich in misogyny and sexism. A culture that typically views women as sexual objects or in this case props. These negative representations encourage a society that is geared toward the destruction of women rather than the uplifting of women.

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It is critical for women in hip hop to counter these practices, deeply rooted in history. A feminist movement in hip hop is already underway including: Actors, authors, artist, dancers, designers, models, producers, rappers, scholars, singer’s and many more who are challenging tradition. My research will provide insight from a contemporary perspective. It will include examples of women in hip hop that wear short, tight, skimpy clothing, and who also behave sexually. Contrary to the “beliefs” these women have proved to be positive through their contributions to the hip hop culture.

This information will illustrate that the feminist movement in hip hop will potentially revolutionize hip hop through acceptance of patriarchy as the dominant culture; and by accepting this truth women in hip hop can begin to redefine what “positive” is. Although these women may conform to the “norms” of society by being the typical sexual objects, they have used their sex as a means to “move up” in an industry dominated by men. My research will provide flexible information to media studies scholars that will influence them to do more research towards positive women in hip hop.

It will also discuss whether or not society is ready to make a change. II. Literature Review Hip hop, a cultural movement that developed in urban communities during the 1970’s, has become main stream in the 2007 American popular culture. “In 2001, over 89 million hip hop CDs were sold. Suburban white youth are now purchasing approximately 60 percent of rap CDS” (Cole, Sheftall 184). Thus, hip hop’s influence in America is significant. Too often people associate hip hop with: rap stars, expensive cars, and over sexed women. Women and Sexism Women in hip hop have often been the target of sexism (Neal 247).

Strong, positive women are almost never represented in the hop culture. Instead we are bombarded with images of half naked women gyrating on the latest rap music videos. Women are merely sexual objects. Women of the hip hop culture are usually submissive to men and existing only to satisfy men’s needs. In rap music women have always played an essential role. Although rap is usually viewed as an urban male culture it wouldn’t be what it is without the influence of women. Women in hip hop are usually assigned specific roles: “the chicken-head groupie, over sexualized rhyme- spitter, baggy clothed desexualized mic-fiend…” (247). arely do we see strong, positive images of women in hip hop, but they do exist.

Due to the patriarchal privilege in our society it’s difficult for the positive women to be recognized. Some women are up to the challenge of trying to redefine stereo-types. Usually these women want to be seen as peers or equal to the males in this culture. With the lyrical skill in rap music, intellect in literature, and talent in art, just to name a few, there is plenty of room for positive women in the hip hop culture. Feminism and Hip Hop A feminist movement in hip hop has already begun to take its course.

Authors Joan Morgan, Gwendolyn Pough and Cheryl Keyes take a look at hip hop from a feminist perspective. Being that they are women, they in a sense are themselves making their own contribution to the positive side of hip hop. Typically, any positive images of women in this culture automatically put them in the positions of being a wife/girlfriend, a mother, and then of course, there’s the model. Coincidently this leaves plenty of room for their male counterparts, which is why these specific roles are probably delegated. After all, hip hop is usually perceived as a male dominated discourse.

Author Mark Anthony Neal says, “The embrace of patriarchal privilege by some male hip hop artist partly explains the marginalization of women among hip-hop artist, particularly when those women don’t conform to the normative roles…” (247). So as long as women in the hip hop culture continue to be “bitches”, “hoes” and “baby’s mamas” things go smoothly. Images of Hip Hop Women With just as much lyrical skill as men in rap, women are “expressing their sexuality openly and in their own language, yet distinguishing themselves from poisonous and insincere women, black women rappers challenge me to take women more seriously” (Rose 296).

Historically black women have always used different mediums to address issues. Poetry, art, song and dance helped women to express there ideals, and “like the black women who went before them, [women in the hip hop culture] find themselves in a similar position of trying to navigate a space for themselves in a Black-male-dominated public discourse” (Pough 75). But how much control do these women have over their own images? When women began to address this issue of female representation in the public sphere, the ground works for a feminist tradition began.

In the past, the role of the black woman was to stand behind and support their men. Careful not to “disrupt black male dominance of the black public sphere” (75). So when women of hip hop began to speak out against these negative representations they were met with resistance. “ They were lambasted by Black men and even some Black women for portraying negative images of Black manhood or showing black men in a negative light”(Pough 76). Women in hip hop versus women in the past, are not “content” with just being “symbols” after all, they helped to build hip hop and make it what it is today.

As a result, the hip hop feminist movement is confronting tradition. Hip Hop women taking control Women participating in the hip hop feminist movement are making sure that they get their needs met by discussing issues that are important not only to themselves but to the black community (97). For example women are challenging the misogyny and sexism which seem to be the key influences in the hip hop culture in order to reshape their public image. With evidence that hip hop has become main steam in popular culture it is extremely important for black women to take control and try to reverse some of this damage.

In a society dominated by white males, women in hip hop can no longer afford these negative representations. According to author Evelyn C. White, Chain Chain Change, “The lyrics of many rap songs promote sexual aggression, women hatred and remorseless violence in the African American community. They stoke and fuel behavior we can ill afford in a racist society that already has a strong hold on our collective necks. ” Since slavery, black women have spoken out against the blatant disrespect from men. Ida B.

Wells Barnett, women’s rights activist, “ was not afraid to tell the truth as she saw it” (54) when she said “ The miscegenation laws of the south only operate the legitimate union of the races; they leave the white man free to seduce all the colored girls he can…” (54). However, it is not the white man who dominates the hip hop culture. So why are women still “seduced”, degraded, and oversexed by black men in hip hop? Kevin Powell explains: Many of us men of color have held tightly to white patriarchal notions of manhood- that is the way to be man is to have power.

Within hip-hop culture…that power translates into material possessions, provocative and often foul language, flashes of violence, and blatant objectification of disrespect for women. Patriarchy, as manifested in hip hop, is where we can have our version of power within this very oppressive society (54). This explains the absence of positive representations of women in the culture. In order for positive representations to take place in hip hop, women have to speak out and ask hard questions. Why are women still in 2007 at the disposal of men?

Female rappers have already begun this challenge, first by embracing these negative images and then by countering them with their own ideals. For example, male rappers may refer to women as “bitches” and “hoes” and in turn women may agree. However, women will try to use these words to empower themselves. “A black girl… will say “yeah I’m a bitch straight up” “Shit talking doesn’t piss [these] women off…They’ll answer all the shit we talk, with a “fuck you” And that’s it. They don’t say, “You’re sexist. ” They respond with their own rap ( Pough 105).

It is still not enough to change the ideals that have already been imbedded into our society. Since women in that past have paved the way for feminism today, it’s vital that women challenge the “norm”. Black women in particular are usually not allowed a public voice, so with the rise of hip hop we see that they are no longer taking the back seat to men. Instead they are grabbing the wheel and saying “we want to control our destiny. ” Joan Morgan argues, “More than any other generation before us, we need a feminism committed to “keeping it real” (81). Positive women in hip hop do exist.

Women in hip hop are more than just gold digging video girls; they are one of the primary forces that laid down the foundation. “Women have been a part of the rap scene since its commercial years… the male was just the first to be put on wax [record]”. (Keyes 265). So as long as women take a chance by confronting hip hop, there is great opportunity for change. III. Methods Questionnaire To prove that positive women in hip hop do exist , I will use the questionnaire as my first method. My questionnaire will focus on images that people associate with hip hop.

It will give me general idea of how society’s opinions are shaped. My questions will target college students ages 18-35. Most of my questions will be closed ended, however my questionnaire will require some open ended questions, this will provide more insight to ideologies and stereotypes that have institutionalized the hip hop culture. Participant Observation Next I will prove that there are positive women in hip hop by using participant observation. This method will require me to watch hip hop music videos, listen to various hip hop lyrics, watch hip hop movies, read hip hop literature, and attend video shoot auditions.

I will also pay attention to all television and radio programs in general to see if there are influences of hip hop and if so how women in particular are portrayed. I will particularly focus on BET, MTV, VH1 and Fuse to watch music videos and I will listen to radio stations that play mostly if not all hip hop and R&B. After I watch videos and listen to the radio I will be able to decipher what images are popular, and if any of these images are women. If so, are they are represented positively. I will also participate in video shoots by auditioning.

I will first audition as the stereotypical “video vixen”, who is often viewed as being a “ho”, “bitch” or “chicken head”. I will be sure to dress in tight revealing clothing. The next audition I will do the complete opposite. I will dress fully clothed, and carry myself in a “classy manner”. By doing this I will be able to see if positive images of women in hip hop are accepted in the beginning stages of hip hop videos. Focus Group Next I will use a focus group involving students and a professor at Clayton State University by the name of Dr. Shondrika L. Moss-Bouldin. I will focus on the opinions of 50 people.

First I will ask the participants to write down the first words that come to mind when they think of hip hop. Then I will ask that to ask them to write down the words they associate with hip hop. I assuming that words related to drugs or sex will prevail. I will then lay out a variety of images of women from various magazines including Essence, Ebony, Source, Vibe and XXL. These images will range from domestic, professional, and business women to women viewed as video hoes, eye candy and models. From these images my participants will be asked what images they associate with that of hip hop. After that I will have them watch 2 hip hop videos.

The first video they watch will be “Go” by Common, a conscious rap artist. This video has a different approach from typical rap videos because instead of the women being a sexual object, the video glorifies the beauty of women. The second video they will watch will be “I wanna love (edited) you” by Snoop Dogg and Akon. In the real title of this song the word “fuck” replaces love. This video is over saturated with sex and women are definitely the props. After they watch the videos I will ask my participants if there are indeed “positive images of women in hip hop, if so what do these images look like. Interview

Last I will take the information from the previous methods to formulate questions to ask people in the hip hop industry. I will begin by asking with the actual rap and hip lyricist (unsigned artist) who there inspirations. Then I will as the following questions: Do you refer to women as bitches and hoes in your lyrics? If yes, why do you refer to women as bitches and hoes in your lyrics? Do you feel that artist rap about reality, or are they unrealistic? Do you think artist will begin to refer to women using positive words ? Why? Or Why not? Next I will interview a friend who is an aspiring music video director and editor.

I will ask him the following questions: What kind of women do you look for when shooting hip hop videos? Do you think that it will hurt your career if you were to use more images of positive women in your videos, or no women at all? Last I will interview women at hip hop video auditions. I will ask the following questions: Do you think that your image is positive or negative? Do you get paid for you work? What do you wear to a hip hop music video audition? Describe in detail what types of women get hired or make the cut to be in the music videos? IV. Possible Outcomes My study could possibly prove that there are positive women in hip hop.

It could prove that people are generally able to recognize positive women in hip hop despite the negative images that audiences are exposed to. Audiences will also be able to provide specific examples of positive women and tell what specific contributions these women have made. My study could also encourage society to identify the negative aspects of hip hop. Instead of a culture that’s complacent, accepting all of the negative components with out question, my study will promote a society to become knowledgeable about how negative messages are formed and what the intentions of the messages are.

Through questionnaires, participant observations, and focus groups my study might give some explanation as to why positive women in hip hop conform to the negatives of the culture with out compromising their positive influence. My study might be able to also indicate that the hip hop culture is not ready for change. My questionnaire might prove that as long as there is a market for sexism hip hop will cash in. Through participant observation I will be able to see how women in hip hop are deemed to be sexual objects in videos in the beginning stages. Upon interviewing the women and producers of ip hop videos I could discover that these people are very aware of the negative images they send to society. Through my focus group I might also be able to determine if positive women in hip hop, regardless of their contributions, are recognized as negative women visually. With both of the outcomes being very possible, my study should be indicative of the ideologies, stereotypes, and institutions that build our society and it should provoke society to be more aware of how these the negative components of one any culture can affect an entire society’s ideals.

Works Cited

Cole, Jeannette Betsch., and Beverly Guy-Sheftall. Gender Talk: the Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities. New York: The Ballentine Publishing Group, 2003. Keyes, Cheryl L. “Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces.” That’s the Joint! Hip Hop Studies Reader. Ed. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York, New York: Route ledge, 2004. Morgan, Joan. When Chicken Heads Come to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks It Down. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Morgan, Marcyliena. “Hip- Hop Women Shredding the Veil: Race and Class in Popular Feminist Identity.” South Atlantic Quarterly. 104.3 (2005): 425-444. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Georgia State University., Atlanta, GA. 4 Feb. 2007 Neal, Mark Anthony. “I’ll be Nina Simone Defecating on Your Microphone.” Empowering Self, Making Choices, and Creating Spaces.”

That’s The Joint! The Hip Hop Studies Reader. Ed. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York, New York: Route ledge, 2004. George, Nelson. Hip Hop America. New York, New York: The Penguin Group, 1998. Phillips, Layli. Kerri Reddick-Morgan, Patricia Dionne Stephens. “OPPOSITIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS WITHIN AN OPPOSITIONAL REALM: THE CASE OF FEMINISM AND WOMANISM IN RAP AND HIP HOP, 1976-2004.” Journal of African American History. 34.4 (2005): 253-277. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Georgia State University Lib., Atlanta, GA. 4, Feb. 2007 < www.search.ebsco.com> Pough, Gwendolyn D. Check it While Wreck it: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. Richmond, Virginia: Northeastern University Press, 2004. Shelton, Maria L. “ Can’t Touch This! Representations of the African American Female Body in Urban Rap Videos.” Popular Music & Society. 21.3 (1997): 107.

Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Georgia State University Lib., 4 Feb. 2007 < www.search.ebscohost.com > Stephens, Dionne P. “Integrating Black Feminist thought into conceptual frameworks of African American adolescent women’s sexual scripting processes.” Sexualities, Evolution, & Gender. 7.1 (2005) :37-55. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Georgia State University Lib., 4 Feb. 2007 < www.search.ebscohost.com >

Ward, Stephen M. “From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism.” History: Reviews of new Books. 34.4 (2006):109. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Georgia State University Lib., 4 Feb. 2007 < www.search.ebscohost.com > White, Evelyn C. Chain Chain Change: For Black Women Dealing Physical and Emotional Abuse. Seattle: Seal Press, 1995

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