“THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN RAP MUSIC”
BY DIANA TAPE
Portrayal of Women in Rap music today is an issue that needs to be tackled with delicacy.
Diana Tape provides interesting angles at viewing the topic from using cases of lyrics, images, and videos to solidify
the hyper-sexualized view of females in rap music on her website titled “The Portrayal of Women in Rap music”. Why must this topic be handled with such care? Because of the largely racialized issues
that accompany it. Rap artists are for the most part black males, with few exceptions. Tape’s purpose of the site is not to demonize any further rap artists, but rather
to examine the societal structures behind rap music. Why do rap artists demean
women in their lyrics? Why are females half-naked in the images accompanying
the genre? Why are the videos saturated with “video hoes” (a term
coined to define a female in a rap video)? And why is no one questioning the
structure of our society that glorifies these attributes perpetuating the portrayal of women in today’s largest music
genre as “bitches and hoes”?
We must first start by crediting the fact that we are ALL products of our society. The
clothes we buy, the cars we drive, and even the toothpaste we chose is carefully marketed to us. We are targeted and exploited providing the fuel for the functioning of our society. Music does not escape these powers. Whichever music you chose
to listen to is apart, small or large, of your identity. So what does it say
about society if one of the largest listening audiences today is that of rap music?
The misogyny that surrounds the music is irrefutable. Following this misogyny
is clearly a male dominated music. Bell Hooks in her paper titled “Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap? Misogyny, gangsta rap and
The Piano” refers to a book by Joan Smith on male dominance.
“In her book "Misogynies" Joan Smith shares her sense
that while most folks are willing to acknowledge unfair treatment of women, discrimination on the basis of gender, they are
usually reluctant to admit that hatred of women is encouraged because it helps maintain the structure of male dominance. Smith suggests: "Misogyny
wears many guises, reveals itself in different forms which are dictated by class, wealth, education, race, religion and other
factors, but its chief characteristic is its pervasiveness."”
We can therefore establish that the exploitation of women in rap
music is clearly due to male dominance. Without misogyny in society the structure
of male dominance would destruct. Therefore we can state that the hyper-sexualization
of women in rap music helps maintain structures in our society that perpetuate male supremacy.
This is not an issue that can be taken light heartedly by most females. Our
societies structure is set up in a manner that perpetuates female objectification, or at least the power to do so. Not only is it clearly exploited but also there seems to be no lack of women giving into this hierarchy
and participating in this development.
in the images on Tape’s website women are utilizing their bodies in images, and video to accommodate the images presented
in the rap lyrics. If rappers were labeling women bitches, hoes, and tipdrills
in their lyrics and had the refusal of woman to participate in any glorification of such terms would it remain so pervasive? Or does it all come to making a quick buck?
Does your body have price? Annually some of the women in rap videos make
more money than some of the worlds top accredited professions. A lucrative empire
has formed around the hyper-sexualization of women, clearly represented in not only rap music but in pornography, films, and
novels. Is rap music just cashing in on this easy buck? The marketing heads have definitely recognized the marketability of these images. Tape quotes Moya Bailey, an activist who participated in a student protest against Nelly, stating “people
don’t have access to other images of us because videos are really what go out to the rest of the world.” When referring to “us” she is referring to the depiction of black women
in rap music. Her concern is that the video market is so acute in its exploitation
of the hyper-sexualized black women’s body that the rest of the world will only know this image. She goes on further to say:
“I know people who’ve been on exchange programs to another
country, say South Africa or Brazil, and they’ve had experiences in which people have approached them, thinking that
they were prostitutes or that they were sexually open just because of the images that they have of American Black women.”
This may be an extreme example but it is reality, a reality brought
about by the portrayal of women in rap music. Though it’s easy to point
the finger at the rapper himself for writing lyrics that are further marketed with accompanying images we must remember that
these rappers are a product of society aswell. Look at what Ludacris has to say
about the portrayal of women in his videos:
“The ones who want to shake what their mama gave them are going
to do that whether they’re in videos or not. As artists, we explore our creativity through videos. Who sees those videos
on BET, or whatever music channel is showing it, is not always up to us.” (Essence)
Ludacris justifies the images in his video as being
the choice of the women to “shake what their mama[‘s] gave them” and that the video medium gives these women
an opportunity to display their maternal gifts. He takes no responsibility for
who views these images. The responsibility chain seems to broken right at the
link of the rapper. Though what seems ironic is the lack of creativity in having
females shake what their mama’s gave them in video after video, photo after photo, and lyrical content after lyrical
content. Where is the creativity in having a rapper surrounded by half-naked
women? Yet this formula seems to be selling, atleast for the mean time. Though the creativity may escape the critical viewer the mass public accepts these
images as an integrated part of the rap community. The thought process seems
to be that of an acceptance due to the connectedness between the rap music and the objectification of the woman. It is accepted because the two ideas cannot be separated. Take
for example the cover of rap artist Snoop Dogg’s album titled “Doggy Style” in which a black female is shown
with her naked buttocks sticking up in the air, her head in a dog house and a sign reading “Beware a dog”. Bell Hooks brings up a very decisive analysis of this cover and raises many more questions
about the functioning of our society.
“I wonder if a naked white female body had been
inside the doghouse, presumably waiting to be fucked from behind, if "Time" would have reproduced an image of the cover along
with their review. When I see the pornographic cartoon that graces the cover of "Doggystyle," I do not think simply about
the sexism and misogyny of young black men, I think about the sexist and misogynist politics of the powerful white adult men
and women (and folks of color) who helped produce and market this album.”
The notion of the power structure within the music world is for fronted
here. The marketing of these rap albums is again not done by the rappers themselves
but by the higher powers, plainly put the people with the money. No shame is
taken in the image the record label chose as the cover, why? Because the marketing heads know this is the image that will
sell the album. At the end of the day their pay cheque will be bigger. They not
only allow for the perpetuation of these images of the female body but they create them, market them, sell them, and ultimately
create a cycle of acceptance.
What we see on television reflects our society. Television tells us what is acceptable and what is not. People go about their day to day lives living by societies codes of conduct, therefore if people are seeing
the acceptance of these images on television and internalize this acceptation they will themselves perpetuate the objectification. Take for example if a nineteen year old boy sees in the media boys that used to live
in his neighborhood rapping in music videos about bitches and hoes and making millions on it, why wouldn’t he give it
a go? When it comes down to it bitches and hoes sell. The glorification of the material world in rap videos is enticing.
Jay-Z states in his song “Some People Hate”:
“Come from the
same hood you come from/ We share basically the same stories…/My attitude is fuck it cause motherfuckers love it/came
from the gutter/ my success in this game/ is sort of like "Pro-jectic Justice/ a payment for brushes”.
How can other youth not strive for the same success of Jay-Z when
they too have the same stories because they come from the same place—lower class.
They see Jay-Z driving his Bentleys, flying in his private jet, and living in million dollar mansions. Though ironically Jay-Z recognizes the content of his lyrics are not for everyone, he says “I have
a 7-year-old daughter, and she can’t listen to my music. She can’t listen to it in the car, not in the room, and
she can’t watch videos”. He recognizes the impact of his messages
in his songs, otherwise why wouldn’t he let his own daughter listen to it? Perhaps
some may argue that rap is for people that can distinguish between reality and make-believe, as Nelly argues:
“Part of the reason
rap artists come under fire more than any other group is because people don’t respect what we do as art. When actress
Halle Berry appears in Monster’s Ball, people separate the character from the real person, and she wins an Oscar!
A rapper couldn’t use a line describing what she did in the movie, let alone film it in a video, without getting heat
for it. So I accept my role and my freedom as an artist.” (Essence)
What Nelly is arguing is that rap is an art form. I don’t disagree, but so is pornography that doesn’t make it any more tasteful. In his tipdrill video Nelly swipes a credit card between the buttocks of a female. If Nelly wants to argue
that all lyrics in all the land are pure fiction, then he will have do so with great difficulty. The problem is that not everyone is approaching rap music as a mere form of entertainment but rather as
a medium to portraying women in a very degrading light. In Bell Hooks essay titled
“The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” she examines the
female body as portrayed through television dating back to the beginning of this medium.
“When most black people in the United States first had the
opportunity to look at film and television, they did so fully aware that mass media was a system of knowledge and power reproducing
and maintaining white supremacy. To stare at the television, or mainstream moves,
to engage its images, was to engage its negation of black representation.”
Hooks highlights the racial issues behind the representation of black people on television. The representations are those created by white people.
The authenticity of the images are altered and reproduced which only achieve images that are racist, false, and highly
stereotypical. Tape wants us to think about who is creating the image of the
rapper? Who is telling the rappers that for them to succeed they must reproduce
what is marketable, and that is representing the female as subordinate.
There are so many issues when approaching this topic that it makes it very difficult to find one source of the objectification. Tape’s purpose was not to lay blame at all, but rather to look at the topic
from different angles. She incorporates articles by scholars, lyrics by artists,
and opinions from people inside the industry to provide a rounded view of the portrayal of women in rap music. The complex
societal structure that we live in has become a breeding ground for these images to be perpetuated throughout rap music. Historically a woman’s body has been sold through many mediums and rap music
is just another one of them. Rap music helps uphold male structures of power. There is no lack of women willing to participate in the images that portray themselves
as objects of men’s desire. But doesn’t society teach us to do just
that? To strive to be the object of male desire? Conflicts of race also arise in that there are very few Caucasian women represented
in the same manner of African American women. As seen in the articles on Tape’s
website groups of women are taking a stand against these images. Now if only
we could get more women to see that the earning of their quick buck is not as harmless as they may rationalize. The cycle of hyper-sexualization in rap music is complex. Tape
stresses the intricacy of the issue. The most important thing to remember and
to think about is rap music is a product of our society. Be it an art form, a
source of entertainment or a objectifier of women rap music is selling more then ever before—we must ask ourselves why?
Bell. "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators." Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End P, 1992. 115-31.
Hooks, Bell. “Misogyny, gangsta rap, and
The Piano”. Zmagazine. 1994.
July 10, 2005. http://eserver.org/race/misogyny.html.
Byrd, Ayana and Solomon, Akiba. Essence Magazine. “What They’re Saying”.
July 10, 2005. http://www.essence.com/essence/takebackthemusic/whattheyresaying.html